HORIST: Is incivility the American way?
Everything in life evolves and yet we try to pick starting points based on our personal viewpoints. In today’s overheated political environment, those on the right chastise Congresswoman Maxine Waters and her ilk for elevating political confrontation to a dangerous level by calling for the harassment and assault of pro-Trump public figures – and any supporter who might be wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Those on the left who defend what I refer to as Waters’ “call-to-harms” by declaring that the congresswoman’s provocative language is only a natural and even justified reaction to President Trump’s bellicose language. Though I support his policies for the most part, and have been generally pleased with his appointments, I have not shied away from repeatedly expressing my criticism of his personality and style.
To an extent, both sides are responsible for the increasing coarseness of the dialogue. Trump’s name-calling and pugnacious platform style is unfortunate, at best, and reprehensible, at worst. It not only demeans the presidency, it impairs his ability to get his positive agenda accepted by a broader segment of the public. It distracts from the many good policies that are being accomplished by his administration daily.
The controversy Trump generates makes his personality the myopic focus of a constantly critical media. Rather than a fair examination of the issues, the public is fed prolonged and repetitious screeds of prosecutorial-style propaganda by an adversarial press.
Where the #NeverTrump resistance movement and those of us who defend Trump’s policies differ on the personality issue is that we see his rally statements and early morning tweets as the product of an entertainer in the tradition of Jerry Springer. Not what I liked but lots of folks find it entertaining. Those with a visceral hatred for Trump see a deranged individual doing fundamental damage to the Republic. As the saying goes, “Trump supporters take him seriously, but not literally. Trump haters take him literally, but not seriously.”
We tend to treat this current round of incivility as something new. So often, we hear opponents of the President begin their criticisms with “Never before …” or “No president has ever …” Those are claims by people who are hopelessly and irrationally biased or have no sense of history whatsoever. Our nation was founded in the cauldron of emotion between those we honor as Founders and those who were English royalists at the time. Like today, colonial America was said to be divided, with one-third for independence, one-third loyal to King George and one-third undecided.
The entire slavery era was fraught with violent and often deadly confrontations between proponents of slavery and the abolitionists. While Lincoln maintained a high level of verbal and written expression, he was vilified in the media in ways that even Trump has not experienced. One can even argue that it was that provocative rhetoric that motivated John Wilkes Booth to carry out the first presidential assassination.
We seem to forget that in the early years of the Republic, members of Congress used the vilest language on the floor of the two chambers, they got into physical fights, guns were occasionally drawn and in one case a Senator was beaten to within an inch of his life with a cane wielded by a member of the House. Then there was the labor violence of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century, and the rash of bombings in the era of anarchists – one on Wall Street in 1920 that killed 30 people. World War II and the post-War era of peace and prosperity brought about an era of unusual comity – but then came the 1960s.
Known as “The Days of Rage,” hardly a year would go by without deadly riots, politically motivated bombings, assassinations, attempted assassinations and innumerable random killings. One might even suggest that it was the protests of the 1960s that sired the incivility of public discourse we see today. Those were the days when the Berkley Free Speech Movement normalized vulgarity and pejorative language. The political left took to the streets in often violent actions against all things American –re-labeling the nation as ‘Amerika.’ Flag burning rivaled baseball as the national pastime.
Those were the days when the radical left found its footing in mainstream political life. It was when the left began its ascent in the Democratic Party with a change in the Party’s governing rules based on identity politics and the nomination of the very liberal Senator George McGovern as the Party’s standard bearer in 1972. It was the launching point of the new era of political correctness and identity politics. It commenced a trend that polarized both parties along philosophic lines over the next 50 years.
At the 1968 convention, the Mayor of Chicago yelled out from the floor, calling the speaker and fellow Democrat Abraham Ribicoff as “f**king Jew” for criticizing the tactics of the Chicago Police.
The fact – and it is a fact – that the Trump coarsened political dialogue does not ameliorate the fact that the left has gone completely overboard in trying to bring down Trump in statements and visual communications that make his on-the-fly insults seem rather mild.
While the talking heads on television have softened Waters rhetoric by saying she was calling for simple “protests,” that is not credible. In listening to her rant, no objective person would hear it as anything less than a summons to harass and assault members of the Trump administration. (To clarify my use of the word “assault,” it is the crime of engendering fear for one’s safety. It does not require physical contact. That is “battery.”)
If one encourages a larger group of citizens to harass or assault another person – as Waters did — that is the crime of “inciting a riot.” Waters was very close to that definition in her call for groups to descend on public officials. Of course, these are crimes that are less enforced than spitting in public.
Both Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back against Water’s statement. It might have been an effort to maintain a reasonable level of civility in public discourse, or they may well understand such outrageous and dangerous statements coming from a prominent member of the Democratic Party are going to drive the middle ground voters to Trump.
No matter how badly Trump behaves, the Democrats manage to make themselves even less popular. That is how they lost the 2016 presidential election. It is not about Trump’s base or the Democrat’s base, but about all those folks in the middle who can be persuaded by facts and real policies.
Personally, I believe that the acrimonious and toxic atmosphere that has suffocated respect, tolerance and objectivity in the public commons has a lot to do with the extreme bias of the east coast news giants. With their one-sided reporting and proselytizing, they have destroyed a critical journalistic tradition of fairness, balance and honesty. They have become promoters of and part of the liberal Democrat base. They contemptuously talk down to those with a different opinion and mischaracterize us as a basket of you-know-whats. They impugn our integrity, our morals, our decency and our intelligence.
The excesses we see from the left are the hallmark of desperation. They see the election of 2018 as the beginning of their re-emergence as a powerful political force or the coup de grace of their movement. Having been repudiated in virtually every election since 2010, progressives understand that failure to gain any footing in Congress will leave them with no power beyond local offices in a few states on the opposite coasts. The far-left agenda will be, for all intents and purposes, dead as a national platform.
When Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” I wonder who the “we” are to whom she referred. Certainly not the radical left within the Democratic Party. Certainly not the elitist media. America can live with a certain level of incivility, but the concern is that it may elevate to the next level – violence. We should all hope and pray that does not happen.
There is no reason to be pessimistic, however. The campaigns and the political rhetoric get ugly, vulgar and irrational, but we the people still have our natural common sense and goodness – and the sanctity of the secret ballot to settle the issues. We will make our judgment in November.