Do you remember the “good old days” when politicians and public figures behaved as adults, treated each other with respect and spoke only in well-mannered fashion?
I didn’t think so … neither do I.
But given today’s relentless barrage of pseudo-scandals and outrageous behavior, it is easy to understand why past public figures may have seemed a more-genteel bunch than our current crop. A brief review of the history books, though, reveals a goodly amount of similarity to what we contend with today. For example:
In 1800, Thomas Jefferson referred to President John Adams as: “… a blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphrodite character with neither the force and fitness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Across his political career, two-term President Grover Cleveland had to contend with the assertion that he had fathered an illegitimate child, and his opponent’s relentless consequent chant of “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa?”
And who can forget the historic duel in Weehawken, New Jersey, on the morning of July 11, 1804? In that clash, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton because, well, Hamilton had allegedly insulted him at a dinner.
Today, the super-connected virtual world in which we reside hurls “news” (regardless of veracity) across the internet with but one click, while the vetting of information has become a process with which few seem to bother. In this environment, it is impossible to ignore the glut of outright untruths and innuendo being paraded before us for the explicit purpose of character assassination or political gain.
Consider, for example, the torrent of vitriol heaped repeatedly upon United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg who, as the first openly gay cabinet member in history, is the target of incessant attacks based simply on his sexual orientation. As he goes about deflecting these scurrilous insults, he provides us with useful guidance on navigating this confusing and ill-tempered virtual world:
We have to be smart about where we direct our attention. I know the most shocking thing somebody said or did yesterday gets the most focus today, but if I were to make a list of the 10 or 20 or 50 or 200 members of Congress whose commentary or thoughts or words we should be debating or weighing right now, it wouldn’t be those two or three members of Congress who get the most attention on Twitter for the outrage of the day upon which they try to outdo each other.
Buttigieg is right, for racist, sexist and homophobic slurs fall below the lowest threshold for decency. A major problem, of course, is the anonymity the web provides us for, after all, making these sorts of ugly comments directly to another person’s face can result in a punch in the nose. Saying the same thing in an internet posting, though, merely puts one at risk of a brief stint in “Facebook Jail.”
Like it or not, we have become wed to the internet in multiple ways meaning we face a daily struggle to avoid being drawn down some digital rabbit hole in pursuit of more “information” on the “scandal-du-jour.” For our own sanity it is important to be discerning in the information we rely upon, while avoiding those spectacles that are nothing more than just, well, spectacles.
It is safe to state that the principles of dignity and self-respect are at risk among elected officials today … a criticism that applies equally across the political spectrum. For example, in a recent interview a Democratic senator uttered one “f***,” two “f***ings,” one “bull****,” one “p***ed off” and one “they s**k.” Not to be outdone, a number of Republican politicians have taken to posing with “Let’s Go Brandon” signs; one even ended his floor speech with those words and a fist pump. The “Let’s Go Brandon” phenomenon is, of course, code for “F*** Joe Biden.”
These sorts of profane insults have even taken on hybrid form. At a recent dinner, a Republican governor referred to former President Trump as “F***ing Crazy,” prompting one Democrat to note that Republicans, today, are using “F” bombs more frequently than at any time since the Nixon administration.
It’s getting so that broadcast political events will have to have viewer warnings similar to what we see in movie theaters.
Frankly, this sort of thing used to bother me, but now it just makes me tired. As a remedy, I have begun following my own advice by taking an occasional break or sabbatical from the digital political battlefield, while seeking out those things that are really important.
Like, for example, watching kitten videos on YouTube.