I like Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot. She is a tough and no nonsense leader, and I think she will be good for Chicago. So I was disappointed to read yesterday that she had called the head of the police union a “clown,” a “fraud,” and. a “liar.” Lightfoot was angry that FOP President John Catanzara supported having federal troops come into the city to help quell unrest. (“Lightfoot defends insulting text messages sent to FOP president: ‘I don’t take back one word that I said,'” Chicago Tribune, Friday, July 24, 2020) Instead of a reasoned and even impassioned disagreement, Lightfoot lashed out with an ad hominem attack.
Such discourse has become all too commonplace in society today. Our current president actually insulted his way right into the Oval Office by coining nasty nicknames for his opponents (Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” “Crooked Hillary”). He referred to Mexicans as “criminals and rapists” and protesters as “thugs” and “sons of bitches.” Once in office, Trump has continued to denigrate his political enemies, minorities, and women. For instance, he recently retweeted a post referring to Hillary Clinton as a “skank.” There seems to be no level too low for our Name-Caller-in-Chief.
In the Trump era, we have seen a true degeneration of discourse in the public sphere. This has been aided by social media, where vitriol and insult can explode across the internet universe. But while it may be upsetting to see ordinary Joes on Facebook or Twitter making nasty remarks, it is far more serious to see prominent elected officials resort to name-calling.
Yesterday Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an eloquent speech in the House of Representatives after Republican Rep. Ted Yoho verbally assaulted her on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, calling her “disgusting, crazy and dangerous.” Worse, out of earshot from AOC but within hearing of reporters, Yoho called her “a fucking bitch.” The Democratic women who spoke pointed out that this kind of defamatory language is part of a larger culture of “‘violence and violent language against women.'” (“On House floor, Dems call out verbal assaults against women,” Chicago Tribune, Friday, July 24, 2020)
Name-calling is the refuge of the insecure. We wield it when our arguments are shaky or we don’t care to listen to an opposing point of view. It is also a form of bullying, a way to strike fear into our perceived enemies so as to silence them. And it is extremely detrimental to a civil society. As psychiatrist Ronald Pies points out, “When the most powerful man in the world provides an example of bullying by repeatedly deploying offensive nicknames, this ought to concern us all.” (“Trump’s Nicknames and the Psychology of Bullying,” psychcentral.com, July 8, 2018)
We need to demand more of our leaders at every level. They should be our role models. And when they fail to live up to that standard, we should let them know we are not pleased – at the ballot box.