Taming Political Discourse

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When I first heard that ESPN had asked a reporter not to cover a UVA game because his name is Robert Lee, I’ll admit I found the decision utterly ridiculous. But I was loath to admit it out loud. Why? Because I knew the incident would be trotted out endlessly on every Fox News show and by every right wing politician trying to discredit liberalism.

Such is the state of public discourse today. Non-stop news coverage, political blogs, and social media have made communication a polarizing and fraught enterprise. The brouhaha about Confederate statues is a case in point.

There are legitimate reasons for citizens to call for the removal of statues glorifying the era of the Confederacy, a secessionist movement that amounted to rebellion against the United States. Despite what many Southerners see as an assault on their heritage, there is no denying that Confederate leaders stood for the preservation of slavery and used that cause to motivate Southern forces to fight the North.

On the other hand, there are arguments to be made about keeping the statues, and from my point of view, the biggest argument in favor of leaving statues alone is that we have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to racial justice. Furthermore, the threat of removing them has given white supremacists a cause to rally around, bringing them out en masse with sometimes devastating results.

On the Right, of course, pundits and politicians wonder aloud if it’s a slippery slope from removing Robert E. Lee to getting rid of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. They ridicule calls for defunding the Jefferson Memorial or removing Confederate statues from the Capitol building. Some rightly point out that many Southern Democrats were themselves segregationists back in the day.

This whole issue makes my head hurt. And I feel that it’s a distraction from policy-making in Washington. Republicans have been trying to do serious damage to social entitlement programs. Our president keeps threatening new countries with military action. The Trump Administration is dialing back progress on the environment by refusing to admit to the realities of climate change and by encouraging the revival of such destructive practices as coal mining.

Let’s get back to discussing these important issues in a reasonable and respectful way so that positive change can be made in our society.

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The New Republicans: Pitbulls in Lipstick

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I haven’t missed Sarah Palin. Seeing her on TV news today in response to word that her former running mate John McCain has brain cancer was an unwelcome reminder of her existence.

As I listened to her speak, I was reminded of her coarseness, her lack of knowledge, and her family drama that rivals anything seen in an episode of Jerry Springer. And it hit me: Sarah Palin helped usher in the era of politics as reality TV.

Her famous comment about hockey moms as “pit bulls in lipstick” was eaten up by a certain segment of the American electorate, and the Republican Party took note.

Of course, we have seen an intertwining of politics and entertainment in the past. Our rash of “celebrity” governors – Ronald Reagan, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger – has contributed to the idea that one need not have stellar credentials to be elected to high office.

And the entertainment-oriented nature of the news media has not helped. It was a sad state of affairs when a comedy show, The Daily Show, was considered by many to be a better source of news than any of the network or cable news programs. Daily Show host Jon Stewart was even encouraged to run for office.

But the Trump campaign took politics to a completely new – and unfortunately low – level. He initially sparked interest because of his larger than life persona and celebrity due to the reality show The Apprentice. Once news outlets saw how crowds were eating up his crude and outrageous statements, they started covering Trump’s campaign slavishly.

It is depressing to me that a sizable number of Americans were willing to elect as president a reality show star with no political experience and questionable business dealings who routinely puts down women, immigrants, war heroes, and the disabled. Yet a recent report indicates that despite all the apparent conflicts of interest, possible collusion with the Russian government, and a petty penchant for tweeting insults and threats to those who oppose him, Donald Trump’s fans continue to support him and to delight in his boorish behavior.

This is not simply the dumbing down of American politics but the lowering of standards of acceptable behavior for no less than the President of the United States.

Far from making America great again, our 45th president is managing to make America mean.