When I was a kid, my mother would frequently remind me that I am what I say. When I was bad, she would ask if this is who I wanted to be. Her guidance and question are still relevant, perhaps more than ever.
In the name of “calling it as you see it”, we have firmly wrapped our arms around filthy and needlessly aggressive language with the most crass person taking the headlines.
Our crisis seemed to have reached an extraordinary peak this weekend. We have a man on the top of the ladder who uses his vicious tongue as a weapon of mass destruction. He calls people abhorrent names and he repeats them until we are inured. Now we have a comic with an equally caustic tongue who took down the other side with the same neurotic language as if to say, “If he can do it, so can I!”
Thinking that we have devolved into an epidemic of crassness, I looked to history for clues.
Turns out that we are living a la 1884.
Grover Cleveland (Democrat) ran against James Blaine (Republican) for the Presidency that year. Blaine's campaign took off on the rumor of Cleveland having fathered an illegitimate child. The refrain, "Ma, Ma where is my Pa?" was made famous by him and stuck to Cleveland like glue. In response, Cleveland's campaign responded with this chant: “Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? In the end, the Republican party saw a major break and a chunk of conservative voters called Mugwumps (no kidding!) voted for Cleveland.
A crass discourse makes it impossible to weigh the options to arrive at a reasonable action. And who can dispute that working across the aisle benefits everyone or that there are indeed two sides to every argument or that two strong and viable parties are essential ingredients to good governance.
But I’m not naive.
The current mood of "we-have-a-mandate" sanctions a single and loud voice. I get that. The irrefutable truth is that in a democracy the mandate can switch in the blink of an eye. And so, I look forward to a return to civility.
Until then, my mother's words ring in my ear: is this who we want to be? Apparently so. For now.