PRESS EDITORIAL: The coarsening of America

Donald Trump won the presidency by a razor-thin margin, but he is winning the campaign to coarsen America by a landslide.

Conventional wisdom held that when he took office he would have to modify a campaign persona identified by vicious personal attacks on perceived enemies, often delivered with vulgar language, or see his presidency crippled by crude behavior Americans would not tolerate from their elected leader.

A year and a half later, it is obvious to everyone (the world!) that Trump has not changed himself. Rather, he has changed the country’s standards of behavior. His rage tweets have gone on unabated, and are not only applauded by sycophantic members of his administration and some of his base supporters, but aped by a number of Republican candidates across the country whose Trumplike behavior has been rewarded with primary election victories.

The surest sign that Trump is winning this culture skirmish is that some of his detractors have taken to fueling the national state of acrimony by copying the Trumpian mode of coarse communication.

When the actor Robert De Niro coupled a shouted expletive too foul to be printed in this newspaper with Trump’s name on the Tony Awards stage, he got a standing ovation.

When Roseann Barr, a notorious potty mouth known for her ugly Twitter commentary in support of Trump, was fired by ABC for posting a scurrilous racial epithet, it wasn’t enough for comedian Samantha Bee that Barr had been publicly shamed. She had to pile on with a monologue that went so low as to include an obscene characterization of the president’s daughter.

When some pundits and progressive political observers suggested that Trump opponents tone down the acrimonious rhetoric, Maxine Waters, a Democratic member of Congress from California, responded with a hysterical rant calling for public harassment of Trump backers.

Waters was inspired by the owner and staff members of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va., who had refused to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders because they disapproved of her performance as Trump’s press secretary.

All the while, vitriol, often packaged with false information, continues to flow from the White House and Trump surrogates on cable television.

To call this state of affairs a breakdown in civility understates its corrosive effect. It is more a breakdown of the norms of civilized discourse and public behavior that a democratic society needs to endure and thrive.

It is surprising that the anti-Trump voices contributing to this breakdown don’t seem to get that, or to understand that resorting to his attack and denigrate tactics further empowers the man they detest. Harsh personal attacks on Trump, his family and appointees enrage voters in his political base, feeding a sense of persecution that lured them to Trump in the first place and inspiring continued loyalty.

As for Trump himself, he must be delighted by the whole chaotic scene, which provides grist for his tweet mill and validation of his blunt way of asserting presidential power.

As for De Niro and other politically outspoken celebrities, their fame allows them to claim a microphone and an audience, but it does not make their political comments worth more than any citizen’s. Better they stay busy making gobs of money and give some of it to worthy candidates if they want to influence politics.

As for the people who kicked Sanders out of their restaurant, they ought to reflect on how foreign it is to the values of the United States to deny someone a meal because they dislike  the would-be diner’s political beliefs.

Could this nasty political conduct be a passing spasm that will end in a return to reasoned debate and allegiance to truth—to plain decency? It could be if voters choose candidates who value those qualities.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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