It began with the news that the President’s new Communications Director had called a reporter and trashed his colleagues in the White House. Actually, it was worse than that. This fellow used the crudest language. He bloated his own power. And he did all this - stupidly - with a reporter who despises the Administration. And, if that weren’t enough, after being exposed for all this foolishness, he apologized, not for what he did, but rather for trusting reporters too much. (Don’t you just love apologies that don’t apologize?)
It didn’t get better. Yesterday was, as you know, the day the Senate voted on amendments to repeal and replace ObamaCare. I realize both sides have strong ethical feelings about their substantive positions on health care. I have my own. I believe both ObamaCare and the proposals to replace it are flawed. There are several efficient and effective ways to provide access to affordable care for all that never seem to come into play. But, while recognizing their great importance, I’ll leave policies aside, for now.
I want to focus here on the awful ways in which people treated each other in social media in anticipation of, and following, the votes.
One pair of folks I know, and tend otherwise to admire, began their attack on Senator John McCain early last night. Suspecting he was going to vote for the Republican position, they went at him hard. One fellow engaged in a purely ad hominem assault, condemning the Senator as just a horrible guy. The other raised the old Keating Five matter, never making clear whether McCain was guilty or unethical or just at fault for appearance, and the relevance of opening up that old wound in the first place. But, hell, what difference do facts and relevance make? What needed to be said was that McCain is just “a bad guy.”
Then another pair attacked the Republicans on process, for failing to let the public know the details of their bill before the debate began. This was an awful sin, they asserted.
When confronted with the fact that the Democrats did much the same thing when the final bill on ObamaCare came to the Senate floor years earlier, they were unrelenting. “That’s not the point,” they “screamed” back. “This isn’t about procedure; it’s about screwing the poor.” Ah, had they just said so at the outset, instead of insisting the “sin” was unfair procedure.
As the evening wore on, everyone was surprised to learn that McCain actually provided the vote that killed the Republican proposal. Did the earlier pair come back to apologize or give him credit? No, they did not. But others who had been savaging him all week came on to praise him now as a true American hero.
After the vote, Senator McConnell gave a speech on the floor, expressing his regret and sadness at the loss. But, lo and behold, a fellow I know from the world of education reform, decided to tweet venom, blasting McConnell for his audacity in even speaking, I guess. “How dare you, McConnell,” he fumed. You’d think the victor would tolerate the loser’s moment to comment.
Finally, to close out the night, another fellow I know had to show up and accuse Trump’s new Communications Director of coming into government to assure success in a private business deal. When confronted with a request for evidence to back up this serious charge, this fellow, I’m happy to report, expressed regret.
I confess to having engaged in some undesirable political speech myself over the years. But, just watching all this yesterday, I realized how serious (and worsening) a problem we have in the public square with poisoned, political speech. This is a terrible blight on our democracy.
I’ll try to do better. I sure hope others will, too.