theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer. katherine molé mfa ... art director

Thursday, January 10, 2019

DIRTY WORDS, Sticks and Stones

In this photo, Rashida Tlaib, then a Democratic candidate for Michigan's 13th Congressional District, speaks at a rally in Dearborn, Mich., Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Ms. Tlaib went on to win the race and become one of the two first Muslim women to serve in the U.S. House. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) **FILE**
Photo by: Paul Sancya


The Democrats set the tone of the rhetoric we can expect from them on the very day that Nancy Pelosi became the speaker of the House again. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman Democrat from Michigan, speaking before a giddy audience applauding her every word, had described President Trump in the most vulgar terms possible, and promised that “we’re going to impeach the motherf–—.”
Some of Mrs. Tlaib’s partisans no doubt gasped at her boldness in employing such sexual vulgarity, demeaning both mother and son, particularly with her small children at her side on what could have been special day the children would remember forever. Senior Democratic colleagues could barely bestir themselves to rebuke a remarkable breach of decorum. “I wouldn’t use that language,” Mrs. Pelosi said, mildly. “But I’m not in the censorship business,” she added, granting Mrs. Tlaib tacit approval.
Decorum is scarce nearly everywhere. Even a vagrant clergyman has been known to let loose with vulgarity. President Obama’s famous pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, invoked God Almighty to pronounce a curse on America. Mrs. Tlaib, perhaps attempting to cultivate an image of hipper than thou, dropped the infamous sexual insult to get in line with those who cuss like sailors on a bender. Robert Francis O’Rourke, the current great white Democratic hope called “Beto,” was fond of promising audiences last year that he would topple Sen. Ted Cruz, and when he didn’t he told such audiences how “[blankety blankety’ proud” he was of them for helping him try. He employed a variation of the f-word without which he apparently couldn’t speak.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California drops the word in her saturation bombing runs when she is talking about health care. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, another Democratic senator with an eye on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, drops the word in discussions of technology. Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, famous mostly for his foul mouth, can’t restrain his appetite for vulgarity flavored with blasphemy. President Trump himself is nobody’s idea of a stalwart of measured speech. It is, in a word, sad.
The current fashion in cussin’ is endless repetition of that infamous f-word, cheapening conversation and discourse and adding nothing to the conversation. Anyone can do it but most people won’t do it. Mark Twain thought profanity and vulgarity were wrong because few did it well. “The fact is,” he said more than a century ago, “this is not a moral judgment but an artistic one. Most people don’t know how to swear any more than they know how to play the bassoon. Both require years of practice and instruction.”
He observed that when the mate of a Mississippi riverboat gave the simplest order “he discharged it like a blast of lightning and sent a long, reverberating peal of profanity thundering after it.” Indeed, anyone who has heard a Georgia muleskinner offer his opinion of his mules in 200 words and never use the same word twice, can only imagine what he would make of the vulgarity, coarseness and ill breeding of our present day. But he would never have done it in the presence of a lady, perhaps not to provoke envy because cussin’ is something that almost no women can do well.
The damage goes beyond the bad words. Partisans, mostly but not all Democrats, routinely assume ill motives on the part of their opponents. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez imagines that eloquence is calling President Trump a “racist.” Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, raises, calling the president not only a racist but someone who reminds him of Hitler. Bernie Sanders invokes that frayed cliche. Not every sloppy orator is a Democrat. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a Republican, routinely strays beyond the bounds of respectable discourse.
This baleful trend began during the Obama years. Democrats could not believe that anyone could oppose Barack Obama on the issues, such as his schemes for government takeover of the health care and automobile-manufacturing industries. Republicans and conservatives just had to be incorrigible racists, out to revive the Ku Klux Klan and mobs with rope. To oppose him on policy grounds invited racist dogma. So rational, policy-focused debate was done for.

It’s not only Grandma Grundy who bewails the coarsening of public discourse. The lack of decent manners and basic decorum is seriously corroding American self government, a system that only works through compromise, as the Framers of the Constitution understood. By assuming bad faith on the part of their opponents, and showering them with verbal abuse, fierce partisans foreclose rational debate. That’s why the Democrats call themselves the “resistance,” not the loyal opposition. That’s too bad. And if vulgarians insist on cussin’ the least they can do is to learn how.


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