There’s no doubt that these are tense political times. The Impeachment Inquiry is about to begin holding public sessions. Depositions from private briefings are being released. Tuesday’s elections proved difficult for Republicans in Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The situation in Syria continues to be uncertain and potentially explosive. The unending crisis at our southern border rumbles like discordant white noise.
In this context, President Trump held a campaign-style rally in Louisiana in advance of the gubernatorial runoff election on November 16. At the rally, Rep. John Kennedy (R-LA), speaking on the subject of the Democrats’ pursuit of impeachment, derided House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s ongoing management of the impeachment process by saying, “It must suck to be that dumb.”
Standing next to a grinning President when he made this remark, much can be said about the wisdom of using such language to describe the Speaker (who is third in line to be President). Simply on the merits, Kennedy’s comment is…well…dumb.
You may disagree with her tactics (I have in the past), but you cannot call her “dumb.” The facts just don’t warrant it. She is the first woman to hold the position of House Speaker, and she has been elected to the post twice. In 2018, she orchestrated the greatest off-year election House victory in history. She is a known tactician and vote counter who has skillfully orchestrated a near-unanimous caucus vote on impeachment. Clearly, she is not dumb.
But, what troubles me even more about Kennedy’s remark is not its political acumen (or lack thereof), but what his comment says about how far we’ve fallen as a society in terms of civility, respect for others and common decency. Kennedy’s comment cannot be chalked up to a spasm of anger or an intemperate, off-the-cuff remark captured by an open mic somewhere. It was made at a public rally, with the President standing right next to him. He knew that the media would rebroadcast his words and that it would become an oft-repeated partisan talking point. Yet, he persisted.
Words matter. More than 13,000 lies, half-truths or misstatements told by the President since he came into office demonstrate how he and his administration have devalued the truth. Language has power. Facts count. Truth is essential in keeping our democracy safe and secure. But this is something different; it goes to how we treat one another in the present (and what it forebodes for the post-Trump era).
The tone in Senator Kennedy’s comment makes me cringe in anger and shame, and in fear for the future. We must call out such behavior as unacceptable. We must re-learn how to speak about and to each other. We must be diligent because social media makes it easier to be anonymous and, hence, less careful about how we interact. Remarks like this from our elected leaders make it that much harder to treat one another with kindness and appreciation.
At some point—sooner or later—we will be a post-Trump nation. How will we re-knit the fabric of our life? Senator Kennedy’s attack on Speaker Pelosi, and similar comments by others in public life, make the task that much harder.
Apology and Explanation: In an early version of my previous post, I described the President’s “Turrets-like (sic) tendency to say and do inappropriate things”. This reference was not meant to disparage the hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer from the neurological disorder, Tourette Syndrome which causes “repetitive movements or unwanted sounds (tics) that can’t be easily controlled.” I used this example precisely because President Trump does not clinically suffer from Tourette syndrome, but his knee-jerk reactions to breaking news seem to mirror the involuntary behavior of those who do suffer from this disorder. The phrase was removed and I apologize to anyone who was offended. Words matter.