In two tweets this past week President-Elect Donald Trump called Senate Democratic Minority leader Chuck Schumer a “clown.”
Many of us were troubled by Donald Trump’s unrestrained insults of his opponents during the Republican primaries. It really seemed that the old paradigm of civility had been breached. The crudeness of some of his taunts was quite stunning. His contempt for Rubio, Bush, and Cruze was open and unrestrained.
The people of our country have appropriately complained at the dysfunction of Congress. As bad as that has been, nothing has quite prepared us for this kind of taunting.
As some readers may recall from their history classes, in 1856 Senator Preston Brooks famously caned Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor over the issue of slavery (not surprisingly Senator Brooks was an advocate of slavery) in an ominous foreshadowing of the divisions to come in this country.
More recently, the Senate prided itself on the courtliness of its proceedings. One of the things that United States citizens could be appropriately proud of has been the respectful and courteous nature of discourse in our Senate. It seems axiomatic that this standard is essential for a democracy to function. Given the competing interests in society, the ability of representatives to transact the people’s business requires that they maintain an environment that facilitates the resolution of differences.
The public has become increasingly alarmed over the years at the coarsening of our culture in general. The freedom people take in being rude to strangers (especially on social media) let alone members of their families has seemed to be rising exponentially. What are the implications for our country that our President is a person who appears to embrace the worst of this kind of behavior?
I am in England at the moment. In this country the Queen has the role of being the embodiment of what it should mean to be English. The contentious role of Prime Minister is quite separate. In the USA the President performs the role of both the representative of our country as well as its chief executive.
Whatever any of us may feel about many of the policies President-Elect Trump espouses, surely we can agree that as the head of our country, his manner should set a standard for how we deal with one another.
In his first inaugural address Abraham Lincoln asked a bitterly split nation to find “the better angels of our nature.” Let us hope we can find our way to this path.