February 2019 Degraded Discourse

February 2019 Degraded Discourse

Degraded Discourse

Democrats are pretty good at expounding on a long list of outlandish and usually despicable statements and actions of the man living in the White House, but the corruption of our national discourse has permeated everything we say. In the face of major dangers to our country it doesn’t seem worth the time to parse out phrases. I believe political culture does affect our psyches. We should be vigilant about picking up ways of speaking that reinforce bad ideas. A couple of examples:

The newly elected U.S. Congressman from Long Island, Max Rose, has been widely interviewed. One question always asked is why he voted against Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker. His answer is always that “I stick to my promises.” A second question is always about the shutdown. In inveighing against the pain caused by the shutdown, he says that he is donating his salary to charity rather than take the pay when others are suffering. On the face of this it looks like positions to applaud. This is, after all, not a Trumpian campaign promise to build a wall, done to nail support with a promise mantra. From another angle it is supporting Trump’s mantra. Maybe “Keeping Promises” is not a good thing to promise. After all, “Life Happens.” Are we supposed to ignore what happens outside of our front door, in our country and in our world because we “promised” under different circumstance to do a particular thing. Voting against Nancy Pelosi doesn’t fit the structure of being open to changed circumstances. He is acting immediately, before circumstances could plausibly change. By making it a big deal that it was “promised,” Rose is confirming that we should always judge people by whether they keep promises. Nothing else counts. Not so.

Giving his salary to charity similarly looks like an unalloyed good thing. However, that fits a Trumpian mania too. Government is bad. Private business should run everything, even if, like his “foundation” or college, it is just a rip-off scam. If people are hungry, let them go out and beg like in a Charles Dickens novel, where some rich individual can decide to give him money for food – it’s the rich person’s decision. The poor person should have no power. There is no such thing as common humanity. So think of a new way to beat up on Trump’s shutdown, and get public servants back where they should be: doing essential – and cost effective – functions that make us all safer and better and moral.

The average consumer of the media probably thinks it’s a great idea when interviewees and all mater of commentators use the line to persuade Trump to drop his idea of declaring a national emergency that “the next national emergency might be climate change, when the Democrats are in power.” This is a bad rhetorical device, even if everyone thinks it is clever. If you are a Democrat or any reasonable individual you must accept that climate change doesn’t care about Republicans and Democrats. It is happening to us all. This line is saying that climate change is for Democrats, the Wall is for Republicans (with the inference that Democrats can’t possibly be for “border security” if they aren’t for the Wall). We are buying into the politicization that has polluted American politics. Trump supporters will vote for anything he says.

The people hearing this line frequently ask, so “why isn’t he listening to this argument, it’s so reasonable.” It is possible that there is a scarily sinister answer to that question. Donald Trump is going to declare a National Emergency and never let it go (next stop, bombing Iran?). Under his national emergency there might not be a 2020 election, or, having taken on more autocratic power under the emergency, rigging the election might strike him as an appealing way to stay in his position as President, and thereby avoid a criminal indictment – all too likely to happen when he is a private individual. (Note: This is why I favor trading a pardon for his resignation.)

–Elizabeth Spiro Clark, Chair, Committee on Public Policy and Political Action