If you’re like me, your mother passed down a lot of wisdom and instruction on how to behave, especially in public. Don’t talk with your mouth full and don’t interrupt are two bits of motherly advice that many moms have passed down to their children over the years. Another important instruction is, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It is this third bit of advice that Americans seem to have forgotten.
Maybe it all started with the left. Leftists have been yelling profanities at the American public since the 1960s. In recent years, it hasn’t gotten any better. Leftist vulgarity has extended from mere words to wearing hats shaped like female genitalia and placing statues of a naked Donald Trump in public spaces. Wouldn’t mom be proud?
If vulgarity, profanity and incivility in modern politics originated with the left, the right is trying hard to catch up. While I opposed Barack Obama for his entire career, many of the right-wing attacks on the president went over the line and probably backfired against Republicans by making them seem like racist wearers of tinfoil hats. In particular, personal attacks on Michelle Obama, who was always more popular than the president himself, made conservatives look small. Likewise, right-wing comments and memes about immigration, race riots and Islamic terrorism often take an ugly, stereotypical tone.
Over the past week, right-wing vulgarity seems to have reached a new low. In the wake of Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-Utah) revelation that the McCain family intended to not invite President Trump to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) funeral. Hatch called the family’s plan “ridiculous,” sparking an intraparty battle over whether Mr. Trump should go the funeral of a man with whom his relationship can best be described as “strained.”
Trump supporters took the plans to bypass the president for Vice President Pence personally. Popular memes on social media showed President Trump digging McCain’s grave and summoning a hearse after being dissed.
If the reaction of Trump’s grass roots supporters was bad, the reaction from the White House was even more troubling. On Thursday, White House aide Kelly Sadler reacted to McCain’s opposition to President Trump’s nominee for CIA director by saying, “He's dying anyway.”
The remark at an internal meeting was neither officially confirmed nor denied by the White House, which also did not apologize to Sen. McCain and his family, but unofficially a White House staffer called it a “joke that fell flat.” CNN reported that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who recently was the target of a leftist comedian’s attacks, dressed down the press staff for both the leak about the comment as well as for the disrespectful nature of the remark itself.
Keep in mind that both Donald Trump and John McCain are members of the same party. McCain had even endorsed Trump in 2016. After the controversial “Access Hollywood” tape, McCain, along with many other Republicans, withdrew his endorsement, but usually seemed to try to be objective in his dealings with the president.
I have never considered myself a McCain supporter. I’ve disagreed with him on many issues from climate change to campaign finance reform and especially for his regrettable vote to kill the Republican health care reform bill in 2017. The current issue is not one of politics, however. It is one of human decency.
If President Trump and his supporters truly want to “make America great again,” a good place to start would be to extend an olive branch to the McCain family. Frankly, there is probably no reason that Donald Trump would want to go to John McCain’s funeral except to use the occasion as a political photo op. Making peace with the terminally ill McCain would not necessarily secure a spot at the funeral for the president, but it would make Trump seem to be a bigger and more mature person. This is an image that he desperately needs to cultivate.
Reaching out to a dying and defeated rival would also set a precedent that might possibly lead to more civility and respect in the national political debate as well. The president sets the tone for the national dialogue and making peace with Sen. McCain would be a radical change from the past few years. It would be a good thing for the entire country if we could move beyond tit-for-tat insults and focus on the larger issues that face us as a nation.
Many of the problems that confront Americans require some semblance of national unity to resolve, not just executive actions or party-line congressional votes. Unity is not going to be found by tweeting snappy comebacks at detractors. Unity requires a statesman who can rise above the furor and chaos of the political landscape and draw Americans together.
Do your part to make America great again by making politics a more civil endeavor. Treat your political enemies with Christlike kindness rather than returning their hate and anger in kind. Maybe then your mother won’t have to wash your mouth out with soap.
[Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr]