In our raucous, unruly democracy, politicians develop thick skins, knowing the job’s occupational hazards include sharp criticism and verbal assaults.
But seven weeks after an unhinged man shot and seriously wounded Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the words aimed at Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León are chilling.
A powerful story by The Sacramento Bee’s Taryn Luna detailed some of the threats to de León and confrontations with other legislators. One letter urges de León to “hurry up and die.” Another writer claiming to be a “decorated U.S. Marine sniper” threatened to hunt liberal legislators down like dogs. “I will be your worst nightmare come true,” the writer said.
One letter urges de León to “hurry up and die.” Another writer claiming to be a “decorated U.S. Marine sniper” threatened to hunt liberal legislators down like dogs. “I will be your worst nightmare come true,” the writer said.
No true Marine would make such a threat. But clearly rhetoric has coarsened and racist and sexist talk has become more open. Luna quoted Debbie Manning, the Senate’s chief sergeant-at-arms, as saying the number of threats against senators in 2017 has exceeded last year’s total of 200.
The causes are many: bloviating talk show hosts, bogus internet claims that pass as truth, unfettered and often anonymous campaign spending.
Katie Glueck of the McClatchy D.C. Bureau reported that American Action Network, which has gotten millions from drugmakers, will spend up to $20 million to push Congress to pass tax cuts benefiting corporations.
Americans for Prosperity, funded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, will spend millions to gin up support for tax cuts, while another dark money group uses its cash to sway judicial selections, USA Today reported.
The left can be coarse, too, as California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon is learning. The California Nurses Association continues to rail against him for taking the wise step of spiking a half-baked universal health care bill. An image displayed at nurses’ demonstrations depicts a bloody dagger in the back of a California bear, hardly fitting for a union that represents healers.
Luna quoted de León as blaming President Donald Trump. Certainly, the president bears responsibility for his words. Only last week Trump encouraged police to rough up suspects, after launching into a rant in front of the Boy Scouts’ national gathering, after urging sailors to lobby for him, after tweeting that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military.
Some Scouts hooted, as young boys do, and some cops applauded, shamefully. But responsible officers recoiled as they should from the implication that brutality is OK.
“His comments do not influence in any way the manner in which our officers and professional staff carry out their jobs daily,” Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones emailed an editorial board member.
Lately, there has been some leavening: In one of his first acts as Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly on Monday dumped Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s crass old-new communications director.
Scaramucci spoiled the White House office he occupied for 10 days too many with a profane interview in the New Yorker. We hope Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, will exert a calming influence over our erratic president. We hope, too, that politicians heed Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican diagnosed with brain cancer.
“Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio, television and the internet. To hell with them,” he said last week in what we hope is not his final floor speech. “They don’t want anything done for the public good.”
McCain was addressing other U.S. senators. But he might have been addressing us all. We must find a path back to civility. The public good depends on it.