SAN DIEGO – My fellow Americans, I have to ask: What happened to good manners? When did being civil go out of style? When did we decide that kindness equals weakness? When did the idea of conducting yourself well – especially in public – become quaint?
The news is filled with stories of people behaving badly.
▪ President Donald Trump boorishly shoved aside the prime minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic, during a gathering of NATO leaders. Markovic gracefully described the incident to reporters as an “inoffensive situation.” Yet there is no way to spin the gesture as anything but a sign of disrespect – even if it was a thoughtless one. After all, Trump is the leader of the free world and Montenegro is the newest member of the organization. How’s that for a warm welcome?
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▪ Montana Republican Greg Gianforte was elected to the House of Representatives last week less than 24 hours after being charged with misdemeanor assault. The multimillionaire tech entrepreneur is accused of body-slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the British newspaper The Guardian. Gianforte, in his victory speech, admitted that he “should not have treated that reporter that way” and apologized for the incident. We don’t know whether voters cared about this story one way or the other, since about 70 percent of ballots had already been cast.
▪ Jacobs also seems a quart low on social skills and could himself use a course in basic etiquette. A recording of the incident suggests that he marched up to Gianforte as the candidate was talking to other reporters. He interrupted their conversation, brushed aside his colleagues as if to say that his story was more important than theirs, stuck a recorder in Gianforte’s face, and grilled the candidate by repeatedly asking the same question even after Gianforte made clear he wasn’t going to answer, all without so much as a “hello” or an “excuse me.”
How did we get to this dark place? Did the death of manners happen all at once, or occur gradually over time?
There are degrees of incivility. And if rudeness were an Olympic sport, Texas would win all the medals.
This week, lawmakers in the Lone Star State got into a shoving match and accused each other of leveling death threats. It all started when a Republican legislator bragged to a group of Latino Democrats that he called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protesters who’d been demonstrating at the state capitol, most of whom were Latino.
Clearly, making that sort of announcement took guts. But it doesn’t show a lot of brains.
State Rep. Matt Rinaldi later confirmed to reporters that he called ICE because the protesters were “disrupting” legislative business and “breaking the law.”
According to CNN, several of the Democratic lawmakers quickly confronted Rinaldi and things got physical. Video of the incident shows legislators from both parties pushing each other. Rinaldi claims that he was assaulted by Rep. Ramon Romero and that Rep. Poncho Nevarez told him he would “get me on the way to my car.” Nevarez denied making the threat, although he does acknowledge that he “got in 1 / 8Rinaldi’s 3 / 8 face and put my hands on the guy.” Rinaldi confirmed that he threatened to shoot Nevarez, if forced to do so in self-defense.
What came next was predictable. Since the hijinks came to light, a few of the Latino lawmakers say they’ve been getting racist hate calls from Texans who proudly claim they stand with Rinaldi against the “illegal aliens.”
Bad manners all around. As someone who once lived in Dallas, believe me when I tell you this is not just another day in the Southwest. Something has changed for the worse.
Far be it from me to mess with Texas, but one thing still nags at me. If Rinaldi was really concerned about maintaining order, why didn’t he call the state police, the FBI or the U.S. Coast Guard? What was it about the fact that many of the protesters were Latino that screamed to him: “Call ICE!”
Could it be that Rinaldi was profiling Latinos? In a state where that group is indigenous and now makes up nearly 40 percent of the population, that would be really disrespectful. I’d even call it offensive. So, in this day and age, it could be enough to get Rinaldi elected governor.
I’m not kidding. Until we start punishing bad behavior, we’ll get more of it.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.