Political Manners

Once upon a time, that is to say before June 16, 2015, while the major party candidates for President played rough and took liberties with the truth, those liberties usually consisted of telling partial truths and slanting the facts favorably. Once elected, to the same or to a lesser degree they continued the same practice. At times, they managed to imply unfavorable characteristics or behaviors about their opponents with edited or tailored photos or quotes. They often claimed that, once elected, their opponents would do terrible things. Lyndon Johnson ran a tear-jerking but brutal ad that implied Barry Goldwater would lead the U.S. into a nuclear war… and it worked.

But, with one horrendous exception, there was a general consensus that blatant falsehoods, particularly about the other candidate’s life, were not to be used and that, unless someone in a candidate’s family was a political figure in his or her own right, they were off-limits, as were politicians who had retired from the arena. That didn’t mean that unflattering events that actually happened weren’t used. They certainly were. Terribly misleading and even factually impossible claims about a candidate’s plans and how terrible things would be under his leadership were often presented, but blatantly false lies were seldom employed. Nor were degrading personal epithets often used.

They may not have been perfect, but those were the traditional political manners.

When Donald Trump decided to run for president, and even before, he decided to break all the rules, most of all those accepted political manners dealing with truth. He continued to trumpet the falsehood that President Obama wasn’t a citizen, and he’s quietly pushing the idea that Kamela Harris isn’t either. He claimed that Mexico would pay for his wall. It’s tragically absurd when a President has non-violent protesters tear-gassed for a photo-op to appeal to the religious right, or when he says that the U.S. is handling the Covid-19 pandemic better than other nations, given that, with 5% of the world’s population, we have 25% of the cases and 21% of the deaths.

When The New York Times documented thousands of Trump’s complete falsehoods, what was Trump’s response? He claimed those who pointed out those falsehoods were peddling “fake news.” What’s even worse is that those who support him have adopted the same methods.

I mentioned above the one horrendous instance when those traditional political manners broke down before – that was when, in the early 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy ran around claiming that anyone who opposed him was a Communist or a Commie-sympathizer. It was a dark period in American history and one not remembered by many and seldom taught in schools.

But right now, what Trump is doing makes McCarthy’s acts pale in comparison… and Trump’s supporters either don’t know that or, more likely, don’t care, which is why the rest of us should, more than ever.

2 thoughts on “Political Manners”

  1. Tom says:

    “Toxic politics…” is the title of a free article in today’s New Zealand Herald. As with your opening line I could not believe reading the apparent change in kiwi manners.

    “Once upon a time, that is to say before June 16, 2015, while the major party candidates for President played rough and took liberties with the truth, those liberties usually consisted of telling partial truths and slanting the facts favorably….”

    Was this present in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but sub-rosa, or, because there were fewer minorities in US politics their pain was not heard?

    The NZ Herald article implies the problem is too much power in too few hands – authoritarianism. “The key is greater devolution of power, and greater connections with communities because there is a massive gap between those making decisions, and those who the decisions impact on.”

    Manners are introduced at home (part of one’s personality) and etiquette is taught at school (not necessarily that of hard knocks), socially, and at work. Thus, behavior is part of the individual but also part of the culture of the society. Perhaps the answer to a previous blog question is that the US does deserve Trump. Can we and do we want to, change our present set of manners for something less “Toxic”?

  2. Donna L. DuHamel says:

    Inner balance
    mmm couks that be the missing link
    Love your 1st Magic of recluse book.

    Life, minute by seconds…
    we relearn patience, gratitude and simplicity

    thanks for all the inspirational words
    Peace..within Love’s understanding heals us all
    xxxxxxx

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