What the heck goes on in Jefferson City? I heard on the news yesterday that two of our state legislators got into a fistfight after attending some organization-sponsored party. Apparently, they had some disagreement about a piece of legislation, one took a swing at the other, and then the confrontation devolved into a real donnybrook. What in the world!?
These people were elected to represent Missouri citizens, to be statesmen, to solve problems. We tell our children not to use violence to settle arguments; we shouldn’t tolerate that type behavior from people who are being paid to direct our state’s future. The irony in this piece of news is that both the legislators represent the same political party. Think of the result if they’d actually had a difference in their fundamental beliefs!
Of course, such undignified and disrespectful behavior is not limited to politicians and elected officials at the state level. In the past few years, we have seen a member of the United States Congress shout, “You lie!,” in the middle of the President’s State of the Union address; we have also seen a justice of the United States Supreme Court shaking his head and grimacing in disdain at another State of the Union speech.
We are treated to sarcastic tweets during nationally televised political speeches and debates. How in the world a person can actually listen to the content of a speech or debate while at the same time composing and sending snarky messages on Twitter is beyond me. When I was a working mother, I was the queen of multi-tasking, but those “multi-tasks” rarely, if ever, required serious concentration, unlike listening to a speech or debate with real content and real consequences.
Today, as we prepare to choose party nominees for our country’s highest elected office, we must sift through hyperbole and name-calling. One candidate calls others “low energy,” “loser” and “third-rate.” Another has stood on the Senate floor and called his colleagues “liars.” We are subjected to comments about candidates’ looks, comments questioning candidates’ religious beliefs and faith, and statements regarding shooting people and encouraging violence in crowds.
All this “trash talk” detracts from real issues. Is Ted Cruz, who was born in Canada, a “natural-born citizen” according to the original intent and meaning of the Constitutional phrase? Is it possible to have free tuition at community colleges and state universities? Is a no-fly zone over Syria a good idea? What actual steps are necessary to “make America great?” How do we accomplish those steps, if they exist? Why do women continue to make $0.80 to a man’s $1, and how can that change?
Finally, and unfortunately, this lack of civility in the public eye gives our children — and us — permission to act rudely and disrespectfully to those with whom we disagree. I am dismayed when I hear children speaking defiantly to adults, and even more dismayed when I hear people call each other nasty names and denigrate each other because of race, color, religion, or creed – or political views. Whatever happened to Thumper’s mother’s – and my mother’s – advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”
We now hear furor over being “politically correct.” I don’t know where this term came from, but it seems to connote something unsavory or bad. I believe, however, there is nothing wrong with considerate, respectful thought and communication, taking into account that we all come from somewhere, that many of us have different familial or ethnic cultures and beliefs, that we all view the world through the lens of our own experiences, and most important, that we all inhabit, together, the one and only earth. We owe it to ourselves and our children to change this now-acceptable harsh, judgmental environment. To quote someone somewhere, “Can’t we just all get along?”
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.