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On Profanity and Politics

Michigan’s newly sworn-in Rep. Rashida Tlaib got a lot of attention over the weekend after she was inadvertently taped telling a group of liberal activists that she hoped to impeach President Donald Trump, It wasn’t her use of the so-called “I Word” that drew notice, however, but rather that she called Trump a very vulgar term that implies he has Oedipal tendencies.
Trump responded that Tlaib had “disgraced herself” with such language, and of course there was also much tsk-tsking about it on the right, but they’re all hypocrites for doing so. Trump himself has used the alluded-to term in front of a large crowd knowing that the microphones were on and the cameras were rolling and it would live forever on YouTube, and he has done as much as anyone to drag America’s political discourse into the rhetorical gutter. Such Trumpian language as “schlonged” and “son of a bitch” and the use of “pussy” in a certain sense were once dutifully bowdlerized by such respectable publications as this, but these days all those asterisks seem unnecessary for even such a respectable readership as ours..
Which is a gosh-darned shame, as far as we’re concerned.
The coarsening of the American language has long been a project of the left, starting with the vastly overrated nightclub comedian Lenny Bruce and all those foul-mouthed hippy-dippy protestors and Hollywood movies of the ’60s and ’70s. President Bill Clinton’s administration also prematurely introduced the kiddos to all sorts of adult subjects on the evening news, and it’s still mostly Democrats cussing in from the children. Leftist publications and podcasts are also more prone to profanity than those on the right, too, and their audiences are clearly comfortable with except when Trump says it, as they’re also all a bunch of hypocrites.
There’s always been plenty of cussing on the right, to be sure, but for the most part it’s been saved for discreet occasions. President Richard Nixon infamously had to have numerous expletives deleted from the transcripts of the White House tapes, but at the time he thought he was only talking to his co-conspirators and didn’t guess that posterity was also listening in. Subsequent Republican presidents have surely used salty language as well, but they saved it for the appropriate occasions and took care not to do so in mixed company or with any microphones around. The erstwhile “party of family values” seemed to appreciate the effort, and fought a revanchist culture war for a more polite bygone era of popular culture and political discourse.
By the time Trump started running for president, however, much of the Republican party was in no effin’ mood for such niceties. They were convinced that they’d only to that $#@^%* President Barack Obama because their candidates had been too genteel in their attacks, and focused to much on policy disagreements rather than Obama’s African heritage and other perceived personal shortcomings, and they could clearly see Trump wasn’t going to repeat that mistake. Trump’s die-hard defenders found his frequent vulgarity “authentic,” the same meaningless word the left had always used to defend its foul-mouthed heroes, and some even misconstrued it as honesty.
Since taking office has at least been presidential enough to lay off the “f-bombs,” but he sat silently the rap star and obvious nutcase Kanye West filled the Oval Office with them, and he’s often used slightly less salty language himself, and his administration has also prematurely introduced a new generation of kiddos to some very adult subjects on the evening news.
Go ahead and call us old-fashioned, but it really does seem a dad-blamed shame. On occasion we’ll resort to profanity, but only on special occasion. There are a few jokes we like to tell which require them, but we save those for our more disreputable sort of friends, and we try not to make a habit of it lest we blurt something out in a job interview or when meeting an attractive woman’s parents or children. Besides, we’re old enough remember a time when the popular culture and political discourse were more polite, and we recall it was one of the things that made America great back then.

— Bud Norman

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The Debate Descends

Although we have yet to meet a committed supporter of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy, even hear in the heart of that big red splotch on the nation’s electoral map, we frequently run into a lot of his apologists. Trump’s candidacy requires a considerable amount of apologetics, and some strenuous effort at it, but the usual rationalization is that at least he’s saying what’s really on his mind and widening the parameters of public discourse by boldly defying the rules of political correctness. As much as we admire honesty and abhor the restraints on intellectual discourse, we find these arguments bunk.
To our suspicious ears Trump sounds as if he is saying what he really thinks is on the public’s mind, which might well be something entirely different than he said a few years ago when the public was of a different mind, and his brashly ad hominem rhetoric is not so much an affront to political correctness as it is  to logic and etiquette. The next president will likely inherit $20 trillion of national debt, another hundred or trillion in shortfalls on what has been promised the public ever since the last Roosevelt administration, rising murder rates and declining public education test scores and stagnant wages, but”tweets” of vainglorious boasts and sophomoric put-downs of the other candidates’ looks that will not lead the country to any promising solutions. Political correctness is a problem when it precludes acknowledgement of the uncomfortable facts that higher crime rates in poor black neighborhoods might have something to do with a higher level of interactions with the police there, or that the Muslim president the left suddenly is clamoring for might not be so willing as the current occupant of the White House to awash in the colors of the rainbow flag, or that all those global warming alarmists are flying around in private jets, but when a candidate considers it undignified to ridicule the appearance of another candidate that is mere politeness. Trump does seem to have proved that a politician can stake out an anti-illegal immigration stance so extreme that it discomfits even such hard-liners such as ourselves without committing political suicide, and we’ll begrudgingly give him that, but otherwise he just seems to be dragging the debate down to the level of those head-shaving pro-wrestling extravaganzas and foul-mouthed celebrity roasts he used to appear on back in his more dignified days.
We’ll also begrudgingly concede that Trump isn’t so much a cause as a consequence the decline in the level of public discourse, which has been going on for many decades and on both the right and left sides of political spectrum. Trump’s apologists include some very prominent right-wing radio talkers, as well as some people whose opinions we generally respect, so we’ll stipulate that conservatism has too been constrained by political correctness in congress and other parts of officialdom, and that it is good someone as sensible as rival candidate Dr. Ben Carson now feels free to say that he’d rather not have a Muslim president, a preference that at least 95 percent of the country probably shares, despite the appall of people who would love to have both same-sex marriage and Sharia, and even that Trump might have something do with it.
Still, we’d like to think this could have been achieved without Trump’s boisterous arrival. The left has been availing itself of an utter lack of standards at least since the time when Lenny Bruce was bravely fighting for the right cuss in public, and the right has been taking to the radio airwaves with a similar disdain for polite debate at least since the so-called Fairness Doctrine was rightly brought down by the great Ronald Reagan, and any politician who was willing to defy politically correct opinion in favor of popular opinion was always going to benefit, but we can’t see the benefit. Suddenly the arguments about the right national debt and murder rates and stagnant wages and declining test scores and national dignity have been reduced to to the level of internet commentators calling one one another “loosers,” the more sophomoric insult seems to win the day, and the pandering to this lowest common denominator is all the slavish. Worse yet, when it comes down a general election the even lower left always seems to win this game.
We note that Trump’s crusade on behalf of unfettered speech now involves threats of lawsuits and calls for the Federal Communications Commission to censor his critics, just as the left has employed such tactics, and we’ll be eager to hear from his apologists about that. They’ll probably say it’s an Alpha male employing the same bareknuckle tactics that are required against the left, but we can’t help noticing that nobody has ever won that game.

— Bud Norman