This Memorial Day weekend, as we honor Americans who represented our country with bravery and dignity, and who paid the ultimate price to protect our people and our ideals, elected Republicans are validating the "ugly American" stereotype with rude, disrespectful, and even violent behavior.
“No home training.”
That’s what my no-nonsense, but always well-mannered, Texan grandmother would say if she were still alive to witness the current crop of Republican officeholders and candidates.
From the commander in chief, all the way down the line to local representatives, ridiculously offensive words and behavior has become so prevalent among the GOP, that it is now their “new normal.”
On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott, of my home state of Texas, joked about shooting reporters while waving a target sheet riddled with bullet holes at a driving range. It was a crude photo op for his signing of a bill to lower the cost of handgun licenses in Texas.
— Patrick Svitek (@PatrickSvitek) May 26, 2017
Now, he didn’t make this “joke” as part of a good-natured banter with reporters or in an act of self-deprecation regarding the GOP’s resistance to the free press’s attempts to report facts in this age of “alternative facts.”
He just made a bad joke in bad taste. A joke that likely won’t be appreciated by the families of murdered journalists like the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl and The Atlantic’s Michael Kelly. Countless brave journalists who, like the soldiers we will commemorate on Monday, gave their lives for America.
On Wednesday, the Republican candidate for sole House seat in Montana, Greg Gianforte, physically attacked reporter Ben Jacobs for asking him a substantive question about his views on the congressional Republicans’ unpopular health care repeal plan. Questions that were inconvenient for Gianforte to answer on the eve of the election.
His office initially lied about the incident, releasing a statement blaming Jacobs for the attack that landed that him in the emergency room and resulted in criminal assault charges being filed against Gianforte.
Even after the release of a damning audio recording of the encounter, and corroboration of the Jacobs’ account by reporters from Fox News, Gianforte waited until after he won the election the following day to offer a very thin apology.
Reporters were hard pressed to find a Republican politician willing to condemn Gianforte’s intentional, violent act against a member of the press. Criminal, aggravated assault is evidently excusable when a congressional seat is on the line.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency has represented the nadir of the GOP’s willingness to not only tolerate, but to encourage rank ugliness, bad manners, offensive behavior and even violence — not to mention incompetence, kleptocracy, mendacity, and possibly treason — as long as there is an “R” following the name of an elected official.
Trump lies and offends with such frequency that one night without a rancid rant from his Twitter account is viewed as a near-Churchillian accomplishment. And he never apologizes for any of it.
When I was growing up, I was taught to say “excuse me” and “I’m sorry.” Not as a chore or last resort when attempts to gaslight or make excuses for bad behavior or mistakes run out, but as an act of genuine contrition.
I recall the lesson to “never tell a lie” being reinforced by the fable of our first president chopping down a cherry tree.
I recall the post-softball/baseball game handshake offered to every member of the opposing team, with a nod and a “good game,” whether we smoked them or were smoked by them.
I recall being raised to watch my mouth, check my temper, and to respect other people, their persons and their feelings.
There is this myth about the “good Christian folks” of America’s heartland, midwest, and southern states. I grew up in Texas which, despite its reputation for crazy, shares the general Southern reputation for “nice.” And it is certainly true that it was a paradoxically nice place to grow up, even as a Black girl.
Much lip service was given to the “Golden Rule,” and the value of treating others as one desired to be treated. Manners, waiting your turn, being gracious, offering before taking — these values were reinforced and typically practiced in day-to-day life.
But the dirty little secret behind the “yes, ma’am’s” and “thank you’s” and extra slices of pecan pie of “ordinary Americans,” and the people who deign to represent them, is that the veneer of kindness and manners can and often will end abruptly if you don’t fall in line politically or stay in your place socially.
The same people who call themselves “values voters” and “Christian right” not only vote for people whose behavior is the antithesis of all the “values” they claim to espouse, but they enable these people and their repugnant behavior. They turn a blind eye, and make excuses for behavior that is offensive, and even violent. Which they never would do if the tables were turned and the same acts were committed by someone who didn’t check the “R” box when they registered to vote.
This week has been a prime example.
Trump brought his “Porky’s” standard of comportment to Europe, where he not only managed to make America the laughing stock of the NATO summit, but served as a living, wheezing example of the “ugly American” stereotype by shoving the leader of another nation to better position himself for a photo op.
In front of the world’s cameras, the American president roughly pushed aside the prime minister of Montenegro to place himself in the front of the crowd of leaders. Though the prime minister has graciously demurred from criticizing Trump, Trump’s behavior on video speaks for itself, with nary an “excuse me” or other word spoken to validate, explain, or apologize for the boorish behavior.
From his gleeful incitement of violence at his rallies, to his refusal to apologize for anything, even when he is caught in a lie, to his lack of basic manners, it is no surprise that violence, hate crimes, and racial tensions have exploded in America under his watch. He inspires our national ugliness.
And what is even uglier is that the “nice folks” I grew up with in Texas, and other “ordinary Americans” who lean right politically have turned a blind eye and washed their hands of the ugliness, to the extent they don’t participate in it.
No one is practicing what they preach. Not a single one of my Republican friends from “the Heartland” has reached out to me to say, “I’m a Republican and agree with my party on policy, but it wasn’t right for Trump to criticize federal judges. Or call Mexicans rapists. Or talk about grabbing a woman’s privates. Or lie about President Obama’s birthplace.”
If we want to maintain the esteem and personal honor represented by those great Americans we will commemorate on Memorial Day, it is not enough for us to be personally polite and respectful when it is convenient or to our advantage. It has to be a standard that we apply both to ourselves and our elected officials, regardless of the party they represent.
In just a few months, America has gone from revered to reviled in the world, and for good reason. It is time for Trump’s supporters, not just his opponents, to put the Ugly-American-in-Chief in check and restore our nation’s dignity and values.