WASHINGTON – There’s a lot of talk in Washington these days about whether that quaint politeness known as “civility” is possible – or even desirable – among the nation’s political combatants.
Lots of people got riled up over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and party leaders now are branding opponents as “mobs” gone mad, and worse. Then there is President Donald Trump, an innovator in the field of talking smack, trying to energize his supporters for the Nov. 6 congressional elections. It’s not likely to get better soon, with both parties straining for control of Congress on Election Day.
A look at the “conversation”:
Trump kicked off his presidential campaign in 2015 by saying many Mexicans are rapists and murderers. He scorned his Republican challengers as “lyin’,” “little” and “low-energy.” He called women ugly, hysterical, even “a dog.”
Critics hated it. But after all, as Trump reminds everyone, he won.
Now, the president is back at it in the afterglow of Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court approval, calling confirmation opponents an “angry mob” of Democrats, some of them plain “evil.”
Lamenting civility’s loss
Not all fellow Republicans think the spread of this kind of talk is a good thing.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has long tsk-tsked the president’s incendiary style, said this week: “There is a lot of division in the country today, and it’s coming from both sides – and it is disheartening.”
The Wisconsin Republican, who is retiring after this year, said the economic and security anxieties that many Americans face give oxygen to the polarizing, and action to somehow reduce those stresses might help restore more productive conversations.
Don’t hold your breath
Hillary Clinton said Democrats actually have to be even tougher.
“You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about,” she said on CNN. “That’s why I believe, if we are fortunate enough to win back the House and/or the Senate, that’s when civility can start again.”
She likened the rhetoric during Kavanaugh’s consideration to other Republican attacks including “what they did to me for 25 years” as first lady, senator from New York, secretary of state and presidential candidate. Two years after Trump’s victory, she noted, he still routinely brings her up, calling her “Crooked Hillary.”
“You can be civil, but you can’t overcome what they intend to do unless you win elections,” she said. Republicans are driven by “the lust for power.”
Look who’s talking
What about that, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? “When you have the last presidential nominee for president saying incivility should continue until the Democrats win the House, for goodness sake, I think we know who the culprits are here when it comes to the quality of discourse in the country, and it’s not coming from the Republican side of the aisle.”
But what about Trump?
“It’s not my job to do a routine sort of daily critique of the president’s observations, and I speak up when I think it’s necessary,” he said. “He’s a unique politician; there’s no question about that.”
Besides, he said in an interview with The Associated Press, “We’re not here to have fun. It’s OK to have big fights once in a while.”
More than mean talk?
Sen. Cory Gardner, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said there have been threats against Kavanaugh, white powder sent to the Pentagon, the White House and lawmakers, and his own wife received a text message showing “a graphic beheading.” He also said some Kavanaugh foes had paraphrased Michelle Obama’s peaceful campaign mantra by saying, “When they go low, we kick back.”
He said that behavior must stop, “it’s time we step back from that brink.”
The White House
Not all the uncivil talk is so violent. Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway delivered a short-form master class Wednesday while taking Clinton to task.
“It’s one thing to call us deplorable, irredeemable, laugh at people who don’t have all the privileges that she has had with her Ivy League law degree and through her marriage to a much more popular man who actually was a two-term president that she’ll never be,” Conway said.
And, while Trump campaigns for Republican candidates, “I don’t see all these Democratic candidates banging down Hillary Clinton’s door asking her to lock arms.”
Actually, Clinton will hit the campaign trail soon on behalf of Florida gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum.