Trump’s dis­dain for ci­vil­ity could leave last­ing dam­age

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

When a South Carolina con­gress­man shouted “You lie!” dur­ing a speech by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2009, House mem­bers re­buked him for vi­o­lat­ing norms of ci­vil­ity. Af­ter this year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the idea that peo­ple were once trou­bled by the out­burst seems al­most quaint. Ci­vil­ity in pol­i­tics has been de­clin­ing for years, both a cause and symp­tom of a chang­ing cul­ture where anony­mous ver­bal as­saults are fired freely across the In­ter­net, and ca­ble TV rou­tinely broad­casts words once banned from the air­waves.

But Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial run took name-call­ing and mock­ery - things that vot­ers long said they de­tested in their can­di­dates - and nor­mal­ized them into a win­ning political strat­egy. Now Trump, the pres­i­dent-elect, is call­ing for unity in words that draw at­ten­tion pre­cisely be­cause they sound so un­like Trump, the can­di­date. But many ques­tion whether it is pos­si­ble to re­verse the cam­paign’s dam­age to political dis­course and its rip­ples out to the way Amer­i­cans speak to and about each other.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around on this sub­ject, but I think in this par­tic­u­lar elec­tion that an em­brace of Don­ald Trump was an em­brace of in­ci­vil­ity and vul­gar­ity and in­sults and bul­ly­ing, and un­for­tu­nately we saw very lit­tle pub­lic re­pu­di­a­tion of that from any Trump sup­port­ers,” said Mark DeMoss, an At­lanta pub­lic re­la­tions ex­ec­u­tive and con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can whose clients are mostly Chris­tian re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions.

DeMoss, who aban­doned a cam­paign called the Ci­vil­ity Project in early 2011 af­ter only three mem­bers of Congress would sign a pledge to act re­spect­fully, watched the degra­da­tion of political speech for years. Then Trump’s cam­paign, he and other long­time ob­servers say, stomped well past what was thought to be ac­cept­able. “We can all point to in­ci­dents in cam­paigns across history, but I think this one prob­a­bly does rep­re­sent a new place in terms of in­ci­vil­ity,” said James Mullen, pres­i­dent of Al­legheny Col­lege in Meadville, Penn­syl­va­nia, which awards a prize each year for ci­vil­ity in pub­lic life. “What wor­ries me the most is we’re be­com­ing al­most numb,” Mullen said.

When Al­legheny - which first polled Amer­i­cans about political ci­vil­ity in 2010 - did so again in Oc­to­ber, re­searchers noted a “dis­turb­ing” de­cline in those re­ject­ing in­sults in pol­i­tics. The num­ber who dis­ap­prove of political com­ments about some­one’s race or eth­nic­ity de­clined from 89 per­cent to 69 per­cent. The num­ber who said it was un­ac­cept­able to shout over a de­bate op­po­nent fell from 86 per­cent to 65 per­cent.

Many ob­servers blame Trump, who called Mex­i­can im­mi­grants “rapists”, tarred his ad­ver­saries as “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hil­lary” and com­plained that a TV jour­nal­ist’s dogged ques­tion­ing was just a sign she had “blood com­ing out of her wher­ever”. He said all of those things, not on long­for­got­ten tapes, but in front of mil­lions of vot­ers. At Trump’s ral­lies, sup­port­ers fol­lowed suit, chant­ing “Lock Her Up!” about Clin­ton and wear­ing Tshirts with the slo­gan, “Trump That B **** !”

Shifts

In some ways, Trump’s rhetoric is an out­growth of cul­tural and political shifts. A gen­er­a­tion be­fore the In­ter­net, political back­ers were leav­ing fliers at­tack­ing ri­vals on vot­ers’ wind­shields in the dark and blan­ket­ing neigh­bor­hoods with anony­mous di­rect mail­ings. So­cial me­dia made it pos­si­ble for or­di­nary peo­ple to dis­par­age political enemies widely with no risk, say­ing things they might pre­vi­ously have told only their close friends.

“Into that world comes a can­di­date who uses Twit­ter as a pri­mary mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia who stud­ies political com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “He lives in a world in which this stuff is be­ing traf­ficked back and forth, and that nor­mal­izes this kind of dis­course for you as a can­di­date.” But with their words, Trump, Clin­ton and other politi­cians set the tone for a much larger con­ver­sa­tion. — AP

BER­LIN: A demon­stra­tor protest­ing against US pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump dis­plays a plac­ard fea­tur­ing a like­ness of Trump dur­ing a demon­stra­tion at the Bran­den­burg Gate yes­ter­day. — AFP

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