Trump needs les­son in po­lit­i­cal po­litesse

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Reynolds is a writer liv­ing in Hous­ton. He’s on Twit­ter @RoyRReynolds By Roy R. Reynolds

Gov. Greg Ab­bott fi­nally dis­tanced him­self re­cently from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in two very dis­tinct ways.

First, he bris­tled against Trump’s pro­posed steel and alu­minum tar­iffs, not­ing that such a move would hin­der oil and gas pro­duc­tion in the state.

Sec­ond, and per­haps even more im­por­tantly, Ab­bott re­port­edly voiced his dis­sen­sion in a “care­fully worded letter.” Care­ful word­ing does not nor­mally ex­ist on our pres­i­dent’s pal­ette.

Of course, when the pre­pon­der­ance of his thoughts are trans­mit­ted via Twit­ter, maybe Trump doesn’t have space for such lagniappe as po­lite­ness, syn­tax, gram­mar, NOT TYP­ING IN ALL CAPS or ex­press­ing clear, con­tem­pla­tive thoughts.

Trump seems to care lit­tle about civil dis­course, and he’s far from alone. U.S. Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters in­flamed many peo­ple when she urged a crowd to ha­rass any mem­bers of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion spied try­ing to act like a nor­mal per­son (e.g. get­ting gas, eat­ing din­ner, talk­ing on a burner phone to a Rus­sian op­er­a­tive). “Tell them they’re not wel­come,” the fa­mously de­mure con­gress­woman in­sisted.

Trump, with his usual aplomb, re­sponded by calling Wa­ters “an ex­traor­di­nar­ily low IQ per­son” in an awk­wardly con­structed tweet.

The new rally cry of the so­cially re­tarded comes from for­mer Trump Cam­paign man­ager Corey Le­wandowski, with his sar­donic “womp, womp” game show pas­tiche in de­scrib­ing op­po­si­tion to sep­a­rat­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grant fam­i­lies. An­other man, ob­vi­ously skilled in the art of per­sua­sion, tried to shout down an Alabama protest on im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy June 30 by hol­ler­ing “womp, womp” dur­ing a bene­dic­tion.

The man, for­mer high school teacher Sean Ryan Sealy, was ar­rested — not for First De­gree Jack­assery, but for the gun tucked into his cargo shorts (much like the id­iot af­ter the shoot­ings in Santa Fe). Guns and cargo shorts be­ing the lat­est in prêt-à-porter for un­bal­anced sim­ple­tons, re­plac­ing Crocs footwear.

Wa­ters’ call to con­fronta­tional arms, of course, was in­spired by the de­fen­es­tra­tion of pres­i­den­tial spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders from a Vir­ginia restau­rant. The next day, San­ders called out the owner of the place, claim­ing the ex­pul­sion said “more about her than about me.”

At least San­ders re­sponded in a pas­sive-ag­gres­sive man­ner. One man’s pas­sive-ag­gres­sive be­hav­ior is an­other’s po­lite­ness. The name-calling and low­brow at­tacks of cur­rent po­lit­i­cal theater al­most makes that gen­teel.

Dis­agree­ment, of course, is the lifeblood of pol­i­tics. And the dis­course in the coun­try is not quite as vit­ri­olic as when Pre­ston Brooks smacked fel­low Sen. Charles Sum­ner with a walk­ing stick 162 years ago.

But the cur­rent war on dig­nity rages on many fronts. It’s not just name-calling, but a lack of ba­sic hu­man re­spect for others who hap­pen to dis­agree with us. The cur­rent fash­ion, though, is sim­ply ju­ve­nile and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. And un­for­tu­nately comes from the top down.

Trump is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily vis­i­ble and egre­gious of­fender. His oafish de­meanor on Twit­ter and on the stump en­gen­ders no re­spect and be­lies any de­scrip­tion of the man as a states­man. Pick­ing your au­di­ence is the essence of ef­fec­tive dis­course. When that au­di­ence is the whole of Amer­ica, maybe err on the side of cau­tion.

Trump’s ab­sence of deco­rum has seeped into all lev­els of po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sion and com­men­tary. There are mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents nowa­days that should make Amer­i­cans clutch their col­lec­tive pearls while mur­mur­ing “I don’t be­lieve I’d have said that.”

In­stead, we all seem to get on board with a lack of dis­cre­tion, espe­cially in the some­what anony­mous (though not to the NSA) on­line sphere. The short­term so­ci­ety of the in­ter­net has been abuzz re­cently with this topic of ci­vil­ity. But like many other facets of mod­ern life, by the time you read this, the on­line ether may have al­ready re­set to a play­ground where ev­ery­one even­tu­ally calls each other “Hitler.”

Anger, our cur­rent de­fault po­lit­i­cal mi­lieu, of­ten can be help­ful but just as eas­ily cloud a mes­sage. In any de­bate, the first per­son to raise their voice loses.

There are ways to dis­agree with­out be­ing dis­agree­able. And there’s a cer­tain ex­pec­ta­tion of ci­vil­ity when con­sid­er­ing Texas, named af­ter the Caddo word for “friend,” and eti­quette les­sons learned at the fence post rather than from Emily Post.

But then, it wasn’t that long ago that Ag Com­mis­sioner Sid Miller’s own Twit­ter feed called Hil­lary Clin­ton an un­re­peat­able and ex­tremely bad word (blamed on a third-party ven­dor, im­ply­ing that Miller can’t fake his own tweets). Also West Uni­ver­sity Place Coun­cil­woman Kel­lye Burke, who felt it ap­pro­pri­ate back in April to spout vul­gar­i­ties at teenage girls over a MAGA T-shirt.

We seem to be los­ing our col­lec­tive com­po­sure in an ac­cel­er­at­ing fash­ion.

In that re­gard, it was re­fresh­ing to see that Ab­bott took his time to parse his words in dis­agree­ing with the pres­i­dent. Not to men­tion that the gov­er­nor’s tweets are bliss­fully free of dé­classé in­sults and an overuse of ex­cla­ma­tion points.

Given that the re­cent Texas Repub­li­can Con­ven­tion of­fered up rhetoric about fealty to the pres­i­dent, maybe we should have been sur­prised that Ab­bott was will­ing to ex­press dis­sent in the first place. But our gov­er­nor was cor­rect, if a lit­tle nar­row, about the harm­ful im­pact of anti-free mar­ket tar­iffs. It’s also not ex­actly “run­ning the coun­try as a busi­ness,” as some un­duly give credit to Trump.

Per­haps Ab­bott should dis­agree with Trump more of­ten. And not just to teach him how to do so like an adult.

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