In the good old days, say a little more than a decade ago, we practiced bare-knuckled, hard-brawling politics, but when it came time to govern we set it aside and did what needed to be done. We recognized that accumulating enough votes to win the election was an incredibly difficult thing to do and sometimes, even to get people voting at all, we had to engage in exaggeration, hyperbole, and bombast. But in a triumph of reason and concern for the national well-being once the election was over we set aside the exaggeration, hyperbole, and bombast and got down to business. But no more.
The behavior of Democrats during last night’s SOTU coupled with the absolute bifurcation of coverage regarding the speech I have seen today (everyone thought it was either the best or the worst SOTU ever, but there seems to be no serious middle ground) has made it clear that reason and concern for the national well-being are no longer triumphant – at least among the governing and journalistic elites. There is no national discussion, no discussion at all really. It is like we are each individually the emperor and there is only the thumbs up or the thumbs down. After we have displayed our thumbs then the performer we are viewing must either be lauded or killed. I can think of several factors coming together to create this untenable situation:
- The expansion of media created by the birth of cable coupled with the explosion of opinion created by the internet has resulted in circumstances where the election never ends and hence the exaggeration, hyperbole and bombast can never be put away.
- As government expansion into areas of personal morality has increasingly run counter to long-standing tradition, rooted in common religious morality, political ideology has taken on religious fervor. This fervently held ideology lacks traditional religion’s admonitions to both reason and humility.
- In the modern era we have come to have such an expansive view of what constitutes “the self,” that to disagree is not merely to have a different idea, but is instead to be dismissive of and uncaring towards the individual you disagree with. In other words, it is all personal.
These three factors form a self-perpetuating downward spiral away from our great democracy and towards a simple and brutal battle of factions. Last night was deeply troubling – not because of the president’s performance – but because the event as a whole clearly illustrates that there is no place for reason and compromise, there is only “my side” and “your side” and the battle between them.
Let the record show that this state of war was not declared by the president, who has demonstrated himself to be the undisputed champion of bombast, but by his opposition who could not even bring themselves to applaud this:
Here tonight is Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed that veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided to change that, and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes. Preston: a job well done.
Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.
Those words are the champion of bombast calling for unity. The counter-puncher was reaching across the aisle and saying it can be different. But for those that could not applaud such rhetoric, as the host pointed out on the show this morning, there is nothing greater than the battle. And so the battle rages and rages – exaggeration, hyperbole and bombast remain the order of the day and reason must stay hidden in the closet.
There was much discussion on the show this morning about how soon “Twitter Trump” will re-emerge. How long before the aisle-spanning reach will be withdrawn? Given opposition reaction last night and today I have no doubt “Twitter Trump” will be back very soon – but I don’t think that means the aisle-spanning reach is withdrawn. I am beginning to sense that this guy is going to go toe-to-toe all the while wanting to end the fight. He is not going to let them score punches while standing there with an olive branch. He’ll hold the olive branch, but if they punch him, he’ll hold it in the fist he punches back with – and then once again offer it.
In the absence of reason, that’s actually a good strategy. As has been discussed continually about North Korea, if you cannot reason with them you have to fight them. Fortunately, as long as the olive branch is in the fist the fight does not have to end in defeat or capitulation – it can end simply by declaring peace and allowing reason to once again rule the day.
Hewitt colleague Prager is found of saying that he “prefers clarity over agreement.” Whatever his gifts and faults, Donald Trump as POTUS is creating a great deal of clarity. The president is making clear the absence of reason in our current national debate and he is making clear just who it is that is behaving so unreasonably.
If I were a #NeverTrumper, I’d be rethinking really quickly. If I were a Democrat, I’d be quaking in my boots.