Tuesday, February 27, 2018


By Dominique Paul Noth

Our modern conflict resolution in politics is better then the old days,
but just how much better?
I’m rebelling against the way civility is being employed in American politics. 

There may be many good things that stem from the decorum imposed on members of Congress in their internal dealings.  No more screaming insults on the House floor, no more challenges to a duel as existed in the 19th century.  But under the “civilized” rules adopted since,   there is now no way to call a liar a liar without violating comity.  And more and more our politics have been a field day for flat-out lying.

Sen. Ted Cruz tried it two years and it wasn’t even about a “lie” but losing out on  legislative gamesmanship – and he still is paying the consequences of violating etiquette, as well as being in danger of losing his seat.

Most of the time, civility is the rational way people speak to each other, essential in a working democracy. It's why they wear nice clothes in Congress.

But that’s not how dress-up has been landing lately.  Not since the Republicans gained control of two of the three branches of government.  That power has gone to their  heads so much they will shortly lose it. They can’t play fair, so they have become expert at creating  their own facts.

This has recently bollixed the Democrats to the point that a lie perpetrated by a Republican House chairman, and backed by misleading statements from the White House, has so muddled the issues around the Russian investigation as to leave the truth upended and the public in a state of confusion. It’s no longer just “politics as usual” but attacks on the basic facts that we normally could agree on. Seldom have statistical details been put to such obfuscation.

It’s getting tiresome to explain how Rep. Devin Nunes, despite recusing himself from Russian issues at the House Intelligence Committee, had his staff fashion out of secret documents a lie about the FBI playing politics and FISA judges not having the right knowledge about opposition research. They figured that these fabrications  would be convincing to Trump’s voters.

The lie was quickly promulgated to the public with favorable statements from the White House, which controls release of any data based on sealed documents. Then, relying on a public confused enough to believe the Nunes lies, Trump delayed, redacted and poked fun at the rebuttal truth message from the Democrats.

One result is that the correction could not go blow by blow exposing the lies. It did demonstrate that in this case both the FBI and the four FISA judges followed all rules, but by that time who noticed?   And the correction didn’t get its own extensive airtime, since it  was not revealed to the public until the middle of the CPAC gathering, where Nunes was allowed to repeat his lies before a zealous conservative crowd, with full TV coverage.

And the media? It was paralyzed by civility too, it seems. Not “Fox and Friends,” of course, whose constant lies in favor of Trump have led to both exposure and derision.

But civility and balance are at least given lip-service at MSNBC, CNN and other networks.  To explain things to the public they still feel they have to give as much time to the false accusation as to the Democratic rebuttal, thereby doubling the exposure, allowing the lies to seem a reasonable area of debate.  

Has Adam Schiff been rewarded for civility?
One could only groan for Rep. Adam Schiff, chief minority voice on the committee, who tried to indirectly point out in interviews that he was facing lies – except he couldn’t say lie. Not only is he naturally a creature of civility, the rules of Congress don’t allow him to call a liar like Nunes a liar without being censured by the Republican dominated House.

It didn’t help that Nunes’ good buddy, Speaker Paul Ryan, told his friend to recuse himself then, wink and nod, allowed him to interfere at will. You get the feeling that many Republicans truly  know what is going on but are too cowardly to speak out against the master race. They may not have the presidency by much but damn they want to keep it.

And that's the biggest thing tilting the playing field -- the attention we historically give to the bully pulpit of the White House. For decades whatever the president says is news to be dissected and debated, even now when it can be the spewings of infantile tweets or the flourishing of useless resolutions like a dining menu at  Mar-a-Lago.

You see it several times a week when the press corps keeps asking sensible questions of the White House press secretary knowing that Sarah Huckster is going to spin and spin what the president actually told her or what she has invented to protect him. You can see the press  frustration and stifled laughter, but they still follow decorum – and frankly, I no longer know the hell why.

The same is true with the president at his rallies and non-interruptable TV and radio interviews.   We and the media may quietly laugh, we and they scramble to keep up with the hundreds of lies and bungled statistics that fall from his  lips, but he still gets way too much airt

Partly it his entertaining style of delivery – it’s good for ratings to not know what he will say next – but partly it is that president of the United States thing.  No journalist can ignore what he’s saying and no member of the public can totally ignore what he is thinking (though I think more are trying daily).

Add to this a  White House staff devoted not to serving the nation but to protecting their boss – a mansion full of novices and nepotism  constantly twisting things for an audience of one.  

The master of fake news signings strikes again.
This is a president who believes the NRA is sincere, just as he believes Putin when he said he  had nothing to do with attacking our election.  This is a man who spends hours hiding his bald spot and inventing bone spurs to avoid the draft, yet insists that he would have run unarmed into that Florida school to face a gunman.   When dealing with that level of self-delusion, who dares tell him aloud that he talks like a fool?

And here is the result, so frustrating that it raises up in the public a  desire to beome rabble-rousers – so useless seem the normal avenues of conversation.  

Trump offers a totally ridiculous solution to gun violence: Arm the teachers  – teachers who understand human nature and the fallacy of the western shoot-em-up mentality.

But because the president proposed it, we waste a lot of digital and print space whacking it down as if it were a serious idea.  Since he is echoing the gun manufacturing lobby known as the NRA, the president is providing them cover for what everyone knows is outrageous foolishness.

Suddenly the media is holding talkathons  on just how many teachers might want to bring a gun to class, just how many hardened Marines want to work as teachers, just how many mentally challenged gunmen will be scared away as opposed to being more attracted to suicide by cop. 

The nation has been distracted from the real problem. The NRA leadership is out in force spinning  a phony vision of the Second Amendment.  Fortunately, these young victims of the Florida massacre are old enough to not put up with these efforts at distraction, which have sapped the strength of older citizens to do something about the gun culture.  The youngsters  claim they will survive rounds and rounds of setbacks as just blocked them in Tallahassee.

They have entered a biased race where decorum ought to matter but action matters more. Round and  round our nation goes, wasting time on issues that are neither left nor right  but smart vs. dumb.  

We are going to see if the women angered by chauvinistic men can continue their commitment and  agitation for the years it will take to achieve gains.  We’ll see if the young people, normally impatient but now deeply  angered by gun policy failures,  are committed enough to survive all the barriers  and  disappointments that big money and a waffling president will push in their path for years. 

Trump’s diminishing band of supporters know this is a race and they are hanging on with some powerful tools. His last stand is the economy. No one wishes our economy ill (except other countries).  It’s the Trump ace in the hole, no matter who stabilized it.  Until it fails,  his backers  will stick with a president who has flamboyant-sized fixation on the economy to go with his pea-brained view of social problems. But isn’t  that’s too high a price to pay for civility?

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He also created its Friday Weekend section and ran Sunday TV Screen magazine and Lively Arts as he became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and Internet and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee. 

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