During a presidential debate between Sen. Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, Douglas called Lincoln “two-faced.” Lincoln, both witty and self-deprecating responded, “I leave it to my audience. If I had another face, would I wear this one?”
There is nothing new to name-calling in American politics. John Adams referred to Alexander Hamilton as a “bastard brat of a Scotch peddler.” President Grover Cleveland was called a “moral leper” and President Franklin Pierce was called a “pimp.”
Imagining that politics today is coarser and less respectful than in times past is therefore not entirely accurate. The 21st century may be technologically advanced, but human nature remains the same. However, contemporary politics does seem to include an especially large cohort racing to the bottom, and few are sprinting faster than U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Boebert was captured on video regaling audiences with a fictitious story of an elevator encounter with Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. In her telling, Boebert relaxes when she realizes Omar is not wearing a backpack — insinuating Omar was a would-be suicide bomber. Boebert frequently refers to Omar as a member of the “Jihad squad” and a terrorist sympathizer. Unsurprisingly, Omar received fresh death threats following the public release of Boebert’s comments. Boebert’s attacks on Omar may be a nasty case of projection, given the rife speculation about her own involvement in the domestic terror attack on the Capital on Jan. 6. Furthermore, Boebert frequently accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, but remained mum when Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene blamed Jewish space lasers for igniting wildfires in the West.
Recently, several writers took to the pages of the Vail Daily (here, here and here) to complain about a column written by Richard Carnes. Satire, Carnes’ main mode of communication employs humor, sarcasm, scorn and irony to expose the absurdity and irrationality of contemporary issues, politics and politicians.
These concerned citizens were compelled to write about a small-town Colorado newspaper columnist but remained silent when their elected representative to Congress whose public platform is far vaster made bigoted and offensive claims. Where is their outrage at the outrageous behavior and comments of an individual elected to a position of public trust? Crickets. Not a single Eagle County Republican has stepped up to repudiate Boebert’s behavior, language or wholesale ineptness.
Similarly, I have written previously of the harassing gang that descends upon the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting each week to badger the commissioners about vaccines, masks and ballot measures they did not understand.
Last week, the commissioners convened as the Board of Health considered the matter of Cornerstone Christian School’s refusal to comply with the county mask mandate despite a COVID-19 outbreak in the school resulting in numerous illnesses, hospitalizations and one death. The packed room brimmed with indignation, self-righteousness and religious zealotry. Herding the flock was the Rev. Jim Tarr, recently recovered from a bout of COVID-19 that required hospitalization.
“They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” was a hymn in frequent rotation at my childhood church, St. Raphael’s. However, love was in short supply last Thursday. Instead, Tarr and his congregants simmered with anger and disrespect. In addition to outbursts throughout the meeting, epithets were hurled at the meeting’s conclusion when the commissioners voted to direct the county attorney to file a civil action against the school. The absurd insults flung at the commissioners included “communists,” “Marxists” and “Nazis.” To be clear, Nazis were fascists that were actually anti-communist.
Name-calling is an emotional, not rational, response. It is also a logical fallacy. Attacking a person’s character rather than refuting the merits of their case is the cheap and easy weapon of the intellectually lazy.
Boebert and Tarr’s followers call themselves Christians, which is their prerogative. Yet neither display the defining characteristic of their faith — love.
Conversely, our commissioners and county employees face the continuous barrage of criticism and name-calling from this minority of agitators with composure and grace. They would do well to consider the attitude of Lincoln, often the target of vicious criticism and frequent name-calling. Harshly and unfairly criticized by the War Committee, Lincoln responded, “I do the very best I know how — the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10 angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”