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Mean and meaner: A vaunted political system enters an era of revolt

grubaugh new picBy DENNIS GRUBAUGH   
    Bill Winter, a deft copy editor from my past, used to have an old joke in which the king and his guardsman would describe the latest rebellion.
    “Your highness, the peasants are revolting!” the guardsman would warn.
    “Yes, aren’t they?” the king would respond.
    Quick-witted Bill never missed a chance to put things in perspective, and if he were alive today I wonder what he’d say watching today’s politics.
    He’d probably describe them as “mean.”
    From assaults upon our democracy to the extreme voices in our society, meanness permeates. Propelled along on the shoulders of social media, broadcast each day on television and radio, and reflected regularly in newsprint, hatefulness seems to have taken hold. We’re becoming one big case of road rage.
    Or, at least you would think so, given the clamor. Every day, I talk to ordinary people who bemoan our crass culture and wish things would change. There are an awful lot of good Americans out there, swept up by the insanity.
    President Donald Trump used the term “mean” to describe the House healthcare bill, which threatens to send 23 million needy people looking for insurance coverage. Of course, the president’s use of the term is a bit hypocritical, given how he rose to the world’s highest office on one of the meanest presidential campaigns in history.     
    And for months now, we’ve watched the president speak in soundbites that tell us little of policy but sure do stir things up needlessly by criticizing our institutions, speaking ill of foreign powers and removing the welcome mat.
    We are witnessing a tectonic shift in statesmanship that does absolutely nothing to serve the dignity of the presidency and everything to foster isolationism.
    We allowed it to happen, of course. We elected a man who pretty much spelled out what he planned to do, then proceeded as planned. This was completely foreseeable, this assault on domestic tranquility.
    Democrats and Republicans share in the meanness. Throughout the latest healthcare debate they’ve tossed invective at each other as if it were a requirement. Not one Republican supports Obamacare. Not one Democrat supports its repeal. There is no middle ground.
    Mean and meaner. Nothing is getting accomplished.
    To the extent there will be lasting damage to the republic, I have my doubts — this is, after all, the country that survived a Civil War. But if there is one thing we should agree upon, it’s this: We are being disserved at all levels of government when our leaders refuse to communicate and compromise; when they place selves over service; when they blatantly abuse the privilege of power simply by their quest to keep it. When a single congressional race draws $50 million in donations as it did in last month’s special election in Georgia, it is clear we have misplaced our priorities in this country.
    Our president is going to have to step up by toning it down. So is our Congress. We are all going to have to watch our vitriol. We don’t need to further inflame those on the mental fringe.
    What we do need is one person of character, perhaps with a microphone, willing to say, “Enough is enough.”  Perhaps someone like Joseph Welch? The onetime chief counsel for the U.S. Army stopped blacklisting in its tracks in 1954 by standing up to red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy with seven immortal words:
    “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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