Politics in the “Me” Era
Rodney Dangerfield, a comedian in the 1970’s and 80’s got his biggest laughs when in his best hangdog look he’d say “I don’t get no respect” as the never-fail punchline to a joke. As the laughs came he built an entire comedy career around that line and his perfect persona delivering it.
Respect is an interesting phenomenon. It is not love or hate or like or dislike. Or any combination of these base feelings. It is about recognizing that something or someone has value and meaning whether you like or dislike it, hate or love it.
It is a separate state of mind and it has fundamental meaning. People know what it means whether they can define it or not. It is from the African-American culture that we learn the power of disrespect…not only a lack of respect but words or actions that show how little something or someone is valued.
It is disrespect that has become the prevailing reality and hallmark of American politics in these early years of the 21st Century. A disrespect for the system, for the political parties through which the system works, and most often, for the men and women elected to become part of the system and areas of government served by it. There is in the land after decades of legislative non-productivity a disrespect for the system and the people in it.
It is within this prevailing reality that America has recently elected as President of the United States, a non-politician with a seeming total disrespect for the system and the people in it. If you didn’t know that he reminds you of it just about every day.
In our view Donald J. Trump is our President because the first words out of his mouth as he announced his candidacy were words of disrespect for the entire political system and every politician in it. He made that clear at the outset. And with that pronouncement knew with complete instinctual clarity (even if he didn’t actually know it) that America would buy this sell.
When he faced his seventeen opponents on the stage of the first Republican Presidential primary debate he made his feelings obvious. Standing in the dead center of the stage, long red tie, white shirt and blue suit a decomposition of the design of the American flag, he looked left and right and then into the camera stating:
You see these men and woman – they are politicians. They don’t care about you , they only care about themselves, about being elected and reelected to office.
That was the opening salvo and similar statements and tone continued throughout the debates. And not a single one of his opponents had a good answer, a decent comeback to that charge.
He claimed many of his opponents had come to him for money in campaigns passed. Using demeaning nicknames for each of his opponents, taunting them to answer back knowing that they wouldn’t, that they couldn’t handle him, he eliminated one, two, three of them at a time until he and Ted Cruz were the last standing. America saw him one way, Cruz another – and then it was time for Hillary.
During the Presidential campaign the taunting and disrespect increased…kill her, put her in jail, crooked Hillary…this unheard of approach to political warfare burned the air of the campaign and the debates. He went so far as to stalk her on stage and she ignored him, saying later that she should have confronted him.
That was then…Now a year later the taunting and disrespect of the system continues to this very minute. In very recent days, America was privileged through TV coverage to see the present system’s failure at work as a bi-partisan committee of legislators met with President Trump to discuss gun control in the wake of seventeen deaths in the latest school shooting in Florida.
With the Trump scornful look and his increasing awareness that he could speak for the country when he pursued this line of attack: he told leading Congressmen and Senators that no matter what the issue they cared about keeping their jobs first and everything else second.
He told the conferees that they were all afraid of the National Rifle Association. He said that this was a decent organization made up of patriotic Americans but that anyone was free to disagree with them. And then taunting them, he said you are afraid of them and I’m not.
Open disrespect for a governmental system that has been corrupted by the desire for personal power and place and the availability of money to feed it may be the only thing about American government that our 45th President actually understands or cares about.
The disrespect extends to his open attempt to continually make money for his business ventures using his close family members to conduct business as usual using government contacts and assets as if they were part of the business game.
Right or wrong he knows this as well: that many, many Americans feel exactly the same way about government and think his actions, words and attitudes speak for them as well.
DISRESPECT IS BIPARTISAN
In New York we see disrespect everywhere.
There is no question that the Democratic Party is as corrupt now as it has ever been…and it has had a two hundred year history of corruption.
There are more politicians in jail than ever before..and the list keeps getting longer.
The disrespect is found on the State and City levels.
At the very least, the Mayor should have been indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney for actions dealing with illegal real estate sales which benefitted campaign supporters. A Democrat running for reelection was excused by a DA who had taken a major campaign gift from those who should have been indicted. After exposure, he gave the money back and that was that.
The Mayor’s disrespect for the system broadens out to his continued avoidance of dealing with the terrible plight of 500,000 people living in NYCHA. No matter what terrible thing happens next he will continue to look away. It is his job but he couldn’t care less because no one else in his administration has ever done anything about it…and several of them are planning to run for Mayor next time.
In Albany, Andrew M. Cuomo continues to mock a system with all kinds of tricks dealing with all kinds of problems: education, transit, job development and his pledge to end corruption even as he receives more than $2 million in campaign money from appointees…clearly against the law.
There is no reason to detail any of this here or to remind an interested public that the very idea of the Independent Democratic Caucus in the NY State Senate, in which elected Democrats vote regularly with Republicans to maintain the Republican Party’s control of the Senate, has been little more than the Governor’s power play to continue control over the process.
Is this an act of disrespect for the people who freely elect those who are controlled by larger forces once elected? While you think about that remember two things…the man closest to the Governor for years has been on trial for bribery and conspiracy and the US Supreme Court has ruled that unless parties to an illegal act in government, were actually planning an illegal act, what they accomplish is nothing more than business, government, politics as usual.
Now that ruling is a perfect sign of disrespect for the American people.