In normal circumstances, I would apologize to everyone — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — for the title of this piece.
But these are not normal circumstances.
The title is admittedly an amalgam, but it accurately reflects what three very prominent Democrats have very publicly stated. So, although the title does make me uncomfortable, I don’t think I’m the one who should be apologizing.
We all remember that in September of last year, Hillary Clinton said in a prepared campaign address that half of the people who would be voting for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpAre millions of Republicans truly deplorable scumbags? Poll: Most think Trump is abusing his powers GOP senator rips Trump over sugar deal with Mexico MORE were deplorable and irredeemable. She later said that she regretted using the word “half.” (Did she mean to say two-thirds?)
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a long-serving congress woman (currently in her thirteenth term) and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, said during a television interview in February that members of the Trump administration and other Trump allies were “scumbags.”
When asked directly whether that characterization would include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, she did not deny that it would. That kind of language did not dissuade the Washington Post from publishing a long puff piece: “‘Auntie Maxine’ and the quest for impeachment.”
The piece never mentions the word “scumbags.”
Tom Perez was elected in February as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As such, he is the titular head of the Democratic Party. In several of his public speeches, he has proclaimed: “Republicans don’t give a sh*t about people.”
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Approximately thirty-seven percent of adult Americans identify themselves as Republicans or as leaning towards the Republican position (I would be among those “leaners”), while forty-four percent identify as Democrats or leaning in that direction.
With 200 million registered voters, that amounts to something like 74 million Republicans or people leaning toward Republican views. Is it true that half of those 74 million people, or maybe all of them, “don’t give a shi*t” about anyone other than themselves?
Politicians of all parties, certainly including Republicans, say foolish, false, vulgar things of which they ought to be ashamed. The current occupant of the White House is one such person.
Still, I cannot remember a prominent Republican leader using equally vulgar, hateful language, in widely-disseminated public statements, to denigrate tens of millions of Americans who belong to another political party.
Chants of “Lock her up!” at campaign rallies, as cruel as they may be, express the view that a candidate has broken the law. These days, there are certainly many such expressions regarding the current occupant of the White House.
That kind of chant is not the same as calling the opposition “scumbags.” Indeed, it is not the same as the outgoing chair of the California Democratic Party leading the convention in a chant of “F**k Trump,” complete with upraised middle fingers.
We hear all the time that partisanship has reached new depths. But there is a difference between partisanship and the kind of volcanic hatred that seems to be erupting with ever-greater frequency.
Partisanship is something that sounds like: “My party’s plan for health insurance is better than your party’s plan, and here are the reasons why.” This is the kind of debate that has been going on in Washington forever, and it is healthy and worthwhile.
In contrast, proclaiming that “Republicans don’t give a sh*t about people” is not anything like partisanship. Referring to Republican cabinet members as “scumbags” is not partisanship. It is something else entirely.
How have we come to this state of affairs?
Why are senior members of the Democratic Party, in particular, prone to such excesses?
Perhaps one part of the explanation is reflected in the results of the last presidential election, where Mrs. Clinton won almost three million more popular votes than Mr. Trump while simultaneously losing in the Electoral College.
That divergence indicates that a large percentage of Democrats tend to live in places where they are surrounded by large majorities of other Democrats.
The heavily populated areas of the northeast and west coasts, and the large cities across the country, tend to be solidly Democratic, while the rest of the country is much less uniform.
As a result, there may be many Democrats who personally do not even know anyone who is a Republican. Perhaps that lack of familiarity makes it easier to think of other people—few of whom you have even met—as “scumbags” and such.
Another contributing factor might be the very different levels of religious affiliation in the major parties. Approximately fifty-four percent of Democrats and Democratic “leaners” have no religious affiliation whatsoever, while only twenty-three percent of Republicans and Republican “leaners” are in that category.
Perhaps people without any religious affiliation are for that very reason more fervid in their devotion to political causes. As a result, they might be more prone to view opposition to their political ideas as an attack on their own worth as human beings, which might instigate retaliation in kind.
In contrast, if one’s sense of self-worth is grounded fundamentally on religious faith, perhaps politics becomes a less important, less emotion-laden arena.
Whatever the cause of the phenomenon, there is important work to be done if we want to arrest and ultimately reverse the ugly trend that has been unfolding.
And it is the Democrats who have to do the bulk of the work.
David E. Weisberg is an attorney and a member of the New York State bar. His scholarly papers on constitutional law are published on the Social Science Research Network.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.