Profaning Political Discourse

“Whataboutism.”

I first realized this was a “thing” when I was accused of it for posting a blog, after last year’s January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol, in which I called for an end to all the violence—from that Capitol riot by some Trump supporters, to the far more lethal rioting by some on the left that had swept our cities over the previous year. 

Then I began to see the term regularly used by progressives to characterize any attempt to defend misbehavior by Trump supporters (which I was not doing) by calling out similar misbehavior by anti-Trumpers.

So I was interested the other day to see progressive talking head Joy Reid engaging in a little “whataboutism” of her own. As she endeavored to deflect criticism of President Biden for calling Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy a “stupid SOB” (the president didn’t abbreviate the offensive term), she said, in effect, What about the “F… Joe Biden” signs brandished by Trump supporters?

Actually, she referenced the “Let’s Go Brandon” phrase that some have creatively substituted for the anti-Biden obscenity. But that at least injected some much needed levity into our overheated political climate, and testified, even if unintentionally, to the repugnance of the profanity it was being used to replace.

It seems that to progressives, “whataboutism” is only wrong when employed against them by the Trumpies. When they want to use it to defend their progressive president’s offensive remarks, that’s perfectly OK.

And often, the progressive left’s answer to “Whataboutism” seems to be a “SoWhatism” to sometimes worse behavior by those they agree with. The January 6 riot was presaged in Wisconsin 10 years earlier by government workers taking over the statehouse to block passage of bills they didn’t like? So what, they were trying to block conservative legislation, so that was OK. Rioting by left-wing activists throughout 2020 that terrorized our cities? So what, those were insurrections against the police and against Donald Trump, so that was OK. Democrats constantly refusing to accept the legitimacy of elections they lost (Bush in 2000, Trump in 2016, Stacey Abrams 2018 defeat in Georgia)? So what, they were trying to delegitimize Republican election victories, so that was OK.

Now, having said all that, let me clearly register my disgust at those “F… Joe Biden” banners, chants, tee shirts, etc., that regularly mar protests and rallies of the pro-Trump, populist right.

To be sure, I am absolutely appalled by the disastrous performance of the Biden administration, from the Afghanistan withdrawal fiasco, to the chaos and human suffering on our southern border, soaring inflation at home and dangerous aggressions of our adversaries abroad. Add to that more people having died of COVID on his watch than on President Trump’s—after he said Trump “should not remain as president” given the number who died when he was in office—and we have some idea of the utter failure that has been the Biden presidency.

And I am especially appalled that Mr. Biden, who wears his Catholicism on his sleeve, achieved his party’s nomination by completely caving to its most extreme pro-abortion demands, even promising to force all of us to be complicit, with our tax dollars, in the killing of unborn children.

But all this can be said—forcefully, as I have just done—without resort to vulgar obscenities meant to offend rather than persuade.

I try, when someone on “my side” of an issue or political contest engages in questionable rhetoric or actions, to ask myself how I would react if those on the opposing side engaged in similar behaviors.

In the current climate, the question answers itself. I don’t like it when President Biden resorts to profanity and personal insults; nor should I like it when his critics do. I was outraged 10 years ago when those protesters seized control of the Wisconsin statehouse to block Gov. Scott Walker’s initiatives. So I should have been, and was, outraged when a mob tried to seize the U.S. Capitol a year ago to stop Biden’s election from being certified.

Now I will agree, there are far worse things poisoning our politics and culture than foul language. And I certainly don’t pretend that I never utter a profanity myself, in momentary anger or frustration. But I don’t go shouting them publicly, parading them on banners, or otherwise shoving them in people’s faces.

And I submit that the coarseness of language that permeates virtually every aspect of modern society—from politics, to music and sports, to everyday interactions—is a contributing factor to the polarization that plagues us today. At the very least, it demonstrates disrespect for the sensibilities of others. At worst, it communicates hate. And hateful language can presage hateful actions.

So I implore those who share my strong opposition to President Biden and his policies: Don’t like his uncalled for profanity, at news conferences or on the campaign trail? Outraged by Snoop Dogg’s “F…the Police” rap lyrics? Turned off by crotch-grabbing, profanity-spewing pro athletes? Tired of being bombarded with profanities in daily conversation?

Me too.

So please, in the name of consistency and decency, lose the “F… Joe Biden” chants and banners.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

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