“I get no respect. The way my luck is running, if I was a politician I would be honest.”
― Rodney Dangerfield
I find myself, in my dotage, mortified to hear the President of the United States “name-calling” others publicly. When I was growing up, in the era of Eisenhower, then JFK, and then LBJ, backbiting was not a leadership quality most parents taught their children to emulate. What leaders said behind closed doors may have been different, but at least as public figures these men personified the dignity of the office. They were, after all, role models to us young kids.
Sure, as youngsters we were still learning what it meant to be responsible members of society. I can only remember offhand three times when my mother put the fear of God in me. One time she slapped me when I told her she made me sick. She was forcing me to practice piano when other kids were playing outside. That’s the only time I remember her doing that, and it hurt my feelings more than my face.
Another time, in high school, I said “darn” and she thought I said “damn”. OK, maybe I said damn and told her I said darn. But no matter, she was having none of it. My ears were boxed figuratively this time.
The other time I came home, this time from junior high school and asked her what a word – these days now referred to as the “N word” – meant. I just wanted to know what it meant. It had never been used in my family and I had heard some other kid say it. And talk about the riot act. She told me that in our family we never use that word, “Never!” And on and on. And on. That stuck with me the rest of my life.
The marrow of what was considered leadership when I grew up was respect, character, honesty, courage, and anything else that might describe Ben Cartwright or Victoria Barkley.
Of course, not every public figure those days demonstrated those qualities. And certainly no one, not even our heroes, are perfect, but at least those were the qualities many parents taught their children, it was what we learned in Scouts, and what we admired in astronauts like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.
“Name-calling” per Merriam-Webster, is “the use of offensive names especially to win an argument or to induce rejection or condemnation (as of a person or project) without objective consideration of the facts”.
Synonyms M-W lists are character assassination and mudslinging.
I am not one who, in general, supports calling out people publicly, including presidents, for language used in small, private meetings. When that happens, people learn to parse every word and have a hard time interacting in their most personal, even vulnerable and honest, of ways. Then private meetings are no longer private. It is impossible to build trust. The opportunities for deep, more informal, more personal discussion disappear. People can’t play with ideas or thoughts because they know those might end up in the next news cycle. History is replete with leaders who have used salty language privately, sometimes even publicly.
On the other hand, I have a hard time expressing how disappointed I am in the very public name-calling which the current president models and in which so many indulge these days, without falling into the trap of doing the same myself. It is an easy snare to step into, especially in the atmosphere of the day.
Indeed, a good friend called me out a while back for using the term “deniers”, as in climate deniers, in a pejorative and stereotypical way. I was doing this while at the same time railing about others who were casting cynical aspersions on others for this or that at a moment’s notice.
When he mentioned it, I went into denier denial.
It forced me to reflect on my own behavior. I soon chastened myself, and properly so, recognizing the double standard. Good friends broach these sorts of things, don’t they, in caring ways.
Look inward first, Michael.
Name-calling others, casting slurs about them, redounds appropriately to the mudslinger’s discredit. Shall we say it reflects poorly upon the demeanor of the demeaner?
Look in the mirror, Michael. Try to be better.
As for the President, he will do what he will do.
There is no denying it.