Even in an age of Trump and Twitter, and maybe especially in an age of Trump on Twitter, there will need to be bounds of civility in public discourse.
Those bounds may not apply to our new president, who probably has four years to set his own rules. But for the rest of us, Donald Trump’s renunciation of political correctness won’t be much of a shield.
Two examples of people who lost sight of that truth emerged Monday: one of them local and the other national, one coming from the political right and the other from the left.
I doubt that either Dathan Paterno, a Park Ridge-Niles school board member, or Katie Rich, a Saturday Night Live comedy writer from Chicago, stopped to consider how much trouble they could cause themselves in 140 characters.
But it’s probably going to be a while before the wounds stop stinging from where they shot themselves in the foot.
Paterno took to Twitter over the weekend to deride participants in Saturday’s Women’s March as “vagina screechers,” an insult I had never previously heard and now wish I could unhear.
Paterno later explained he was only referring to the women who attended the march wearing vagina costumes, but the damage was done.
Coupled with his earlier Tweets dismissing the demonstration as the “300 million pound Women March,” which he also suggested renaming as the “Procession of Palpable Penis Envy,” Paterno was not in a good position to claim his views had been taken out of context.
In his private sector employment as a clinical psychologist, Paterno might have gotten away with publicly expressing his crude opinions.
Millions of people from both sides of the political divide toss out similar Twitter snark, or share somebody’s else’s, every day.
But as an elected member of the Park Ridge-Niles School District 64, Paterno learned he was in a greater position of responsibility than his Twitter followers — and submitted his letter of resignation under fire.
If he’s lucky, the whole thing will blow away before the sad affair comes to the attention of his women patients.
In the world of comedy, many believe that everything is fair game if it can elicit a laugh, but SNL’s Rich found that even those who dislike Donald Trump draw the line at attacking his 10-year-old son, Barron.
“Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter,” she tweeted, a double-barreled blast of bad taste invoking armed violence inside the White House.
The Associated Press reported the Orland Park native has been indefinitely suspended from the show.
Her full-throated apology on Monday should make it possible for her to recover professionally, but it will take a while for her to put the incident completely behind her.
There’s a general rule in politics—and political journalism—to avoid disparaging the underage children of politicians, even occupants of the White House. It wouldn’t have been tolerated with the Obamas, and it shouldn’t be tolerated for the Trumps.
It would be nice if the fact that Paterno and Rich were coming from opposing ends of the spectrum allows others to pause a moment to consider the larger picture instead of responding defensively from their own camps.
Those of us who operate in the public sphere know the danger of Twitter is that one side of your brain will express an ill-considered opinion with the world before the other side has time to consider the ramifications.
But this isn’t solely a matter of Twitter, our new president’s favorite form of mass communication.
The misfired tweets are just a symptom of a broader lack of civility, a sign of our mutual disrespect.
I’m still working out for myself where the boundaries should be. With any luck, I’ll figure it out before I cross a line.
Tweets by @MarkBrownCST