Rudeness now seems to be the norm among elected leaders

The boorish behavior Americans saw last week exemplified how much blatant incivility has been normalized by some of those who hold public office.

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This combination of photos shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

This combination of photos shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

AP Photos, left and center, Sun-Times file photo, right

There’s an onslaught of rude and uncivil behavior in America these days, and it was on vivid display last week among some of the nation’s elected leaders.

The recent heckling, verbal smackdowns and in-your-face bravado would make the brashest reality TV and World Wrestling Entertainment stars blush.

Even a high school freshman wondered what had gotten into Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he berated a boy and his peers for wearing masks at an indoor news conference last week.

“I was a little bit surprised at his tone,” Kevin Brown Jr. told the Associated Press about DeSantis’ demeanor.

There is something amiss when a 14-year-old shows more maturity than a middle-aged man, the elected leader of the nation’s third-largest state, caught whining about the need “to stop with this COVID theater.”

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Politicians, of course, have never been a shy or scrupulously polite bunch. There has been a steady stream of rude, racist, sexist and downright inexcusable behavior coming from the political arena since politics began. It would be naive to expect that to change.

But the boorish behavior the American public saw on display last week exemplifies, once again, how much blatant incivility has become the norm among some in public office.

A day before DeSantis lashed out at teenagers, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, and Lauren Boebert, R-Colorado, screamed out to interrupt President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. They sounded far less like serious leaders than unruly hecklers at a bar on amateur night.

While Biden spoke about immigration on the southern border, Greene stood up and yelled, “Build the wall! Build the wall!” referring to the wall that former President Donald Trump started constructing at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Minutes later, Boebert sprang up and loudly interrupted Biden as he spoke of his late son Beau, who like other veterans may have gotten sick after being exposed to smoke from military burn pits that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Perhaps Greene and Boebert felt compelled to carry on in the distasteful tradition of Trump, who never hesitated to ridicule others on Twitter — “Loser!” “Fake news!” “China virus!” — or even from behind the presidential podium.

Trump’s outbursts played a huge role in fomenting a climate in which bullying has become a demented art form. A 2019 poll by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service found that 78% of voters blamed Trump directly for the recent incivility in politics; 81% of voters also blamed social media and “special interests.”

The poll also found that 90% of voters were concerned about the “uncivil and rude behavior of politicians.” It’s hard to imagine that percentage has declined significantly since the poll was taken.

Across the political spectrum

Here in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been caught swearing and calling people names on hot mics. Texts and emails gathered by reporters have also shown the mayor has a tendency to be insulting and arrogant toward other city officials.

Last week, a lawsuit filed by a former Chicago Park District attorney alleged Lightfoot made an obscene and derogatory remark to Italian Americans while discussing the removal of the Christopher Columbus statue in Arrigo Park. The mayor has denied making the comments, and she deserves her day in court.

Lightfoot certainly isn’t the first Chicago mayor to get caught using salty language or chiding staffers. Rahm Emanuel, for one, was notorious for using profanity behind closed doors.

What is said privately can be just as damaging and offensive as what is blurted out in front of a crowd. Consider what Ronald Reagan said in 1971 to then-President Richard M. Nixon, when Reagan called United Nation delegates from African countries “monkeys” in a private phone call. The recording was made public three years ago.

“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!,” a frustrated Reagan said, upset that the delegates voted against the U.S. and in favor of having the U.N. recognize the People’s Republic of China.

Five decades since then, many Americans think the nation has regressed. In the Georgetown poll, 83% of voters said they believe that behavior previously considered unacceptable is now the norm.

What a shame that politicians — and frankly, many of the rest of us — are now accustomed to behaving badly, whether in or out of the spotlight.

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