In early December 2017, as Congress was debating changes to the nation’s tax code, U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) gave one of the more hyperbolic quotes of the year. In response to the GOP’s tax plan, Pelosi said, “This is Armageddon.”
Armageddon? The GOP tax bill is the biblically referenced battle that will end the world? Unlikely.
Progressive politicians and politicos have reached the limits of the English language to describe their disdain for people outside of their tribe – i.e. people who disagree with them on policy matters. Pelosi’s quote is not the only example of hyper-partisan, over-the-top rhetoric that invokes ‘End of Days’ and dire straits imagery.
During the 2012 presidential race, then Vice President Joe Biden told a predominantly African-American audience that the policies of a Mitt Romney administration would put them “back in chains.”
Recently, in North Carolina, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson compared the lack of conservative resistance to President Donald Trump to the Vichy French government that collaborated with Nazi Germany.
And again in North Carolina, the Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the North Carolina NAACP chapter, referenced Nazi Germany when commenting on one of President Trump’s judicial nominees. Spearman likened the nomination of Thomas Farr to the federal bench as, “tantamount to Adolf Hitler wreaking havoc among our Jewish sisters and brothers.” Yet at the same time, many noted Farr’s outstanding qualifications, including the American Bar Association.
These comparisons were made by elected officials and a leader of a respected organization, and they are all disgraceful. However, as hyperbolic and appalling as the statements are, they are part of a growing trend of extremist rhetoric in our nation’s political dialogue.
In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, author Jonathan Haidt writes, “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”
Though written five years ago, Haidt describes the partisan political tribalism that we find ourselves mired in now. Such extreme and outlandish language damages debate on serious societal and public policy issues at a time when we need grown-ups to make important decisions for the common good. It ultimately squashes thought and coerces our leaders into silence.
Indeed, why would elected officials or political appointees stick out their necks to propose innovative policies or ideas in an environment where tax policies are compared to Armageddon and banking policy is compared to the evils of slavery?
In this environment, politicians have little incentive to make serious policy proposals. Serious proposals get little debate in state capitals or Washington, but plenty of diatribes. However, good debate makes good policy, and good policy makes good politics. Unfortunately, Americans have not seen either lately, as the 115th Congress has been rated as the fourth least productive in the last three decades, and the lack of production lies squarely at the feet of extreme tribal rhetoric.
If we want to see good policy from our elected officials, the political Left should tone down the apocalyptic rhetoric and engage in rational debate about the proper scope and size of government. Both sides of the political aisle are prone to extreme language from time to time, but the Left seems to be bent on making headlines with accusations that smear character and ruin dialogue. Can you imagine walking into work and claiming your co-worker was a slaveholding racist because they proposed a different sales strategy? It would be absurd and would surely lead to a serious human resources discussion. Isn’t it time voters asked for a serious human resources discussion with their leaders? Voters deserve better and shouldn’t settle for anything less than civility, inquiry and serious debate.
Donald Bryson (@donaldbryson) is the President and CEO of the Civitas Institute.