The Fall of Civility and The Rise of Les Infants Terrible

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the fiasco this week on the floor of the House of Representatives over the resolution condemning President Donald as a racist.

Here is the column:

On Tuesday at 5 p.m., the United States officially embraced the rule of Les Enfants Terribles.” Chaos broke out in the House of Representatives over a non-binding resolution denouncing President Trump as a racist. In an intentional violation of House rules, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made personal attacks against the president rather than craft a resolution denouncing his Twitter attack on four freshman members of Congress.  

What followed was a demand to strike the House rules and an unprecedented overruling of the House parliamentarian by Democrats—an act that shattered longstanding principles. 

In one week both parties have confirmed that they will forego any semblance of actual governance in favor of made-for-television temper tantrums.

This showdown on the House floor began with President Trump’s disgraceful series of tweets attacking the four freshman congresswomen, telling them to “go back” to the countries they “originally came from,” adding that they “can’t leave fast enough.” Like many observers, I condemned those tweets as shameful for the country and the presidency.

Democrats were right to pounce on the president, and more Republicans should have publicly condemned his remarks. But House Democrats overplayed their hand. Some, such as Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), called for an impeachment vote based on “bigotry”—an ambiguous standard that would gut the Constitution’s impeachment clause and negate other constitutional protections, including the First Amendment.

I think a resolution supporting the four House members was warranted, and a resolution condemning Trump’s remarks could have been worded to satisfy House rules. But Pelosi wanted a resolution that would denounce Trump as a racist and force Republicans to sign on or to trigger a floor fight.

House rules prohibit disparaging comments about a president or House members. The rule traces back to Thomas Jefferson; it allows for criticism of the government or a president but bars “personally offensive” remarks. Jefferson’s manual stipulates that this prohibition extends to any “racial or other discrimination on the Part of the President.” Indeed, the manual’s first page emphasizes this principle of “order” and “decency” in legislative debates. House Rule XXII, Clause 1(B) reflects this rule from the earliest days of the republic and requires that remarks on the floor “be confined to the question under debate, avoiding personality.”

Pelosi reportedly warned Democratic members that she intended to blastthe president and that they should be ready for a floor fight over the violation of Rule XXII.

When she was challenged by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), she told all of the members that she had “cleared my remarks with the parliamentarian before I read them.” That seems odd, sincParliamentarian Tom Wickham proceeded to rule that the remarks clearly violated the House rule and had to be “taken down.”And House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) declared that “the words should not be used in debate.”

The House has consistently (if grudgingly) yielded to such decisions by the parliamentarian, viewed by both parties as the unchallengeable keeper of House rules. The last time that a House speaker faced such a ruling was Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.) in 1985.

Yet, Democrats proceeded to shatter that precedent and overrule the parliamentarian’s conclusion. Some 232 Democrats voted to dispense with the longstanding rule, then nullified the standard penalty of barring Pelosi from speaking on the floor for that day.

With this ill-considered action, Democrats enabled Trump to argue that they were not only violating House rules with insults on the floor but also refusing to follow the rules of their own institution. Indeed, Democrats showed the same disregard for rules and decorum that they accuse Trump of displaying in the White House.

It is perhaps fitting that a rule enforcing order and decorum should be the subject of this meltdown in Congress. There is no room for civility in today’s politics. Various liberal groups have denounced calls for civility and even supported attacks on conservatives in restaurants and on streets. Former Vice President Joe Biden was recently denounced for saying he tried to serve in the Senate with civility, even toward segregationist senators, to get things done; he was forced by the left to make a rather pathetic apology.

There is a reason why the House has enforced this rule, and it was readily obvious when Pelosi discarded it: Members shouted at each other as the presiding officer pounded the gavel, like a cadence for chaos. At one point, the presiding chair, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), threw down the gavel and declared: “I abandon the chair.” The empty chair perfectly embodied a House now guided only by soundbites and a process that has become little more than a low-rated cable news dogfight. With only seven legislative days left, the House spent a day tearing its rules and its institution apart for instant political gratification.Such conduct may be thrilling to many in our “age of rage,” but it is a disgrace to the House of Representatives.

Decades ago, I arrived in the House as a 15-year-old page from Chicago. I watched in awe as members debated some of the most important issues of that day, from nuclear arms treaties to civil rights legislation. I came to love the House as an institution, a love that continues to this day. One of my greatest honors was, years later, to represent the House in federal court.

Years ago I was lead counsel in the last impeachment trial in the Senate, arguing the case for accused judge Thomas Porteous on the Senate floor. There came a moment when the Senate had to break to vote on an arms treaty. In the lull, I stood in the well of the Senate and the presiding officer for the impeachment trial, the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), asked how I felt the trial was going. 

I had long admired Inouye, and I told him that memories from my pageship flooded back as I argued before the 100 senators—but I couldn’t shake how small in public stature those senators seemed. My page days, I said, were a time when political giants roamed Congress, from Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) to William Fulbright (D-Ark.) to Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.). They fought great fights but remained united in their civility to each other and their fealty to Congress. Now, I said, they had been replaced by petty, small people. Sen. Inouye looked sad and said he often thought about those lost times, too, when he entered the chamber.

I often think of my chat with him when I see today’s members dragging both houses of Congress into a race to the bottom. What was chilling this week is that it was the House speaker who knowingly abandoned House rules and forced a muscle-vote to override the House’s professional staff. What followed was a legislative debate that perfectly captures our rabid political times.  

Of course, that is not what the Framers wanted in creating a “representative democracy.” Their idea was of reasoned, thoughtful leaders creating a buffer between the passions of politics and the work of the legislature. That buffer is now gone, along with any semblance of order and decorum, thanks to the rise of Les Enfants Terribles.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley. 

372 thoughts on “The Fall of Civility and The Rise of Les Infants Terrible”

  1. There has been some discussion on getting along that so happened to occur at the same time this article was published.

    Can’t We All Just Get Along? – American Greatness
    By Victor Davis Hanson| July 22nd, 2019

    Get along? Apparently no—at least until after 2020. Two examples summarize why.

    “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice,” said U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), one-quarter of “the squad” sowing havoc among Democrats in the House. “ We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice.”

    Of the Republican Party, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes said the other day: “It must be peacefully, nonviolently, politically destroyed with love, compassion and determination, but utterly confronted and destroyed. That is the only way to break the coalition apart… Not by prying off this or that interest. They are in too deep. They have shamed themselves too much. The heart of the thing must be ripped out. The darkness must be banished.”

    In other words, the new progressive message is that we all must vote monolithically and predicated on our superficial appearance, religion, or sexual orientation. And the Trump base must be destroyed, though annihilated with “love” and “compassion.”

    All are presently shocked that Donald Trump would dare suggest that if anyone did not like the United States, then perhaps he or she might, of their own volition, consider leaving the country.

    Trump apparently was directing his ire exclusively at particular first-generation congresswomen and suggesting that their anti-American furor logically might lead such unhappy U.S. citizens to consider voluntary deportation.

    Perhaps no politician should ever advise American citizens with whom he disagrees to leave the country. But Trump did not suggest mandatory departures—in the manner that Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) had wanted Trump supporter and immigrant Sebastian Gorka deported.

    Trump was not talking of some grand swap in the explicit fashion that NeverTrumpers have variously wished for the Trump Republican and/or white working-class base to be forcibly exported and replaced by Latin American border crossers.

    So wrote Bret Stephens of the New York Times: “So-called real Americans are screwing up America. Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future. In other words, just the kind of people we used to be—when ‘we’ had just come off the boat.”

    Columnist Max Boot narrowed the theme somewhat by suggesting only Republican lawmakers and grandees should be deported and replaced. “If only we could keep the hard-working Latin American newcomers and deport the contemptible Republican cowards—that would truly enhance America’s greatness,” Boot wrote. That’s harsh. At least Chris Hayes only wishes to destroy the Trump base with love and compassion in his heart.

    Trump himself post facto rebuked his rally supporters for chanting “send her back”—a likely reference to sending naturalized U.S. citizen and loud critic of America, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), back to Somalia.

    But Trump’s larger point was exasperation that he was tired of being constantly smeared as a racist and fascist. He was especially piqued at U.S. congressional representatives and the Left at large, who transfer their current unhappiness with America back to its very founding and innate nature—and the accompanying monotonous baggage of name-changing, statue-toppling, and nonstop censuring and boycotting.

    Certainly, then, it was logical that anyone who harbored such existential animus toward the United States might take Trump’s advice, end their current torment, and thus gladly and voluntarily free themselves from an oppressive land. After all, we are told migration in general is a fluid and good thing and that some 20 million entering America, even illegally, is a very good thing indeed.

    Americans recently supported such anger at gross ingratitude when Southern California-residing Mexican immigrants, legal or otherwise, a few years ago booed the American soccer team of the country they most desperately sought to enter and cheered the Mexican team, whose country they had done all they could to leave.

    During the Proposition 187 frenzy in California, I never quite figured out why one of my students, here illegally from Mexico, waved the Mexican flag while participating in a ritual, free-speech area burning of the U.S. flag—all to showcase his anger at being exposed to deportation to Mexico. I suggested at the time he instead just carry a handwritten placard, “Please, I will do all I can from now on legally to stay in your wonderful country.”

    Politically Correct Hatred
    Ilhan Omar presents a most exasperating case because on the one hand she poses as an avatar of the successful immigrant, while on the other she neurotically whines that America has failed utterly to meet her expectations when she fled a Kenyan refugee camp to enter the United States.

    Her fervent anti-Israelism is fueled by an equally despicable and loud anti-Semitism. And she rarely seems to acknowledge that a foreign country welcomed her in extremis, subsidized her upbringing and education, and, quite unlike her tribalist, racist, and anti-Semitic native Somalia, relegated matters of race, gender, class, and religion to insignificant status or indeed saw them as advantages to be rewarded in electing her to Congress.

    Omar herself was so desperate to gain citizenship or legal residency for her apparently own British residing brother that she may well have concocted a fraudulent marriage him. If true, she may have committed several U.S. tax and immigration felonies. And that makes her ingratitude all the more unappealing—and her present apparent exemption from legitimate federal investigative scrutiny into her possibly serial illegal conduct all the more unbelievable.

    So, the larger landscape of the new age of acrimony is not a sudden loss of manners, but rather a complete progressive meltdown at the election of Donald J. Trump.

    Opposing Obama?
    We now forget that half the country was quite upset by the 2008 election of Barack Obama, not because of his race, but out of concern that he had been the most partisan voting senator of the era in the entire U.S. Senate.

    Opponents were taken aback when he boasted, shortly before his victory, about fundamentally “transforming” the country. During the campaign he had urged his supporters to take a gun to a knife fight and to “get in their faces” (which targets did he signify by “their”?), as well as writing off the Pennsylvania working class as backward gun and bible clingers, and his own grandmother as a “typical white person” (what did he mean by “typical” and did it apply to 230 million Americans?). The idea of Obama as a healer was a myth and analogous to the fable of a Noble Peace Prize winning global activist.

    Obama mocked charges that Trinity Unity Church of Christ of Chicago was fueled by racism, by swearing he could no more disown Rev. Jerimiah Wright—his anti-Semitic, racist, and anti-American personal pastor, whose kindergarten banal sermons on the “audacity of hope” became the inspiration for Obama’s second book—than the grandmother who raised and nurtured him.

    What did Obama mean when he weighed in during the Trayvon Martin affair by remarking that Martin might have resembled the son he never had? Did he need to slander the police in the Skip Gates affair or demagogue the Ferguson melodrama?

    What exactly were Obama’s own injunctions about knowing when to quit making lots of money, or to acknowledge that one does not build his own business, or to realize that it is not a time to profit ever to apply to his post-presidential, lucrative self—or was all that just transitory boilerplate demagoguery aimed at a particular class of which he had not quite yet joined?

    Congressional Republicans and conservative media announced they wanted no part of Obama’s promised radical progressive “transformation,” especially his plan to nationalize health care. They nonstop promised that they would do their best to stop him.

    Indeed, fringe groups at the time (including Donald J. Trump) had trafficked in crazed birther conspiracies. And the Tea Party’s reason to be in 2010 was to defeat and destroy the Obama Democratic congressional majority.

    Obama in the heated climate of the times was certainly attacked as a liar for his false assurances about Obamacare, and as a dunce who thought there were 57 states, that corpsmen was pronounced with a hard “p,” and that Hawaii was in Asia—though no one sought to call in a Yale psychologist to ascertain whether his apparent puerile ignorance was proof of dementia.

    Critics serially pounced on the fact that Obama’s signature “autobiography” or “memoir” was mostly mythographic fiction. They pointed out that his past modus operandi of winning a senate election in Illinois was to count on state employees and the toady media illegally leaking the confidential divorce records of his primary and general election opponents who otherwise might well have defeated the future president.

    Obama’s minions were pilloried as Orwellian figures who monitored the communications of Associated Press reporters and James Rosen of Fox News, who jailed a minor videomaker to scapegoat him for the Benghazi mess, and who went after journalist critic Sharyl Attkisson. Obama likely knew that his own FBI and CIA were in violation of federal law in their zeal to ensure a Hillary Clinton continuum and the destruction of the Trump candidacy.

    Republicans lost no time in blasting Obama CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as admitted liars who had perjured themselves while under oath before Congress. They had a field day castigating Susan Rice as a serial prevaricator on matters from Benghazi and the Bowe Bergdahl circus to weapons of mass destruction in Syria. And they tried to leverage Fast and Furious, Benghazi, and scandals at the IRS, EPA, National Security Agency, Department of Veterans Affairs, and General Services Administration for political advantage. After all, that is what American politics has at times always been—a rough and mean-spirited brawl to discredit your vulnerable enemies and thereby reacquire power by winning elections.

    Yet there was never a sustained and collective Republican effort to enlist the media to remove Obama from office by means other than an election.

    A Contact Sport
    Republicans during the transformative Obama era were content to chalk up huge wins in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, to go to court in hopes of stopping Obama’s executive orders, to shut down the government if need be to stop excessive spending, to investigate scandals such as “Fast and Furious” and Benghazi, and to censure Attorney General Eric Holder.

    But what they did not do was immediately declare Obama an illegitimate president or a president so foreign to their own liking that they forthwith sued in three states to overturn the election.

    They did not stage a campaign to subvert the voting of the Electoral College, or introduce articles of impeachment right after his inauguration.

    They did not sic the Bush Administration FBI, CIA, NSA, and Justice Department on Obama’s campaign, transition, and presidency, or unleash Hollywood celebrities to virtue signal their imaginative ways of decapitating, burning, stabbing, blowing up, shooting, and punching their own president.

    Conservative politicians, bureaucrats, and activists did not invoke the ossified Logan Act, the Emoluments Clause, or the 25thAmendment to remove immediately Obama from office as a traitor, crook, and a crazy.

    In efforts to impeach, they did not turn loose a special counsel and over a dozen right-wing government lawyers for 22 months and $35 million worth of harassment, or obsess over their president’s long (and often checkered history), as they wheeled out each week of his presidency an assortment of stale crooks, terrorists, and racists from his past—such unpleasant and indeed unhinged figures as Tony Rezko, Bill Ayers, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Father Michael Pfleger—or go after the Obama children, all to force him from office.

    When Obama essentially got caught on a hot microphone promising Russian President Medvedev that he would be flexible after his reelection on the implementation of long-planned Eastern European missile defense if Vladimir Putin would give him a little room, Republicans did not introduce articles of impeachment on grounds he was “colluding” with a foreign power by offering a quid pro quo to Russia to de facto interfere in a U.S. election: if Putin didn’t cause trouble for the Obama reelection effort, then Putin got rewarded by no worries over bothersome missiles in Eastern Europe. Even if conservative forbearance derived only from pragmatic lessons from their own past ill-fated impeachment of Bill Clinton, they still did not seek to impeach Obama.

    I don’t remember the conservative movement labeling the majority of Americans who voted for Obama as deplorable people, as irredeemables, as the dregs of society, as Neanderthal clingers to their Bibles and guns, as typical black or brown or some such color people. Much less was there a “NeverObama” left-wing movement that repeatedly dreamed out loud of deporting the rival but hated hard-left Obama base and swapping them with illegal aliens. Mitt Romney did not go on a year-long crusade blaming dozens of things and people for his own poorly conducted 2012 presidential campaign and claiming he was “robbed.”

    The Antecedents of Trump Hatred
    Again, by all means his opponents can, if they so wish, ridicule, caricature, and blast Trump and hope he fails. But after trying for nearly three years to destroy the president and prematurely remove him by any means necessary before a scheduled election, please do not appeal to the better angels of our nature—while deploring the new “unpresidential” behavior of Donald J. Trump for lashing out at those who sought to reduce him to a common criminal, pervert, traitor, dunce, and Satanic figure.

    Such invective was always characteristic of the new progressive agenda rather than specific to Donald J. Trump. After the 2008 dismantling of John McCain into a senile lecher and reducing Mitt Romney into a tax cheat, animal tormenter, high-school hazer, elevator owner, and enabler of an equestrian wife with MS, and after George W. Bush was reduced to Nazi thug worthy of death in progressive novels, op-eds and docudramas, Donald Trump sensed that half the country had had enough and he would return slur for slur—and so may the best brawler win.

    After all, in 2019, this 243rd year of our illustrious nation, most Americans are not simply going to curl up in a fetal position, apologize for the greatest nation in the history of civilization, and say, “Ah, you’re right, Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib. It is an awful country after all—and always was.”

    While one may always wish that the president and his critics tone down their venom and play by silk-stocking Republican Marquis of Queensberry rules, it is hard for half the country to feel much sympathy for the Left that sowed the wind and are reaping an ever growing whirlwind.

  2. Fall of Civility has gone amok in NYC

    Mayor Bill De Blasio & Gov Cuomo are being blamed by the NYPD Police Benevolent Association for the “total anarchy” in NYC due to “bad policies and anti-police rhetoric”

    NYPD cops get drenched by buckets of water

    Stunning videos posted online Monday show uniformed NYPD cops getting drenched with buckets of water by brazen young men in Harlem and Brooklyn, law enforcement sources told The Post.

    One clip even shows a soaked cop getting beaned in the head with an empty, red plastic bucket while the cop and his partner were handcuffing a suspect on the hood of a black car.

    “Everybody’s outraged,” an NYPD source said.

    “It’s disgusting, embarrassing. There’s lawlessness around here now.”

    Both videos show bucketfuls of water hurled toward cops as onlookers watch – and in some cases laugh or prance in glee.

    The incident in which the cop was hit with the bucket took place at 115th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, sources said.

    The other video shows two cops in sopping-wet uniforms walking away as water flies through the air toward their backs.

    At one point, a young man runs up behind one cop and dumps a bucket of water over his head.

    That incident took place in the 73rd Precinct, which covers Brownsville and Ocean Hill.

    A police source blamed the incidents on the NYPD’s “hands-off approach to these guys” under Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    “Who does that in their right frame of mind? People who believe there’s no consequences,” the source said.

    “There’s total anarchy out here. This is very sad.”

    The head of the NYPD Police Benevolent Association called the water bucket attacks “the end result of the torrent of bad policies and anti-police rhetoric that has been streaming out of City Hall and Albany for years now.”

    “We are approaching the point of no return. Disorder controls the streets, and our elected leaders refuse to allow us to take them back.” PBA President Patrick Lynch said.

    “As police officers, we need to draw a line. In situations like this, we need to take action to protect ourselves and the public. The politicians may not care about the dangerous levels of chaos in our neighborhoods, but police officers and decent New Yorkers should not be forced to suffer.”

    1. Estovir, I don’t know if you are personally acquainted with NYC, but I am and have noted how Dinkins (D) destroyed the city, How Guiliani (R) made the city nice again and now this most recent Democrat is destroying it. Take note of the pattern.

      1. I traveled regularly to nearby Nutley, NJ for a previous career with frequent conferences, dinners, meetings, etc in Manhattan. I recall seeing NYC at its worse in the 80s, saw it turn around and now it appears to gone to hell in a hen basket. Last time I was there was in 2016 for a pharma meeting and I did not like what I saw

        Every time a politician like DeBlasio, Hillary, all Democrats, runs on the promise of “working for you”, “fighting for you”, “together we can”, voters should run the other way. But given the sad state of our culture, Americans really think they can’t do anything without someone (anyone) above them making their lives easier. That’s the main problem right there. Americans have given up. Natural selection couldn’t happen fast enough

        1. Estovir, I now have a home in midtown but long ago decided on a residency outside of NY figuring I could travel there as needed or when I wanted. After Guiliani cleaned a lot of it up I thought I might spend even more time there which I did but now I am beginning to like it less and believe its on one of its many downward cycles again. That means the taxes and costs go up while the comfort factor falls.

          I hope you don’t live in NJ. Taxes there are a killer as well and the state also has a budget problem.

      2. but I am and have noted how Dinkins (D) destroyed the city,

        He didn’t. Except for excessive public sector borrowing (which was most acute ca. 1975), the city’s problems were at a plateau during his administration, but he inherited pretty much all of them. Dinkins’ problem is that he had only a vague idea what was wrong and no clear idea of how to address what problems he could perceive.

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