Thursday, December 24, 2015

A World Without Boundaries?

Is it my imagination or are people less polite than they used to be?  I'm asking because several recent incidents got me thinking about manners (again).  I encountered some holiday shoppers who had parked in handicapped spots, even though they had no right to be there. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine, and I was disappointed to note they got upset when anyone asked them to move.  I also observed a number of folks who were cutting each other off in traffic or honking their horns at each other (or giving each other the middle finger) as they raced to the mall to do their last minute Christmas shopping.  There's a certain irony about folks who are supposedly shopping for gifts to make others happy, yet they are so angry themselves. 

And then, there was an incident from the campaign trail:  a much-discussed comment that Donald Trump made the other night, when he used a slang Yiddish word for the penis (I honestly never expected to be writing about male genitalia when I first began blogging).  He said that Barack  Obama had "shlonged" Hillary Clinton.  Okay fine, contrary to his insistence that using it like that refers to "defeating someone overwhelmingly," I do not think this word means what he thinks it means. I grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home, and I'm well aware of every vulgar Yiddish expression (Yiddish is a great language for profanity and sarcasm, by the way).  There's no getting around the fact that "shlong" is a crude term; and yet this man who wants to be president was using it on national TV.

I know, that's just Donald being Donald.  But it still puzzled me.  When I was growing up, NO candidate from either party would have used that kind of language in a public venue.  Richard Nixon, as we now know from the White House tapes that were released to the public, frequently used vulgarities when he was with his advisers.  But in public, never.  Ditto for Lyndon Johnson, another fan of using profanities with friends and colleagues.  In public, however, he was always courteous, even when talking about his political enemies.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Post recently wrote a very insightful piece about what has happened to our political discourse.  He equated Mr. Trump's way of speaking with how radio shock jocks speak.  It's a very apt comparison. (You can read his entire column here:  In fact, I notice that in much of our public discourse, courtesy takes a back seat to blurting out whatever emotion comes to the forefront at that moment.  

I'm not sure what to make of it all.  We seem to be in an era where people feel they can be rude and then say they are just "striking a blow against political correctness."  There certainly seem to be a lot of angry, overwhelmed, frustrated folks out there, all seeking someone they can blame, or someone they can lash out at.  But whatever happened to boundaries?  Is everything permissible now, even if it make life difficult for someone else?  Whatever happened to the idea of thinking before you speak, or trying to show courtesy, or speaking with civility rather than vulgarity?  Maybe politicians today do think of themselves as the heirs to shock jocks and bloviating talk show hosts.  Maybe online commenters think it's now okay to call people Nazis or make slanderous accusations against anyone they disagree with.  Maybe good manners are now just a relic of the past.  At times, it certainly seems that way... or is it just my imagination?


  1. My mother understood Yiddish, and her parents spoke it. If I had used the same word Trump had used, she would have (figuratively) taken me to the woodshed. I also note that Trump's turn-of-phrase is causing an uproar in the Yiddish language press, mostly because it's fairly evident that he has no idea (probably doesn't even care) that the word is considered obscene.

    But...Trump's choice of words was inevitable and predictable. After decade upon decade of talk-show hosts casting the opposition as "traitors," "Nazis," the "other" and anything else they can think of to demonize the other side, no one should be shocked that our presidential campaigns have debased themselves in this way. Carefully considered, thoughtful, researched rhetoric is now tagged "politically correct," and that's not a complement. Hmmm...come to think of it, maybe a discussion of penises is relevant.

    And as for the results of fact-checking the candidates...why should we even bother to teach our children that the truth is preferable to lies? Look at the examples being set by those who would lead us. These candidates lie as a matter of policy.

  2. It's just the times we live in. Remember the "Know Nothing" party? They are back, and twice as rude, and just as dumb. Too bad for society.