As they say on social media, “F— Joe Biden” appears to be trending.
When the president visited Scranton last week, a woman held a homemade sign with that very message.
In Boise, a retired gunsmith hung a flag from his roof with an almost identical message, adding: “And f— you for voting for him!”
These are among the episodes compiled by the Washington Post, which says “the anger…demonstrates how a political party or cause often needs an enemy, a target of vilification that can unite its adherents — and, in this case, one refracted through the harshness, norm-breaking, and vulgarity of the Trump era.”
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Now hold on just a moment.
First, I’m not wringing my hands over this. Presidents have been cursed, slammed, slimed, and otherwise taunted since we had a republic. Booing them at baseball games is a longstanding ritual. The founders themselves were vilified in newspaper screeds in fiercely partisan newspapers. Protesting is an American birthright.
Second, to blame this on the “norm-breaking” of the Trump years is a one-sided view. Donald Trump was subjected to four years of relentlessly awful slander, whether F-bombs were dropped or not. He was called a psychopath and a sociopath, a white supremacist, and a misogynist, and likened to Hitler and Mussolini. And some of that invective was dished out by media commentators, not average Joes hanging a sign on a roof.
So let’s not get our knickers in a twist because Biden is starting to get similar treatment, though not from most of the press.
Now I can imagine the tweeters that will be triggered by this piece. The Trump loyalists will say he was mistreated but Biden really is a clueless, senile socialist and deserves to be denounced. The Biden backers will say Trump is a crazy fascist threatening democracy and it’s the current president who’s being mistreated. That is our tribal politics.
The useful question posed by the Post piece is how Biden, at 78, became this sort of target. One of his “political superpowers was his sheer inoffensiveness, the way he often managed to embody — even to those who didn’t like him — the innocuous grandfather, the bumbling uncle, the leader who could make America calm, steady, even boring again after four years of Donald Trump.” Boring was good.
But now, Biden is “increasingly becoming an object of hatred to many Trump supporters,” fueled in part by the former president’s unproven claims that the election was stolen from him.
But as the piece concedes, it’s also Biden’s policies: on the border, on inflation, on Afghanistan, on Covid mandates, and the trillions of dollars he wants to spend on a Bernie-style social agenda.
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There was a time when voters could despise a president’s policies but not the man himself. Yet a coarsening culture, and an era of demonization, seems to have permanently changed that.
Mike Murphy, a fierce Trump critic who has been a strategist for John McCain, Jeb Bush, and many others, is quoted as saying that Trump turned politics into “angry rage therapy…everybody is now an angry Democrat or an angry Republican.”
It’s hard to argue with that last part, but the politics of anger has been around roughly forever. There was Clinton Derangement Syndrome, which gave rise to Bush Derangement Syndrome. There was the Barack Obama version (remember when he was called a secret Muslim and a GOP congressman shouted “You lie!” during his speech to Congress?). And then of course Trump Derangement Syndrome reared its head.
Some are taking issue with the Post story. Tom Bevan of Real Clear Politics tweeted: “‘Trump’s critics hurl increasingly vulgar taunts’ is a headline you saw in the Washington Post never.”
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But aside from blaming the polarized media, it’s important to recognize how much anger these days is fueled by social media. We can’t just point fingers at the elites, who no longer control public discourse when denouncing and cussing people whom posters don’t know has become a blood sport.
This is not a plea for greater civility. That horse left the barn long ago.
But we should recognize there’s a price to be paid. When every president gets the F-bomb treatment from the other side, it leaves a pretty scarred landscape.