A plea to the right and left: tone down the rhetoric

By James Gallagher, Special to CalMatters

The atrocious acts in Dayton, El Paso and Gilroy are incomprehensible. How could anyone with any modicum of human decency ever carry out a mass shooting? 

The responses from the right and left have been predictable, but neither will admit their part in what I think is another piece of the puzzle: the continued deterioration of our political dialogue in this country. 

Don’t get me wrong: words didn’t cause these acts. The perpetrators alone must be held responsible for their actions. But words do have power and they can give radicals a sense of justification for their demented acts.

And both sides have contributed to the vitriol of civil dialogue in America. People we have political disagreements with are no longer wrong or misguided, but an “evil” that must be stopped. Clinton was scandalous. Bush was a warmonger. Obama wasn’t born here. Trump is a racist. 

Wordsmithing has now become anathema. It has been replaced by raw and incendiary language; the stronger the better. I think in large part it has been an overreaction to the legitimate frustration with politicians’ obfuscating language. Too often, words were politically crafted by consultants and writers so as to be non-committal, flexible or to appeal to “soccer moms” instead of just saying what you really think.

The Clintons were masters of it. But the American public got fed up. And perhaps that was one of the motivating factors in the 2016 election: a rejection of the establishment, its PC comms strategy, and its master manipulators.  

Who better to smash through that wall than the guy who doesn’t follow any of those rules?  But we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

I have issues with some of President Donald Trump’s words. I am one who still believes in choosing words carefully. Not because it’s good politics, but because it’s responsible. But his lack of tact does not make him a racist or a Nazi. President Trump’s politics and positions are well within the mainstream of American political ideology and are shared by a great many Americans, myself included. 

The real truth is the president is simply an expert player in the new political dialogue where you are supposed to make raw, off-the-cuff statements and vilify your opponent. That sells, it gets likes, and it moves voters. And we all go along with it.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the debate over immigration. President Trump has certainly tapped into the well of those who believe our immigration policy has been too lenient and want stronger border enforcement. The wall is an anthem call for his supporters. Nuances over those who are already here or those who seek refuge are irrelevant.

The left uses child separation in the same way. Those who may be crossing as part of criminal gang activity, drug and sex trafficking apparently don’t exist. No, only families and refugees seeking a better life here. Democrats in Congress could pass laws to reform a broken immigration system, but instead they paint President Trump as inhumane. Why? Because law-making is hard and it’s much easier to decry the president as a racist.  And so the division continues.

The most damning conclusion of the Mueller Report was not collusion or obstruction, but rather that the Russians manipulated us. They created fake social media groups that played on our polarization, purposefully agitating Black Lives Matter and Tea Party alike. They successfully sowed discord in our politics. Why? Because we let them.

In the wake of the recent mass shootings, at least one of which has been connected to anti-immigrant white supremacist ideology, it is easy to continue down this road. The left will blame President Trump and guns. The right will react in defense. No one will look in the mirror. 

It’s time to tone down the rhetoric. And the only people who ultimately do that is us, by no longer accepting this false, sensationalized “us vs. them” debate that only further divides us while our problems go unresolved.  


Assemblyman James Gallagher is a Republican who represents the 3rd Assembly District 34 in Glenn, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba counties, and parts of Butte and Colusa counties, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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