When assessing the political landscape in America today — whether inside the beltway, at our dinner tables or on our social media newsfeeds — what permeates it the most is selective outrage.
In other words: It’s all star-spangled awesome if we do it, but hellfire if your side does.
Selective outrage ought to really be reserved for things like sports and other relatively trivial matters. But if this latest election cycle and the early days of the new presidential administration prove anything, emotion, often illogical, rules the day.
You can find countless examples of this and won’t have to watch too many minutes of the news or read too many articles before finding them.
Here are a few that come to mind.
1. The election of Donald Trump has proven exceptionally divisive. This is evidenced by the joy of his supporters who are hailing, as he put it, the return of power to the hands of the people, versus those who have protested ever since his victory.
The “not my president” cries and accusations of the election being stolen have been met with calls to get over it and accept the election results. Indeed, people do need to accept that Donald Trump won the election, but that acceptance doesn’t eliminate the right for people to exercise their constitutional rights and speak out about the implications in either direction of his victory.
Ironically, though, Trump hasn’t been willing to completely accept the election results, either. Most recently, he has been floating a suggestion that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 3 million votes because between 3-5 million people voted illegally — with no evidence to substantiate this claim, an alternative fact if you will.
2. In the not-too-distant past, the shoe was on the other foot. In 2013, with a government shutdown looming, then-President Barack Obama essentially told Republicans he had won the election and for them to deal with it.
“Go out there and win elections,” Obama said at the time, three years after he told 2008 opponent Sen. John McCain the election was over at a health care summit.
Chances are some of you believe one side is arrogant while the other is just and patriotic in its defiance.
3. There is also the matter of executive orders, an area in which President Trump has been fiercely at work during his first week in office.
In the case of Obama’s presidency, opponents often saw them as arrogant executive overreach. Defenders said he had no other choice to get things done because an obstructionist Republican-controlled Congress refused to work with him. The debate further devolved into a head count of executive orders issued by Obama versus the number issued by George W. Bush.
Well, political operatives love the numbers game. That’s why we had to be subjected to a count of the number of vacation and golf days taken by Obama versus the time Bush spent at his ranch.
If historical cycles repeat themselves and the Democrats somehow gain control of one or both houses of Congress during Trump’s tenure, the claims of obstructionism will be back in full force. Right after we debate whether Trump or Obama should be chided and which one should be defended for skipping intelligence briefings.
4. Beyond politics, things often get more personal as “Saturday Night Live” writer Katie Rich proved. Rich, in her infinite wisdom, thought it so clever to tweet out a joke referencing Barron Trump, 10-year-old son of the president, as the “first home-school shooter.”
Rich has been suspended indefinitely and issued an apology for her statement, but the damage has been done.
This isn’t without precedent, though. Digs at children of presidents go back to Amy Carter, and Chelsea Clinton, the Bush girls and the Obama daughters weren’t spared, either. In the case of the Obama girls, it was a GOP staffer too obtuse to convey her disdain for the president without resorting to taking an unnecessary shot at his family members.
5. And finally, that brings us to Madonna, who has faced a wave of backlash for saying over the weekend she has thought about blowing the White House up. There is a debate to be had over the context of what she said or whether if Mary Doe of Winder, Ga. would be able to joke about such a thing in a public place and not go to jail.
But again, the script of outrage was flipped when Trump in August made this statement about what a Clinton win would do for the future of the Second Amendment: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”
Some people construed that statement as a veiled call for violence; and others considered that a total distortion of what he actually said.
Obviously, most of us should be capable of being able to interpret statements and actions and draw our own conclusions.
But when doing so, it doesn’t hurt to apply a sense of ethics and consistency in our judgment.
Scott Thompson is editor of the Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.