Why Paul Ryan's Ode To Civility Is A Giant Fail

On Wednesday, beloved establishment figure House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave a speech essentially deriding Donald Trump’s brand of politics. Speaking about the House Ways and Means Committee, Ryan stated, “[W]e always held ourselves to a higher standard of decorum. We treated each other with respect. We disagreed – often fiercely so – but we disagreed without disagreeable…it almost sounds like I’m speaking of another time, doesn’t it? It sounds like a scene unfamiliar to your generation.”

Ryan continued in sepia tones:

Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened. How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides?... Our political discourse—both the kind we see on TV and the kind we experience among each other—did not use to be this bad and it does not have to be this way. Now, a little skepticism is healthy. But when people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions. They lose faith in their government, and the future too. We can acknowledge this. But we don’t have to accept it. And we cannot enable it either.

It’s airbrushed nonsense like this that leads conservatives to bid a hale and hearty “screw you” to the establishment – the people who tut-tut vulgar language but then cut deals with Democrats that invade the rights and privileges of the American people. People ought to distrust politics. They ought to distrust government. The founders distrusted both politicians and government so much that they rebelled violently against it when it wasn’t sufficiently representative. The entire founding system was designed to pit interests against one another, to generate conflict rather than alleviating it. Most Americans aren’t particularly worried about the tone of their politicians – we’re far more worried about them cutting deals that infringe upon our God-given rights.

But Ryan’s worried about tone.

I agree that Donald Trump’s tone is offputting. I find third-grade rhetoric occasionally hilarious but galling after eight consistent months. But Trump’s real problem isn’t his tone, it’s the fact that he would utterly disdain the founders’ vision of government and humanity if he knew enough about it to comment. Trump’s identity politics isn’t just ugly because of its tone, it’s ugly because it suggests that Americans have group rights rather than individual rights, and that those group rights can be exercised at the expense of other groups. Trump’s constant lying isn’t a problem because it makes us distrust politicians – it’s a problem because we already distrust politicians, and as a non-politician, Trump is therefore allowed to skate on his lies.

Paul Ryan helps none of this. Donald Trump must be stopped because of his central beliefs (none) and his desire for power (total), not because he’s vulgar. That’s mildly troubling. But it’s Trumpism itself that must be fought, not Trump’s refusal to abide by Robert’s Rules of Order. 

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