Long Live #TheDiscourse

Photo by Casey Gomez

It seems that nearly every week, #TheDiscourse is under attack. Last week, it was pushback on criticism dedicated to Ellen Degeneres sitting at a football game next to war-criminal-at-large George Bush. Degeneres, herself worth $450 million and a beneficiary of regressive tax cuts from Bush’s presidency while insulated from the untold horrors in the Middle East as a result of Bush’s foreign policy, used her ample public platform to defend her actions, saying, “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have.” Degeneres followed up by slamming Twitter users criticizing her enjoyment of the company of Bush, claiming that we should “be kind to everyone”. 

This week? #TheDiscourse defenders are up in arms over the president being booed at a baseball game. Donald Trump was in attendance at Game 5 of the World Series, and when he was shown on the big-screen at the park, he was subjected to boos and chants of “Lock him up,” a reference to Trump’s promise to lock up his political opponents following his election. Even the harmless act of making uncomfortable the man behind the creation of internment camps on the country’s borders was too much for MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough, who took to Twitter to compare the chants from the ballgame to Trump’s own campaign rhetoric: “let’s see if I’ve got this straight: When crowds chant ‘Lock her up’ toward Hillary, it is illiberal and anti-American (I agree). But when crowds chant the same toward Trump, it is suddenly a fulsome exercise of sacred First Amendment rights. What hypocritical clowns.”

You would be hard pressed to determine what other principles Scarborough and other beltway slime have genuinely stood for in their careers as talking heads, but the one ideal that they have so consistently upheld and defended is #TheDiscourse, a notion that public political discussion requires some degree of mutual respect for ideas and parties, and should avoid devolving into undignified language. What undignified language is that? That is for punditry to decide.

#TheDiscourse defenders have made a career of pitching themselves as practitioners of “elite” discourse, capable of conversing about politics at an academic level. The pitch creates an implicit comparison between their craft and popular discourse — the rhetoric that these same pundits so widely decried from the populist campaigns of Trump and Bernie Sanders. Essentially, those who argue for the necessity of political discourse do so because it reinforces their position as a member of the elite class, not consigned to the “rabble” of popular discourse. When Scarborough bemoans booing at a baseball game, he is casting down the populace and elevating himself.

Those who strive so ardently to uphold #TheDiscourse are themselves enforcing a class system of rhetoric that favors the privileged, one that allows them to rise to prominence and prosperity. There is a reason Scarborough serves as a political commentator and host on MSNBC — there is some misguided belief that because Scarborough gets paid money to wear a suit and sit in front of a television camera, his opinion carries more weight than a working class individual. Rejecting “popular” rhetoric as a form of political discourse reinforces the idea that decision making belongs to the elite class and is inherently undemocratic.

If anything, popular rhetoric is all the more relevant today than it has ever been. There is no polite way to express the appropriate amount of outrage of the indignity of human beings being locked in cages like animals — yet, such outrage would be quieted by Scarborough and his fellow ivory tower residents for failing to observe some modicum of respect towards the president, as though he is deserved the respect he so callously denies to the migrant families he detains at our nation’s border.

Popular discourse is not only valid, it is necessary in a political environment where the voices of the oppressed are silenced and physically removed from the conversation. Those who seek to police appropriate discourse are cowards attempting to insulate themselves from challenges to their power and argue for their own necessity in a world that has little need of them. So if the #TheDiscourse is to die, then may it die denied the dignity it so strongly denied to the voice of the people. Long live #TheDiscourse!