Country singer Tim McGraw may not have known the social theory that informed his 1995 hit, I Like It, I Love It. As the song’s title hints, something has happened to McGraw that has changed his usual ill-mannered, trashy ways. His lyrics are instructive: “I’m taking out the trash and I’m sweeping my floor.”
Falling head over heels in love changed the singer, but on a national level, something akin to falling in love, of being converted and transformed needs to occur in our trashy political/religious environment.
Trash has become the new currency for what passes for treasure. Bits and pieces of rhetoric have replaced policy papers and rational discussion. Twitter has debased the public discourse, according to Brian L. Ott. Jennifer Mercieca argues that we have “weaponized rhetoric.” In short, we have armed our tongues with bombs that upon explosion trash the culture.
The tongue is a fire
When the tongue develops a taste for trashy rhetoric, it becomes “a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). John W. Jordan says we have turned profanity into “exceptional civic rhetoric” spoken from the heart.
A partial guess as to what has happened to public discourse suggests that after eight years of one of the most well-mannered, eloquent presidents in history, “a leader whose conduct was always deliberate and collective,” a large segment of the American public “lost its collective mind,” and elected a “full-orbed bigot” to be our president, as stated in sequence by Bonnie J. Dow, Andrea Iravani and Robert L. Ivie.
“Trash has become the new currency for what passes for treasure.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates says that Trump won because his supporters needed to purge the White House of the presence of a Black president. More than that, they embraced a president who said whatever he thought, even when vile and disgusting, and they liked it. Donald Trump “trashed” every decorum, rule, tradition and the entire rhetorical history of the American presidency.
To paraphrase Robert Jeffress: “This president may or may not have had sex with porn stars, may or may not be the trashiest talking president in history, may or may not be a serial liar, but what we like are his wonderful policies.”
And there you have the baptism of trash as the treasure of the American evangelical movement.
Losing our manners
American politics, reduced to a World Wrestling Federation event, has lost its collective manners. And it has been joined in this trashy parade by a host of preachers whose tongues have taken leave of holiness. How odd that even the idea of good manners would poke her head out from under the cover of darkness in this catastrophic era of weaponized rhetoric.
Somewhere I can hear Tell Sackett (the Louis Lamour character) thinking that good manners are the foundation of civilization. Talking about good manners seems like attending a seminar on positive thinking or reading again Norman Vincent Peale or attending Toastmasters. Simply put, politics has lost its manners. Emily Post’s Etiquette has been replaced by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
My commitment to good manners runs deep in my rhetorical soul — a good person speaking well branded on my consciousness (Quintilian). Believing as I do, that good manners are the foundation of civilization, I see democracy as a threatened and endangered species. My conviction that words matter, that how words are said matter, that reason and truth matter, and that treating others with mutual respect should still be the heart of our politics feel out of step with the media-frenzy for the spectacular, the hyperbolic, the incoherent, the wild claims, the constant threats, the vicious character attacks, the constant use of harsh language, violent imagery, and debased rhetoric.
“Believing as I do, that good manners are the foundation of civilization, I see democracy as a threatened and endangered species.”
Public, political rhetoric has changed for the worse. Trashy political rhetoric has infected our national soul like a social cancer. Members of Congress sound like NBA players dishing out the trash during a playoff game.
Truthfully, I can think of no better word than “trashy” to describe the current state of our public discourse. Our rhetorical excesses have given birth to a “next generation” of trash talkers that reflects our sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia. These new creations spread like a social cancer.
The trashing of our public discourse goes against every biblical principle I was taught from birth. Our trashy culture has forgotten, but here’s what good manners once acted like: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:9–10).
Now, the most debased words prey on the population. The rules of decorum have been burned at the stake as if they were the instructions of an 18th-century British school headmaster. Rhetorical scholar Craig R. Smith calls this eruption in the core of political speech “bar talk,” meaning, he says, things “that one would normally only hear after a few drinks in the privacy of an underlit bar.”
Voters, like the medium of television, are attracted to the vulgar, the erotic, the spectacular, the rude, crude and vicious. Style, celebrity and brashness play outsized roles in a politician’s platform. Collectively, we have lost our manners.
“The trashing of our public discourse goes against every biblical principle I was taught from birth.”
Believing as I do, for the sake of my sanity, I have to take out the trash from time-to-time. And by trash, I mean the tacky, trashy, disgusting rhetoric of our politicians. I am excluding the politician who lost the 2020 election from the trash removal because an entire fleet of garbage trucks would be required, and all the other sleazy-talking, violent-inducing, tacky politicians would not be noticed.
Here are my Trashy Awards for 2021. The awards are named the Robert Jeffress Trash Awards because politicians at their trashiest can’t out-trash the Dallas Baptist preacher who has said that he wants the “meanest SOB” to be president, that he wouldn’t vote for Jesus for president because Jesus was soft on terrorism, and that Democrats worship a pagan god — Molech.
The 2021 Robert Jeffress Awards
- Donald Trump Jr. “If we get together, they cannot cancel us all. OK? They won’t. And this will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because — I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game. OK? We’ve been playing T-ball for half a century while they’re playing hardball and cheating. Right? We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand, sort of, the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing. OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution in our country.”
- Lauren Boebert. Speaking on right-wing commentator Sebastian Gorka’s “America First” podcast, Boebert suggested that Kyle Rittenhouse has far bigger plans than just a congressional internship. “You know, he’s gonna come out and visit some of us, but I think he has bigger intentions than being an intern in Congress,” Boebert told Gorka. Or this: “President Trump is right, biological males are competing in and destroying women’s sports. How is this even a debate?” Or this: Boebert found herself on an elevator with fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. She said she looked at Omar and determined since “she doesn’t have a backpack, I guess we’re alright,” intimating Omar could be a suicide bomber because she is a Somali American and a Muslim. “And I said, ‘Oh look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.’” Boebert said, finishing her routine.
- Roxanne Mathai. This Texas cop was part of the insurrection on Jan. 6. She posted on her Facebook account: “Not gonna lie. … aside from my kids, this was, indeed, the best day of my life. And it’s not over yet.”
- All the baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Mike Lindell, the My Pillow Guy, claims he has spent $25 million of his own money to back Trump’s Big Lie about the election. He says he will continue to spend whatever it takes to push 2020 lies. This guy’s speeches are so trashy, his pillows need consigning to a landfill.
- David Perdue. “Unfortunately, today (Republicans) are divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame,” Perdue said in his campaign launch video. “Look, I like Brian. This isn’t personal. It’s simple: He has failed all of us and cannot win in November. Instead of protecting our elections, he caved to (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey) Abrams and cost us the Senate majority and gave Joe Biden free rein.”
- Ted Cruz. “What I did was lead 11 senators in a constitutional option which I think would have been much better for our democracy because we right now have a substantial chunk of our country that has real doubts about the integrity of the election,” Cruz said. “And if we had a credible electoral commission, do an emergency audit, it would have enhanced faith in democracy. But instead, Democrats and a lot of the press decided to just engage in incendiary rhetoric rather than acknowledge voter fraud is real. It is a problem and one of the allegations of voter fraud needs to be examined on the merits.”
- Paul Gosar. The Arizona Republican posted an anime-style video of him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He defended the violent act by saying it was a metaphor and that he was only talking about immigration. The trash gets trashier when a literalist tries to claim he was using a metaphor. No one who witnessed the video thought Gosar was cutting off the head of an Immigration Snake.
- Tom Cotton. The Arkansas Republican laments the “lack of civilizational self-confidence among American white people.” Historian William V. Trollinger Jr. points out, “According to Cotton, the lack of Thanksgiving celebrations this year — 401 years after the landing of the Mayflower in 1620 and 400 years after the alleged first Thanksgiving — has to do with the fact that ‘the Pilgrims have fallen out of favor in fashionable circles.’ And why is that? Because of an apparent loss of ‘civilizational self-confidence.’”
- Marjorie Taylor Green. “Republicans who hand over their voting card to Nancy Pelosi to pass Biden’s Communist takeover of America will feel the anger of the GOP voter.” Green was angry at the infrastructure bill that would fund roads, bridges, railways and airports.
- Louis Gohmert. The Texas Republican suggested to a scientist during a House Committee hearing on climate change that the world could potentially change the moon’s orbit around the earth, or the earth’s orbit around the sun as a means of combating climate change.
- Jim Jordan. Appearing on conservative network Newsmax, he suggested the “radical left” of 2021 poses a threat to the United States that is on a par with the “evils” of Nazi Germany, imperial Japan and slavery. “Every third generation in this country has had to do something big,” said Jordan, a staunch supporter of ex-President Donald Trump. “You think about the founders and what they did when they declared why we’re going to be an independent country, what they had to overcome, the greatest military in the world. They did it.”
- Every anti-vax, anti-mask proponent and statement made in 2021. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., asked if he would ever take a COVID vaccine: “Oh yeah, if it did what people think it’s going to do, which is, you know, if you get a single injection, and it was safe, and it gave you protection from COVID for life, of course I would take it, as I think everybody would.”
With sympathy and regret, the Robert Jeffress Award also is posthumously bestowed upon four conservative talk radio hosts who spread anti-vax propaganda before contracting COVID-19 and dying:
- Longtime Bible prophecy teacher and radio host Jimmy DeYoung Sr., who questioned whether COVID-19 vaccines are being used as a form of “government control” earlier this year, died from COVID in August 2021.
- WNDB’s Marc Bernier, a Daytona, Fla., talk radio host who dubbed himself “Mr. Anti-Vax” in December died of COVID in August.
- On August 4, Newsmax fill-in host and longtime conservative talker Dick Farrel died from a “severe damage” from COVID-19 after spending the last weeks of his life claiming that the vaccine is “Bogus Bull,” referring to the pandemic as a “scamdemic.”
Tod Tucker, a pro-Trump radio programmer, died “following the onset of viral pneumonia as the result of COVID-19,” according to his employer. Tucker had previously mocked the idea of receiving the vaccine, allegedly writing in a March Facebook post, “Please stop bragging that you got your COVID vaccine. What do you want us to say? ‘Congratulations, lab rat?!’”
Feel free to make your own trashy list. After all, one person’s trash is another’s person’s treasure. And we seem unable to tell gold from fool’s gold, truth from lies, reality from unreality, gospel from heresy, and good manners from tackiness. Happy 2022.
Rodney W. Kennedy currently serves as interim pastor of Emmanuel Freiden Federated Church in Schenectady, N.Y., and as preaching instructor Palmer Theological Seminary. He is the author of nine books, including the newly released The Immaculate Mistake, about how evangelical Christians gave birth to Donald Trump.
Dear Robert Jeffress: You’ve called the wrong U.S. president ‘ungodly’ | Opinion by Rodney Kennedy