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John Rogers on the House Floor
John Rogers on the Alabama House Floor

Given the pathetic political context of a nation that must cringingly endure the boorish, profane, and juvenile daily tweets of its President, it’s not shocking that AL Rep. John Rogers felt his recent remarks regarding abortion and Donald Trump Jr. were somehow appropriate or acceptable.

They are not.

He has disgraced his office and his party. The asinine defense of his comments only exposed his glaring lack of statesmanship. His stubborn and callous refusal to acknowledge that his offensive comments had crossed a line of public decency only demeans political debate. He should resign immediately.

His rambling explanation of what he meant to say, doesn’t change the vulgarity of what he said.

Having acknowledged that, Rogers represents a growing number of politicians on both sides of the aisle that have taken their cue from President Trump to speak crassly in the language of extreme partisan division and to ‘double down’ when taken to task for their outrageous rhetoric. No matter how bizarre or fact-free the comments, Trump has made it a central component of his brand to never apologize or admit mistakes. Regretfully, this malignant behavior has metastasized and spread into an increasing amount of our public discourse. This rhetorical rot decays our democracy, demeans our institutions, and trivializes substantive debate by celebrating pedestrian name-calling and scatological zingers.

This illuminates the inherent peril of populism when it becomes the primary determinant of wise and responsible leadership. It may also explain the strange and surreal incongruity between the reality of Trump and his supporters’ perception of him as their unwavering, moralistic champion. It’s explanatory because many people are willing to gorge themselves on hyper-partisan populist rhetoric while eschewing any deliberate analysis of policy or to even casually endeavor more than a superficial glance at important issues. They prefer personal attacks over a meaningful discussion.

We’re quickly becoming a nation that embraces snarky bumper sticker politics. We favor jabs and sit-com put-downs over sober intellect and informed detailed arguments.  Decades of defensively deriding and denigrating intellectualism got us to this epic moment of prevailing stupidity. The Republicans led the effort in making that bed and they can sleep in it. Democrats have always been charged to do much better and they should.

Plainly, the answer isn’t to take the debate to the lowest common denominator like Rep. Rogers was so foolishly eager to do. The answer isn’t to throw away principle and decency just because that’s what your political opponent appears to be doing. There’s an old saying, “Never argue with an idiot, they will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

As Democrats in Alabama struggle with rebuilding their party, it’s important to condemn and censure politicians like Rogers on principle because ignoring it only serves to condone it. Standing on principle matters most when it’s not politically expedient and when it’s painfully inconvenient. To do otherwise, would be a complete surrender and an abdication of civic responsibility. Similarly, it’s why AL Democratic Chair Nancy Worley and Alabama Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Reed have got to be replaced as soon as possible. Not only have they both committed the same political sin as Rogers in the past, but their silence on this current matter also shows their complicity.

In Alabama, it’s critical that we speak out and censure folks like Rogers when they clearly step outside the lines. For too long, we’ve looked the other way or justified it as an appropriate response to the same type of behavior from the other side. It’s to time to keep our side of the street clean.

Let’s start by showing people like Rogers the door and elevating the debate.

Clete Wetli

Clete Wetli is former Chair of the Madison County Democrats and a liberal political activist.
Clete Wetli