Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children?

Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children?
© Getty Images

When Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” he may have been right — then. Today, our definition of words is much more fluid and the latest debate centers around the word “mob,” defined by the dictionary as “a crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble.”  

Cell phone videos proliferate of scenes such as the group chanting, “We believe survivors,” as they crowded around Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPoll shows competitive matchup if O’Rourke ran for Senate again Democrats veer left as Trump cements hold on Republicans O’Rourke heading to Wisconsin amid 2020 speculation MORE (R-Texas) and his wife on a dinner date, screaming and driving the couple from the restaurant. Defenders of the screamers characterize them as “protestors.” Lawrence Jacobs, director of the center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, is stepping up to the plate with a denial, “Hardly something I would describe as a mob,” creatively describing scenes such as the people clawing at the door of the U.S. Supreme Court, ostensibly to confront newly-confirmed Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughConstitutional conservatives need to oppose the national emergency Kavanaugh shows his stripes on Supreme Court's 'shadow docket' Ginsburg back at Supreme Court MORE, as “noisy democracy,” echoing the words of Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinTrump praises law enforcement response to shooting at Illinois business Five dead in shooting at manufacturing plant in Aurora, Illinois ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE (D-Ill.)

ADVERTISEMENT

They’re certainly noisy, and there’s certainly a link to leaders of the Democratic Party such as Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersOn The Money: Lawmakers closing in on border deal | Dems build case for Trump tax returns | Trump, Xi won't meet before trade deadline | Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony Waters in talks with Mnuchin for testimony on lifting of sanctions on Russian firms Fox's Kilmeade: Why doesn't Trump investigate personal finances of Schiff and Waters? MORE. In June, at a rally, and then again in a TV interview, the California congresswoman urged participants, “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gas station, you get out and you create a crowd,” adding, “And you tell them they’re not welcome any more.”

CNN anchors have dubbed what happens when a “crowd” gets together as “the M word,” and have told contributors to “shut up” when they insisted that the Cruzes had been “mobbed.”

It’s amusing to turn the clock back to 2009 and 2010 to see how the media characterized the Tea Party. The favorite words were nut bags, radicals, extremists, hysterical, furious and dangerous. Quickly, these words were accompanied by the charge that Tea Party members were all racists who were, according to the New York Times, lighting a “powder keg” of nativists, separatists and militia. One columnist wrote about a “tsunami of anger” and compared them to Nazis. Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson accused them of “paranoid ravings.”

Eight years ago, the media’s proof for these charges was pictures of signs held by individuals, exemplified by a picture accompanying a Vox article, “How Southern racism found a home in the Tea Party,” of a mustached, middle-aged, overweight, T-shirted man with a sign, “We don’t want socialism you arrogant Kenyan.” The existence of any single sign became a proxy for the entire group. Even the video was mostly people just holding signs. And there were plenty of obnoxious signs, just as there were comparing President George W. Bush to Hitler, but the anti-Bush signs and “noisy democracy” protestors — such as the group that tried to carry out a citizen’s arrest of Bush adviser Karl Rove — generally were ignored by the mainstream media.

Former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderOcasio-Cortez to be first guest on new Desus and Mero show Holder says he will make 2020 decision in coming weeks Holder: If Trump directed Cohen to lie, impeachment proceedings ‘must begin’ MORE, a possible presidential candidate, campaigning over the weekend, rephrased a 2016 comment of Michelle Obama, saying, “When they go low, we kick ’em,” later insisting, “When I say, you know, ‘We kick ’em,’ I don’t mean we do anything inappropriate.” Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulBusiness, conservative groups slam Trump’s national emergency declaration The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration On The Money: Trump declares emergency at border | Braces for legal fight | Move divides GOP | Trump signs border deal to avoid shutdown | Winners, losers from spending fight | US, China trade talks to resume next week MORE’s wife, Kelley, recently shared a letter she wrote to Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerNewsom endorses Kamala Harris for president Trump tweets video mocking Dems not cheering during State of the Union Former Virginia Gov McAuliffe writes book about confronting white nationalism MORE (D-N.J.), who also urged people to harass Republicans. She told him her husband was “besieged in the airport” by people who screamed, inches from his face.

Most Americans would deem all these behaviors “inappropriate,” and since they are obviously organized, they merit the description. They smell like “the M word.”  

Now that we’ve moved the boundaries on what is acceptable “noisy democracy,” what can we do? My children loved the popular series of children’s books created by Stan and Jan Berenstain. In “The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners,” Mama Bear is so annoyed by the cubs’ rudeness and treatment of each other that she creates a “politeness plan.” She creates a chart listing various penalties, sort of a grading system.

Maybe, we in the ancillary media should create something like it. The Cruz and Rand Paul scenes get an M; other scenes might rate as ND, or “noisy democracy.” The Berenstain cubs first mocked the politeness plan, but eventually it had an impact. It may be just children’s fiction but when people are behaving like children, it’s worth trying.

Merrie Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations. Follow her on Twitter @SpaethCom.