“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whisper rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.” - Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Statesman
I have begun to think we have neither the language nor the context for what is happening across the American political landscape. Old standards aren’t working to express our anger or even those rare moments of joy. How do we adequately articulate what we are feeling and experiencing as we see the foundations of our little republic cracking and the piteous efforts at repair?
Antipathy informs every political thought in 2022 U.S.A., and much of it is justified. The conventional standard used to be restraint in public forums. Politicians were not likely to swear beyond using hell or damn, but that was before children started getting slaughtered in their classrooms by weapons that essentially vaporized their existence. If that can’t elicit profanity from us, what can?
When Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke was holding a town hall in Mineral Wells, Texas earlier this week, he was describing the weapon used to kill the children of Uvalde. The room was crowded with supporters, but there were a few opponents, backers of the incumbent, standing in the rear by the door. The gun being referred to, a civilian version of the AR-15, should not have been available to be used, as O’Rourke said, to "take that weapon that was originally designed for use on the battlefields in Vietnam to penetrate an enemy soldier's helmet at 500 feet and knock him down dead - up against kids at five feet."
A Greg Abbott voter or two in the room laughed at the description, which prompted O’Rourke to interrupt his narrative and say, “It might be funny to you, motherfucker, but it’s not funny to me.” The crowd stood and applauded him for his response while political consultants and reporters went into paroxysmal spasms. They were, however, the only people wondering if O’Rourke should be more decorous. Those few Abbott types in the back of the room were described as laughing every time Beto talked about Uvalde and the AR-15.
I’m not sure, though, if the most salient question of his event has been asked. I want to know that if a person who laughs about 19 school kids being obliterated by what amounts to a military-grade weapon is not a motherfucker, then who is? Maybe Beto could have tempered his choice of pejoratives by calling him a son-of-a-bitch, but that suggests destiny and lineage and not choice. The SoB had no choice over who was his mother but being a motherfucker and laughing about slaughtered children is exercising free will. Beto’s instant analysis was correct. The jerk or jerks in the audience had made a personal choice to be a motherfucker(s).
There’s an even bigger motherfucker involved, though. If the clown who laughed about murdered students is a motherfucker, what name can we call the man who has done nothing to stop it from happening again? Is Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, by definition, some kind of an uber motherfucker? He was the person who ended any kind of licensing or training to buy guns even after what had happened at the Walmart massacre in El Paso. Hell, the motherfucker did it in the first legislative session after El Paso. His political will, fueled by NRA dollars, opened the door for troubled 18-year-olds to go gun shopping, and as you read this, those motherfuckers are probably out there trying to figure out which gun to buy.
The fainting couches in the editorial hallways of the national media, meanwhile, were crowded with bodies after Beto’s description. When reporters had recovered from their vapors, they wondered what to make of a politician who used such language. Aren’t there better, less offensive words that can be deployed to confront the vulgarity of the motherfucker who was laughing? Probably not, because what is more vulgar than laughing at children with their heads blown off? The ever-acerbic Charlie Pierce of Esquire magazine asked on Twitter, “Are we really going to have a debate over this? Beto MF’d a motherfucker. Can we now move on to, like, making sure Texas has electricity?”
Well, we could, Charlie, but that motherfucker Greg Abbott is in the way. The Texas Tribune is out with a story that reports Abbott has taken control of ERCOT, the quasi-public agency that runs the state’s power grid. ERCOT has been looking for a CEO for 15 months since the Great Greg Freeze and at least one candidate recommended by the board and a professional search agency has been turned down because he came from California, which is a totally sane reason to disqualify someone with a great resume’. According to the Tribune, Abbott has also taken control over the agency’s communications by censoring what they can say, and even when it can be said. He has been dictating their news releases. The motherfucker is getting his fascist infrastructure squared away so he won’t face any consequences when the grid gets fried again by demand.
Abbott is also strangling information surrounding the Uvalde tragedy. If he really wanted families to heal and the public to understand, the motherfucker would order the DPS to release bodycam footage, phone records, emails, and any other evidence related to how state troopers performed, or did not perform, that dark day. Instead, he’s remained silent, and let the issue enter the court system or wait for our multi-indicted attorney general, Ken Paxton, to issue an opinion on whether the news media can have the information. A consortium of media outlets has sued the state, and the AG has not rendered his opinion, but we all know that motherfucker is going to say the data won’t need to be released because that gives the governor political cover, and he won’t have to say a thing.
Two motherfuckers in a pod.
The media writing about Beto’s F-bomb, in the meantime, are not exactly covering themselves in glory. National Public Radio, increasingly precious and upbeat, had a digital reporter produce a story on the laughing motherfuckers and Beto’s response. In the Boring Twenties tradition of bothsidersism, the network indicated that experts said calling an actual motherfucker a motherfucker was likely to “both help and hurt” the candidate. What a risky assertion and powerful insight!! Got me to wondering real hard whether covering up for incompetent state cops or failing to attend a single Uvalde funeral would “help and hurt” Greg Abbott. The brief piece failed miserably because it seemed to imply an equivalency between Beto’s language and the violence he was condemning. NPR critics by the thousands howled about the network’s lack of editorial judgment in various vicious comments on Twitter.
The NPR story had been assigned to a reporter who had served four years in the Marine Corps during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can assume his sensitivities were not delicate and that he had heard the term motherfucker a few times and had even dealt with several motherfuckers. Might have even shot a motherfucker or two. His story seemed another one of an NPR editor’s attempts to offer “balanced” coverage. The network is suffering through a kind of timorousness because of conservative criticism of its reporting and seems to consistently find ways to strut its bothsidersism. The reporter quoted a political expert at Southern Methodist University who told him that swearing is “harmful to our politics because it becomes more difficult to conduct politics and find a middle ground on issues.”
I’d like to know what middle ground there is to be found with a motherfucker or two who laugh about dead kids. No, I don’t. There is none. What’s harmful to our politics is motherfuckers like Greg Abbott who speaks to the NRA and takes their money days after Uvalde and who goes on TV and tells reporters he wants information released on the cops but sits on his hands and avoids answering questions about the cops. That’s what’s harmful to our politics. People who avoid responsibility and do nothing. We need to get that motherfucker out of office. He hasn’t bothered to fix the electrical grid, he threatens every municipality and public official who doesn’t agree with his crap, and he sends billions to militarize the border while teenagers in juvenile prisons are trying to kill themselves because of horrid conditions caused by Republicans refusing to properly fund state facilities.
This is the very definition of a motherfucker in politics.
We have all kinds of these motherfuckers loose in the land, though, including a former president who has kept top secret classified documents on his private property, some apparently related to nuclear devices. You almost expect it from Trump, who would sell his children if he could find buyers, but it’s disturbing to hear the motherfucker talk about making America great again when he’s likely to be charged with espionage, a treasonous act that isn’t doing anything to make us great. Even stranger is the low travelers on FOX, working hard to diminish his apparent crime to a misunderstanding. Do those motherfuckers have no conscience about what they are doing to their country?
There is a suspicion that the former president, a known motherfucker, might have been selling nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia. A U.S. House of Representatives report in 2019 highlighted whistleblower concerns that motherfucker Trump was trying to transfer nuclear secrets to Saudi Arabia. That House Oversight Committee report made some rather stunning claims about nuclear corruption between Trump and Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There was significant evidence that commercial interests were trying to move the information because various U.S. firms could make billions with the construction of nuclear power plants on the Arabian Peninsula. The committee’s report, however, was quashed by Republicans, who rejected the allegations. GOP motherfuckers and Trump sycophants were protecting Trump as he prepared to run for reelection.
The crazy motherfuckers who believe in Trump got a little bit animated, too, when the FBI raided his gaudy crib down in Florida. They seem to think he’s above the law, and even that the FBI planted top secret government documents on the premises. On their chickenshit little chat rooms, where they go to posture and pretend to be patriots, a few of them called for war and shooting FBI agents on sight. One of those armed lunatic motherfuckers went to the Cincinnati office of the agency with a gun and tried to enter the building for obvious purposes. A chase and standoff ensued, and he was killed by the federal agents, giving his life for a crazy motherfucker ex-president who likely will soon be indicted for espionage and obstruction of justice.
Our linguistics fail us when trying to react or explain or understand every idiotic moment transpiring in our country. Do we really have epithets that are as profoundly shocking as the reality we are using them to describe? There is almost no value to language when a schoolroom floor is covered with the tattered remains of children and then we get back about our political business of protecting gun manufacturers. What words work when our horrors are incomprehensible to the naked eye? When Beto O’Rourke calls the laughing fools motherfuckers, his anger is being communicated from most of us who feel helpless and marginalized. He seethes with what we feel and think, and we are relieved there is someone as pissed off as we are and is willing to communicate it, even when epithets fall short. If only there were a viler term for people who laugh about dead children. Motherfucker just isn’t prosaic enough.
If this offends you, good. You get my point. But you’re getting mad about the wrong things. Do something good to end the insanity spread across our once fair land.
Just don’t become one of those crazy motherfuckers.