A polite society consists of a group of people who believe that everyone in the group deserves a basic modicum of respect. In a polite society, people are friendly with each other, they don’t overstep their boundaries, and they don’t insult each other with ad hominem attacks. In my own polite society, everyone calls each other by their first names, no one enjoys any claims to status over another. A Nobel laureate and a college freshman are equals in terms of their right to politeness.
There are good and bad reasons to deny people the right to polite society. I don’t believe anyone should be denied entrance based on their race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender. I don’t believe raging bigots should be permitted in polite society. I do believe people with prejudices, which we all have, should be allowed. I don’t believe you should be permitted entrance based entirely on your status in the political or business worlds. A congressman is not immediately conferred entrance into polite society, regardless of his other actions. Many people disagree with me. That is their right.
There are three kinds of people who watch the presidential race. There are those who believe everyone who runs for president, regardless of his behavior or his views, deserve entrance into polite society, and thus a certain modicum of politeness. The more followers a presidential candidate has, the more settled she/he is in polite society. Then there are those who believe that a presidential candidate may forfeit his right to polite society due to his beliefs, his previous actions or terrible missteps on the campaign trail. There’s a third group, which I’ll describe in a minute. I am in the second group, but I find it very difficult to be part of the second group. It’s not always clear to me which candidates deserve entrance into polite society and which don’t.
So let’s start with the one obvious don’t: Donald Trump.
How about the rest? Stephen Colbert just admonished his audience for booing Ted Cruz for expressing his views on gay marriage, views that weren’t all that different from the Clintons’ 20 years ago. To be fair, Cruz’s opposition is creepy. He’s claimed that gay marriage is all about sex. I find the guy odious, and his beliefs more so. Still, for many opposition to gay marriage in particular is so appalling, to hold such a position now denies you the right to a handshake. I’m not quite there yet.
How about Hilary Clinton? She supported the worst foreign policy disaster of my generation. For most of the mid-‘00s she behaved like a demagogue. But at the moment, she’s pretty kind to gay people and black people, and so we confer on her the right not to be booed on talk shows.
All presidents obtain a place in polite society, for good or ill. We respect the office, if not always the woman/man. It’s always Mr. President. It’s never Mr. Obama or Mr. Bush.
Maybe we should create a third group of watchers then, a group that believes every presidential candidate – Sanders, Clinton, Bush, Trump, Rubio and the rest – deserve no place in polite society until proven otherwise. Let’s assume they are all scum. Let’s boo them and humiliate them, rip apart their families, rip apart their beliefs, spit on them.
I would like this third group to take up a small minority of watchers, but I believe we need them.