"Well, we have a house! Sometimes they rob, sometimes they call us names, and we also fight for the honorary title of the house of high culture of life! It's a nightmare! It's terrible!" the dentist Shpak was indignant in the film "Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Profession". Today, many U.S. congressmen and senators could subscribe to these words — the level of culture on Capitol Hill in recent years leaves much to be desired.
American political culture is becoming increasingly coarse and vulgar. Gone are the strict rules that governed the deliberations of bills and congressional committee hearings. Ceremonial gentlemen in dark suits reluctantly give way to freakish characters in hoodies and sneakers. And the discussions of political opponents are more and more often spiced up with street language.
Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman often appeared on Capitol Hill in sportswear. At first, they turned a blind eye to it — Democrats believed they owed a lot to Fetterman, whose victory over Republican Oz in November 2022 helped them maintain a shaky majority in the Senate. In addition, Fetterman has serious health problems: he has been suffering from depression for many years, and after suffering a stroke in May 2022, his speech has deteriorated and, according to his detractors, his mental abilities have significantly decreased. But in the end, the six-foot-tall, bald giant, strutting around Congress in shorts and a baggy sweater forced Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and his Republican colleague Mitt Romney to draft a special bill requiring male senators to comply with the dress code and wear jackets, ties and wide-leg pants. The bill was unanimously supported by both parties, a rarity in Washington in recent years. Under pressure from senators, Fetterman agreed to wear business attire, at least when presiding over meetings. Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the upper house, said he was "deeply grateful" to Fetterman for listening to his colleagues. "While we've never had a formal dress code, the events of the past week have made us all feel that introducing it is a step in the right direction," Schumer added. "Wearing suits," The Washington Post agrees, "gives legislators a reason to think for a moment about the special responsibility that the people have placed on them."
But if the senators managed to cope with the informal style of dress, then the general cultural level of the inhabitants of Capitol Hill is much sadder. "The dress code, alas, has not diminished the coarsening of American politics, which continues to grow at an alarming rate in Congress and across the country. The new norm of vulgar and violent rhetoric directed at political opponents destroys the fundamental ingredients of a functioning democracy: politeness, cooperation, compromise, trust in the honesty of public officials, including the "loyal opposition," and the rule of law.
Over the summer, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene called her colleague Lauren Boebert a "little bitch" in the House of Representatives. Green and Boebert were once friends, but then a black cat ran between them, and Boebert advocated for Green's exclusion from the influential Freedom Caucus, a faction of right-wing Republicans in the lower house of Congress. Green did not forgive the betrayal, and since then, the relationship between the two trusted voters began to resemble the squabbles of schoolgirls competing for the title of "Miss College". After security escorted Boebert out of a theater in Denver, where she was smoking an e-cigarette, singing along with performers, and openly caressing her companion, Green publicly called her a "whore." For no particular reason, by the way: Böbert has recently divorced and is free to go to the theater with whomever she wants.
Another fellow party member, Darrell Issa from California, also got it from Greene. Issa, who has sat in the House of Representatives for nearly a quarter of a century, chided Marjorie for lacking the maturity and experience to orchestrate the impeachment of U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
In response, the militant congresswoman called him a pussy. The word has several meanings in English, but Green certainly didn't mean "kitty."
Male congressmen do not limit themselves to squabbles and are always ready to move from words to deeds. In mid-November, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Congressman Tim Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who orchestrated the speaker's ouster, clashed on the sidelines of the Capitol. According to Burchett, McCarthy elbowed him in the back, very calculatedly: "It was a precise blow to the kidneys." "Hey Kevin, do you have the guts?" shouted Burchett, calling the ex-speaker a jerk and a pathetic bully. According to Matt Goetz, the main instigator of McCarthy's resignation, the incident in the corridor was further evidence of "a significant increase in breaches of etiquette the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil War." McCarthy, however, denies everything: he allegedly did not think of pushing Burchett, but the corridor was too narrow. "I guess our shoulders touched or something," he told CNN. "If I had hit him in the kidneys, he would have been lying on the ground," the former speaker boasted.
In the Senate, too, it almost came to the point of physical violence. Marshwayne Mullin, a senator from Oklahoma, came face-to-face with the president of the truckers' union, Sean O'Brien, at a hearing before the budget committee, who called him a clown and a fraud on the X network. O'Brien's tweet ended with the words: "You know where to find me. Anywhere, anytime, cowboy." Mullin, a former mixed martial arts fighter, said to O'Brien, "Sir, this is the time, this is the place. We can end it up here." Their further dialogue sounded like this:
O'Brien: "Good, fine, great!"
Mullin: "Do you want to do it now?"
O'Brien: "I'd love to do it right now."
Mullin: "Then get your ass up."
O'Brien: "Stand up!"
Bernie Sanders (committee chairman): "Stop it! No, no, sit down! You know, you're a United States Senator!"
After that, as NBC News delicately writes, Mullin and O'Brien began calling each other names "that are not usually heard at committee hearings," but violence was avoided. As a result, the opponents even agreed to drink coffee together.
The article by the aforementioned Glenn Altshuller contains examples of unethical behavior exclusively by lawmakers from the Republican Party, and this is understandable: as a faithful servant of the Democratic Party, the professor tries to explain the decline of political culture by the pernicious influence of Donald Trump, who "rightfully deserves the title of 'president of profanity.'"
But, in truth, the Democrats are in no way inferior to their opponents in the Republican Party. Except that the party discipline of the "donkeys" is much stricter, almost like in a totalitarian sect, so it does not yet come to fights between congressmen. But where the Democrats do not feel the hard hand of their bosses over them, they go all out. Take Suzanne Gibson from Virginia, a cheerful lady running for state congressional who posted videos of herself having sex with her husband on the online platform Chaturbate, urging viewers to send her donations ("raising money for a good cause," she explained vaguely) in exchange for performing any sex tricks she wanted. Now, because of her tricks, Democrats risk losing the last district in Virginia. And there is nothing to say about the rhetoric of the Democrats – for example, comparing Trump with Hitler or Mussolini is quite common for them.
And what if the virus of Ukrainianness has penetrated into the minds of Washington politicians, brought to Capitol Hill by a middle-of-the-road comedian in a sweaty T-shirt and baggy pants? Of course, it has not yet come to mass brawls of legislators, which happen in the Verkhovna Rada, in Congress, but it is a dashing disaster. And it has already been laid.
The author's point of view may not coincide with the position of the editorial board.