My best editor was my mother.
She operated on the axiom, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
Time after time, she’d call me after reading a particularly disagreeable column and let me know what she thought.
She didn’t like name-calling.
She’d say, “Criticize what people do, but don’t criticize them as human beings.”
Time after time, her quiet wisdom would save me from myself.
Eventually, I wised up and let her read my stories and columns before they ran in the newspaper.
When I wanted to joke about how homely a particular Illinois politician was, she told me to knock it off.
When rumors about a congressman’s sexual orientation swirled about, she shrugged and said, “Who cares?”
And when I wanted to mention how short an Army general was, she said, “Don’t do it.”
Mom was about civility.
In the age of Donald Trump, such notions seem, well, quaint.
Unfortunately, some, when they hear Trump’s rhetoric, view it as a green light to be nasty themselves.
A good case in point is Michelle Wolf’s monologue at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. During her diatribe, she denigrated White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance.
If that weren’t bad enough, she said the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, was “as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons.”
Her comments were mean-spirited, personal and not particularly funny.
Trump supporters were angry.
Well, pot meet kettle.
As National Review noted:
“Donald Trump also really likes to make fun of people. On the campaign trail, he referred to Marco Rubio as ‘Little Marco’ and Jeb Bush as ‘low-energy Jeb.’ During a debate, he readily agreed that he’d compare Rosie O’Donnell to a ‘fat pig,’ ‘slob,’ ‘dog,’ and ‘disgusting animal.’ He mocked Carly Fiorina, saying ‘Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?’ During his presidency, he made fun of Mika Brzezinski, saying he once saw her ‘bleeding badly from a face-lift.’”
If you find yourself angered by Wolf’s remarks, step back and ask yourself if Trump’s comments offend you? If not, why not?
When Trump insults others, his opponents cry, “foul!” And his supporters say, “He’s just joking.” When Michelle Wolf denigrates Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trumpsters growl and liberals say, “Can’t you take a joke?”
The problem is a general coarsening of the political dialogue. When one side goes low, the other thinks it’s a green light to go lower. It’s a recipe for continued discord.
The White House Correspondents Association made a serious error in hosting Michelle Wolf. By doing so, this group, which prides itself as a neutral judge of facts, lowered itself. It’s pretty hard to criticize Trump’s periodic denigrations when a group you belong to has sponsored the same type of rhetoric.
As my mother used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Note to readers: Scott Reeder, a veteran statehouse journalist and freelance reporter, produces the podcast Suspect Convictions.
He can be reached at