A left-wing political cartoonist is facing criticism, and rightly so, for mocking Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s 10-year-old-daughter, Liza, in a cartoon published this past weekend.
The cartoonist, Chris Britt, depicted the girl praying, “Dear God, please forgive my angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr. [Christine] Ford.”
The context of the illustration is a statement made by Kavanaugh on the opening day of his public hearing. “I intend no ill will to Dr. Ford and her family,” Kavanaugh said. “The other night, Ashley and my daughter Liza said their prayers. And little Liza, all of 10 years old, said to Ashley, ‘We should pray for the woman.’ That’s a lot of wisdom from a 10-year-old. We mean no ill will.”
Britt’s cartoon is the latest example of the type of mean-spirited partisan mongering that increasingly stains our nation’s public discourse.
To Chris Britt, I’d like to say three things.
First, you should be ashamed of yourself for mocking a child’s bedtime prayers for her father. It’s beneath you or any good illustrator to descend to this depth, just as it’s beneath any good citizen to approve of it or share it.
You’re by no means the only offender. It’s become popular to mock people’s religious faith and use it to score political points. We experienced this sort of Christian shaming recently when NBC sports commentator Tony Dungy came under fire for commending the faith of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. We also experienced it when social media flash mobs insulted Christians who called for public prayer in the aftermath of mass shootings, natural disasters, or other harrowing events.
Second, before you cast such a harsh judgment on Kavanaugh, you should let the process play out. The FBI has investigated the situation, and rightly so. Although I don’t think the FBI should ordinarily be involved in a congressional hearing in this manner, it seems the best way out of the current dumpster fire.
Personal character matters for public office. It matters for Presidential candidates, Congressional candidates, and for Supreme Court nominees. If the FBI finds evidence that Kavanaugh is an abuser, he should not be trusted with the highest bench in the land. But if the FBI finds evidence that Dr. Ford is mistaken about the identity of her abuser or lied about the incident, he should be confirmed immediately.
Third, you should consider using your talents as an illustrator to help strengthen our nation rather than further weakening it. Although it’s certainly within the parameters of democratic goodwill to criticize people on the other side of the aisle, it’s beyond the pale to score political points by doing so in such an uncivil manner.
Not that incivility is limited to cartoonists.
President Obama, for example, gave himself permission to dismiss an entire category of Americans—working-class conservatives—as bitter people who cling to guns and religion to help deal with their frustrations.
Not to be outdone, Candidate Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and Megyn Kelly a “bimbo.” He made fun of the late John McCain for being taken prisoner of war in Vietnam. He bragged about his sexual exploits, mocked a physically handicapped reporter, and compared Ben Carson to a child molester.
In July, Sen. Cory Booker urged Democrats to “get up in the face of some congresspeople.” Since July, aggressive activists have repeatedly harrassed Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with vulgar and intimidating anonymous communications. They’ve shouted down Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife, disrupting their dinner date and causing them to exit the restaurant prematurely. And there are plenty of other examples.
But the plague of incivility is not limited to cartoonists and politicians.
It is commonplace for American citizens to fill the “comment” section of political blogs or the “status update” portion of their Facebook wall with vulgar, dehumanizing, and hateful speech toward fellow citizens, journalists, and politicians.
In other words, America’s public discourse is a dysfunctional, mephitic, and effluvial travesty.
Most of us, in one way or another, are complicit. And each of us, in our own way, is responsible.
Maintaining the present course of the political wars assures the further weakening of our nation. It represents a monumental failure to seize the moment and demonstrate the significance of the American experiment.
As such, this is no moment to wait for politicians to restore strength and civility to the national political debate. Many of our elected officials are poll-sniffers and tea-leaf readers who are acting on cue because they think We the People want them to behave like idiots and asses.
So it’s up to us—everyday Americans—to challenge the dominant ways of speaking and acting in the public square. It’s up to us to demonstrate good will toward the people with whom we disagree. It’s up to us to switch off shows or stop following websites that further pollute our public discourse. It’s up to us to stop voting for politicians or donating to action groups that undermine the long-term health of our nation.
If we take these steps, then maybe our politicians will begin to lead in a manner worthy of Americans and our world responsibility, and to determine that the further degradation of our great nation will not happen on their watch.