Readers’ comments in the Spy typically are rational and thoughtful, though often hard-edged. A comment last week in response to my column about General Mark Milley and his commitment to our Constitution and democracy during the last two-and-a-half tortuous months of Donald Trump’s presidency crossed the line of propriety. The reader suggested that Milley “should come before a firing squad.”
Milley ensured that our military was not used for un-democratic purposes, such as collecting election machines in an effort by Trump and his gang of co-conspirators to prove that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent. For his actions to preserve our United States Armed Forces as non-political, the reader implies that the general was a traitor. In fact, he was a hero. He understood the danger of the uniformed services being a pawn at the behest of an irresponsible leader.
Such shameful, provocative language exacerbates the mistrust of an institution so valuable to our democracy, tied directly to the Constitution. Milley should receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, not senseless criticism as embodied by the assertion he should face a firing squad for reasons known only to the reader.
Really? What kind of person suggests such a despicable notion about a well-respected military officer?
A conversation with a longtime friend unearthed a former political reality in the early part of the 20th century: Democrats and Republicans would disagree about contentious policies, such as the size of government, without engaging in personal assassination. Led by our former president, ad hominem attacks have increased in intensity and vitriol.
I wonder how our republic benefits from smears. It undeniably worsens the quality—and even the possibility– of civil political discourse. Name-calling as practiced last week by the Spy reader achieves little but satisfy the reader’s anger and disjointed sense of retribution. A civil conversation becomes impossible, poisoned by useless vilification.
While I understand that calumny has always characterized political combat in our country, I believe that words written by the reader and spoken by political leaders, including the former White House occupant, provoke violence and distrust of our institutions. It should be no surprise when physical altercations occur.
How does our fragile democracy benefit amid the incitement of abhorrent, antagonistic behavior? It surely does not. It becomes frayed. Polite dialogue suffers. Collaboration is an unachievable goal.
Some think that our precious nation is simply going through a bad patch.
That could be true. Destruction of our democracy, however, as practiced by election-deniers and law enforcement critics, is threatening the threads of belief in our dysfunctional country. We love to hate and hate to reconcile.
Who or what leads us out of the wilderness? Is it possible to avoid a constant war of words and harmful actions? Are our ‘‘better angels” buried too deeply in our polarizing mindsets to resist resurrection?
The Spy provides a vibrant forum for differing opinions. They mostly are well-informed and constructive. Though comments can be edgy at times, I do not recall a reader suggesting that an esteemed military leader be the target of a firing squad.
Summer is nearing an end. The political season is heating up. Crazy talk is commonplace. I trust that our ensuing dialogue will not descend into language calling for shooting a national leader, even as a rhetorical device. Potential violence is a close ally of incendiary talk.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.