Throughout the history of the United States, there have been cases of lawmakers who became very good friends despite being from different parties. President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill had a close relationship, and even House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama could put differences aside. President Bill Clinton was a close friend of President George H.W. Bush and remains quite friendly with President George W. Bush.
If Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were still around they’d probably be Facebook friends, but the same can’t be said for many lawmakers today.
As CNN reported last week, many members within the House of Representatives said that they increasingly find themselves in a toxic work environment, one that is wrought with bitter exchanges, threats, and fears about the erosion of decorum in the chamber.
This comes just weeks after Democrats and two Republicans voted to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for his posting of an animated video on social media that depicted the killing of fellow House member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
The issue is that lawmakers aren’t being shy about their open contempt for one another. This month saw a series of exchanges between Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. After the two spoke on the phone, which seemingly only made matters worse – each took to social media to call out the other!
It isn’t just political rivals from different parties that are airing their dirty laundry on social media. On Tuesday, two Republican members of Congress took to Twitter to call out each other.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Georgia) noted her displeasure with Rep. Nancy Mace’s (R-S.C.) reaction to Rep. Boebert’s hostility towards Rep. Omar. Greene seemed to accuse Mace of being aligned with Omar and the progressive wing of the Democrats instead of with her fellow Republicans.
“@NancyMace is the trash in the GOP Conference. Never attacked by Democrats or RINO’s (same thing) because she is not conservative, she’s pro-abort. Mace you can back up off of @laurenboebert or just go hang with your real gal pals, the Jihad Squad. Your out of your league,” wrote Rep. Greene (@mtgreenee)
Rep. Mace fired back, “*you’re. And, while I’m correcting you, I’m a pro-life fiscal conservative who was attacked by the Left all weekend (as I often am) as I defied China while in Taiwan. What I’m not is a religious bigot (or racist). You might want to try that over there in your little ‘league.'”
Mace then shared some colorful emojis to drive her point home.
Such hostility – even among those on the same side of the aisle – is likely only to get worse before it gets better. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as good for our democracy to have elected officials being so openly hostile.
“We know from political psychology that the fastest way to go viral is to really lay into the other party,” warned Matthew J. Schmidt, Ph.D., associate professor of national security and political science at the University of New Haven.
“It fires up your team and the other side. But you get clicked either way. So there’s a political sense in generating attention that way – even if it’s by attacking someone from your own party,” added Schmidt. “But that’s a purely Machiavellian way to see this kind of behavior. Breaking these sort of professional codes of behavior leaves a larger message that the leaders we expect to be the adults leading the country are really more like immature children having a screaming match online.”
Schmidt explained that people are inured to this by now.
“I think it coarsens the atmosphere of debate, it makes us a little more cynical,” he suggested. “And cynicism kills democracies because of people are to govern themselves they have to trust each other, especially those on the other side.”