By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
There is an old saying that “nothing succeeds like success.” In politics that is an axiom of election strategy. When a political campaign is successful, especially one that is so unexpected, it is carefully studied and often times imitated by the next group of candidates.
Last year we saw the rise of Donald Trump to the Presidency. He accomplished this long shot feat by breaking all the rules of political decorum. He was not only brash and boastful, he had absolutely no experience in government. He was beyond just a provocateur, he was personally offensive to his political adversaries and all those who opposed him in any way. He took the low road with insults and slurs. He targeted and attacked religious and ethnic groups much to the delight of many in his fan base. He offered up lies and passed them off as fact and made promises to his supporters that he has already broken. But there he is in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that was the point of it all.
So the Trump model of political campaigning is now taking root. Right here in New York State there are two individuals interested in running for high office who are doing their best Trump impersonation, hoping that such a style may propel them too into high office. Call them candidate copycats. Call it trickle down politics.
Let’s start with Bo Dietl. Mr. Dietl is seeking the Republican nomination for mayor. He has zero experience in government but he is a fast study of Trumpian tactics. Thus far he has insulted a black judge and the mayor’s wife who also happens to be black. He has blamed his tax arrears problem on some “Muslim guy” who works in the State Department of Tax and Finance. He has made disparaging remarks about transgender people and even weirdly referred to the Statute of Liberty as a “hooker.” He also made vile characterizations directed at the chairman of the National Democratic Party regarding his sexual orientation. And the general election for mayor is still six months away!
And then there is the curious case of Carl Paladino, the former New York State chairman of the Trump campaign and the once and maybe future candidate for governor. He too has never held a government position but he is currently a member of the Buffalo City School Board where the residents of that city are petitioning the State Education Commissioner to remove him for his litany of abrasive, racist and sexist comments. Among other nuggets he has likened former First Lady Michelle Obama to a gorilla and said he hoped that President Obama would die of something called mad cow disease. He has also threatened to take a baseball bat to his detractors.
One of the dangerous offshoots of the successful Trump election is normalizing speech that heretofore was considered outside of acceptable political discourse. Derogatory speech and fibs have always been present in political campaigns to some extent. But they were always considered aberrant. So much so that the person responsible would try to deny having made such remarks or try to put those words in some more polite context.
Now they are out in the open and candidates think that they too can benefit from such ugly oration. And don’t think that such abusive comments go unnoticed by impressionable young minds. “If the President can say such things, if he can lie, so.” And on and on it goes.
Political campaigns were never designed for the genteel or faint of heart. It is a rough business to be sure. Unlike an Olympic event, second place is last place. We will never have total civility and respect in such a charged environment. But we have a right to expect that worthy candidates for public office recognize that they bear some responsibility to be an example and a role model especially for our children.
One must hope that Donald Trump is one of those rare exceptions whose kind we will not soon see again. Sadly he seems to be the exemplar not for our children or a more civil society but rather for unprincipled and nasty speaking aspirants for public office. This is certainly one of the assessments of Mr. Trump’s time in politics and first 100 days as President. Hopefully it will not be his legacy after his term of office has ended.