Just when you begin to think that political civility has hit an all-time low, along comes someone dead set on proving you wrong. Last year, that was consistently one person: then-candidate Donald Trump, who broke the norms again and again, to the point where many Republicans were unwilling to support him.

With his presidential victory, a return to civility seemed remote, but one could at least hope that things wouldn’t get any worse. While Trump’s comments were inappropriate, many of his supporters frequently took things several steps further — and now his opponents seem to be attempting to imitate them. We saw a few startling examples of this online after the shooting at the congressional baseball practice, and after John McCain announced his latest bout with cancer, but it was mostly random commenters, rather than elected officials themselves.

Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland, recently broke that trend when he threatened President Trump in a Facebook post. Regardless of what you might think of an elected official’s policies, personality or suitability for office, threatening them with physical violence — or even implying it — is never acceptable. In his apology on the floor of the House, Rep. Hamann claimed that he was making an attempt at satire, but if so, he badly mangled it. After all, he responded to inappropriate language not only with more inappropriate language, but also with the threat of violence thrown in to the mix. Speaker Sara Gideon rightly stripped him of his committee assignments, where much of the work of the Legislature is actually done, but that’s not enough.

He should resign, or be expelled from the Legislature if he doesn’t; the Maine House is specifically granted this power in the state constitution. There’s an order pending on the floor of the House to do just this. With Democrats in the majority, it’s unlikely to pass, but it should absolutely be brought to the floor for a vote, so that every member of the House can record how they feel about the issue in public.

This type of bad behavior doesn’t always revolve around partisan disagreements. After the failure of the health care bill in the U.S. Senate, Republican Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold criticized “female senators from the Northeast” for their opposition to the proposal and suggested he would challenge them to a duel if they were men from Texas.

Of course, there is only one female Republican senator in the Northeast: Maine’s Susan Collins. Congressman Farenthold’s comments were not only inappropriately violent, implying that he’d like to physically harm one of his co-workers, but were incredibly sexist as well. Even though Farenthold apparently apologized — as did Sen. Collins, for her insensitive description of him to a colleague — he should face further consequences.


Ideally, he should resign from office, as his comments are unbecoming of a member of Congress, embarrassing to not only his constituents, but also to the institution and the country as a whole. Failing that, Paul Ryan should at least have the same courage as Maine’s Sara Gideon and strip him of his committee assignments, forcing him to wander aimlessly about the halls eagerly anticipating floor votes. In any other industry, Farenthold would likely face disciplinary action for comments like this, and government should be no exception.

The kind of rhetoric used by Scott Hamman and Blake Farenthold should always be considered completely unacceptable and out of bounds. It’s bad enough to volley personal insults just because someone disagrees with you — that makes it harder to set aside those disagreements and get things done for the good of all. When someone takes it a step further and threatens — or implies to threaten — someone for their views, that’s beyond the pale. It not only is inconsiderate and inappropriate, but is antithetical to a core American value: freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech isn’t threatened when you’re held accountable for your words, as Hamman was. Freedom of speech was never meant to be freedom from responsibility. That freedom is at risk, however, when threats of violence are made by someone against you because of what you believe. That’s why such threats should be completely unacceptable in this country.

Politicians are notoriously poor at holding one another responsible for their actions. Fortunately, we live in a democracy, where we the voters are entrusted with that task. If we want to see more civility in Augusta and Washington, it’s in our power to make it happen — we just have to hold politicians responsible for what they say as well as what they do.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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