Before you read this part of your favorite weekly newspaper, I suggest you read this week's Weekly E-Update of Sen. Howard Marklein (R–Spring Green).
Normally as a skeptic I might question how much someone who says he or she “hates” something really “hates” that thing, which is the same way I feel about the overused word “love.” (I think it is impossible, or at least it should be impossible, to love things.) But if Marklein’s quotes (edited to remove, but strongly hint at, words that this newspaper wouldn’t print) are accurate, let’s just say Marklein has his detractors, as, I imagine, all his legislative colleagues have, and all their opponents, either in office or running for office.
I wonder how many of those Marklein quoted had the guts to leave their names and contact information with their non-love notes. I will bet you lunch that the number totals zero. Those who leave anonymous messages, regardless of to whom, are cowards. I have nothing good to say either about those who feel free to criticize on social media (particularly those who don’t put their real names to their criticisms) because the target of their criticism is not within range of a fist to the face.
We run Letters on this page whenever we receive them subject to our guidelines. This page had one last week from someone who disagreed with what I wrote the previous week. Without putting words in his mouth, based on what he’s written in the past I think he and I don’t agree on very much. But he put his name on what he wrote, and journalists should be fine with public criticism or their work.
Those of us in Grant County got a taste of unhinged anonymity last year when a member of the Grant County Democratic Party claimed on its Facebook page that “nasty little Tea Party/GOP supporters” who the writer claimed were “enemies of democracy itself” had “vandalized, stolen or destroyed” signs for Democratic candidates (a claim not supported by police reports), and that said alleged vandals/thieves should “be dealt with and with extreme malice.” The county party took away the writer’s social media administrative privileges, but there has been no apology by anyone for suggesting that opponents of Democrats should be killed, which is what most people would assume “extreme malice” meant.
Without endorsing Marklein’s non-fans’ language or blaming Marklein or any other politician specifically, I do think politicians — and certainly their supporters and opponents — bear some of the blame for our chronic incivility. Government at every level is far larger and has more authority than ever before. That increases the stakes in elections, which increases the necessity of winning, which increases the necessity of doing whatever it takes (raise sums of money that certainly could be used better elsewhere, slander your opponent, etc.) to get elected and then get reelected.
Consider two issues the Platteville Common Council dealt with last year — downtown parking and allowing ATVs and UTVs on city streets. Given that municipally provided “free” parking isn’t really free (parking lots and streets with parking allowed on them must be maintained), the city seems to be in an effort to make someone other than taxpayers pay for parking downtown. But doing that places downtown property owners and those who live or work downtown at a disadvantage to property owners elsewhere in Platteville whose parking appears to be free (in the sense that building costs, including a parking lot, are part of what is charged for a business’ products or services, or in rent for renters).
The ATV/UTV debate pitted people who wanted the ability to drive their vehicles on city streets (for which ATV and UTV owners pay property and gas taxes) against people who oppose them for whatever reasons. The city survey results included some valid reasons, but also some not-very-valid reasons, and many were expressed as though those who favored ATVs and UTVs were too dangerous to be allowed freedom of movement, with others merely overstating their case for or against.
The council is likely to revisit the ATV/UTV issue either this year or next year given that the ATV/UTV ordinance expires in November. It would be nice if proponents and opponents could use actual facts (such as the number of ATV- or UTV-involved crashes and citations issued to ATV or UTV owners) instead of emotions this time around. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
I’m not going to hold my breath that what Marklein writes about here is going to change anytime soon either. In fact, with split government both in Madison (Democratic statewide officers but a Republican-controlled Legislature) and in Washington (Democratic House, Republican Senate and president), I believe the incivility we saw in 2018 might pales in comparison to what we’re going to see this and next year. There may be a tipping point, something really cataclysmic that happens that shames everyone into acting how human beings should act, but I’m pretty sure we’re not there yet.
You might claim that Marklein should suck it up because he’s in authority, and you would be entitled to your opinion. But that means you get to share the blame for when words become deeds.