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Editorial: Beware being Joe Biden's attack dog, Gov. Pritzker. Flatulence can blow back

Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

When Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered the keynote speech at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s state convention a few days ago, he returned to one of his recurrent themes: the flatulence of the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States: “But let’s all remember,” Pritzker said, “Donald Trump is just a flatulent old man with an orange spray-tan who fell asleep at his own trial.”

That was hardly all. As WisPolitics reported, Pritzker unloaded a whole arsenal of other insults at Trump, variously calling him a “racist, sexist, misogynist and narcissist,” red meat for the partisans who are not going to vote for Trump anyway.

Pritzker had used similar rhetoric before. In Chicago, at a media preview event for the upcoming Democratic National Convention, he unexpectedly skipped over the usual welcomes and went for a full-throated attack, not so much to persuade the media how to vote but to get widely quoted: “It’s a choice,” he said “between a president who wakes up every morning, working to improve the lives of families across this country, and a guy who spends all day watching TV or flatulating in a courtroom waiting to become the first felon elected president.”

By now, it’s become clear that Pritzker is the Biden campaign’s designated — or perhaps self-appointed — attack dog, the one unafraid to talk about Trump’s felony convictions, the one unafraid to paint him as both aged and demented. We assume there will be some payback coming for the governor for playing that role should Trump win the White House a second time.

Politics is a contact sport, the cliche goes, and there’s certainly a long American history of highly personal political insults. “He’s a nice guy, but he played too much football with his helmet off,” Lyndon B. Johnson once said of then-House Minority Leader Gerald Ford, and we could fill this page with similar examples. And Trump hardly needs our protection when it comes to either hurling or responding to insults.

Trump’s scorched-earth rhetoric is among the things we dislike about him most, and he did not waste the chance to respond to Pritzker on his Truth Social channel: “Sloppy J.B. Pritzker, the Rotund Governor (sic) from the once great State of Illinois, who makes Chris Christie look like a male model, and whose family wanted him out of the business because he was so pathetic at helping them run it, has presided over the destruction and disintegration of Illinois at levels never seen before in any State. Crime is rampant and people are, sadly, fleeing Illinois. Unless a change is made at the Governor’s level, Illinois can never be Great Again!”

Whatever. Trump is well aware he has no chance in Illinois, a state unlikely to listen to his counsel when it comes to electing a governor.

Nonetheless, we’d like to see our current elected governor, especially given his presidential aspirations, follow more of the Gretchen Whitmer playbook. At a Biden campaign event Monday in Wisconsin, the governor of Michigan said, “not losing focus nationally on this important presidential election is so, so terribly important” and preached the need for Midwest unity on issues that matter. “I come from across the lake but we have a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Michigan,” she said, building her brand, especially with Midwestern women concerned about abortion. “Whether you’re in Wisconsin or Alabama or a state like Michigan, that has these rights enshrined now, we could all lose them.”

That’s a long way from wading into flatulence, and it is much harder for Trump, a bear who almost seems to relish being poked, to respond in kind. And, frankly, this kind of gutter-sniping has diminishing returns. Pritzker’s rhetoric is unlikely to persuade many moderate voters. Ever.

 

More importantly, Whitmer’s tack positions her state in a productive way, rather than setting it up to be collateral damage should the American people decide to make Biden a one-term president. We don’t expect Pritzker to hold off on campaigning hard, nor from coming out swinging for Biden against Trump, but, at this juncture, polls suggest there is a near-even chance he may have to work with a second Trump administration. Chicago’s image suffered greatly during the first Trump presidency because the blinkered Trump went after Rahm Emanuel, a mayor he saw only as a national political operative. Unfair? For sure. But it still cost this city dearly as the president of the United States waged a four-year campaign against the nation’s third biggest city. We’d rather the state of Illinois avoid suffering the same fate this time around, should Trump prevail.

But there are deeper issues here too. In recent days, it has become clear that the hatred between these two candidates has reached unprecedented levels, and that of course is a proxy for how many Americans feel about those on the other side. We’ve clutched our pearls before about this divisive state of affairs and the rise of extreme, demonizing rhetoric. And while Democrats have been openly arguing that Trump won’t accept defeat at the polls, there is emergent evidence that defeat for Democrats won’t be easily accepted by progressives, either. The freedom to resist the policies of any president is a crucial aspect of American freedom, but it’s a fine line between resistance and making it impossible to govern in a functional way, as democracy requires.

A new book, “Partisan Hostility and American Democracy: Explaining Political Divisions and When They Matter,” published last week by the University of Chicago Press, should make its way into the governor’s mansion.

“I think that is something to be fearful of, the normalization of what can devolve into dehumanizing, inciting rhetoric,” one of the authors, the University of Rochester’s James Druckman, told his campus publication recently. “It has consequences for what people think of other groups. It has consequences for what people think of democracy.” In general, the book argues, people find much the same level of satisfaction with their preferred presidential party as they did decades ago, but their hatred of the other side now is off the charts.

Democrats would say this is the Trump effect, and they’d hardly be wrong, given the man’s history. But the book draws from extensive data-driven inquiry to make the case that this kind of political rhetoric during a campaign makes it far more likely that Americans will reject the possibility of their own party compromising with the other once in office, with dysfunctional consequences, whomever is in power.

That’s what we are seeing, of course. Pritzker has a lot that’s useful to say about his vision for his state and his country. Saying it is far better for him, and for Illinois, than repeating gutter attack lines on Trumpian flatulence.

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©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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