Potty-mouths have a long history in Western politics

Donald Trump is just the latest politician to resort to vulgar language.

 

A pre-school teacher buddy of mine thinks Donald Trump ought to be scolded for being such a potty-mouth. She thinks no politician in history has uttered such deliberately shocking phrases. This was after Trump said that Hillary "is a loser and should be schlonged."

She might be right about Trump, but politicians making shocking statements uttered are nothing new in the West. Some candidates have even been elected anyway – think Davis Waite, a member of the Populist Party who served as Colorado governor from 1893-'95.

davis_hanson_waite-gif
Davis Hanson Waite, eighth governor of the U.S. state of Colorado.
Waite was given to saying things like: "It is better, infinitely better, that blood should flow up to the horses' bridles than that our national liberties should be destroyed." That got attention 123 years ago. When candidates throw off outrageous statements like that, the press often goes "tut-tut," but that never seems to stop the shock talk. The Denver press teased Waite unmercifully for his wild statements and he was inevitably nicknamed "old bloody bridles." Yet he won the governorship, though he lost it badly just two years later.

I'm hard to shock, but I was surprised to hear Trump use that particular slur about Hillary. I once used a similar word while arguing politics in the Caboose Bar next to the G.M.& O. yards in Bloomington, Illinois. That taught a crass kid (me) a lesson I couldn't help but notice as I was pushed off my barstool. These days, Trump may get away with it (especially if he keeps at it the way he's doing), but my pre-school teacher friend is probably not alone in labeling him a potty-mouth.

What I do miss in this campaign are the funny and clever statements politicians used to make. Even Waite could be funny back in his day, saying of one old enemy, "He wouldn't steal the hotel stove -- at least not till it cooled off." In 1948, President Harry Truman was giving a train platform speech in Salida, Colorado, when someone in the crowd hollered, "Give 'em hell, Harry!" Truman replied, "I tell the truth and those rich, son-of-a-gun bitchers think it's hell." The local conservative paper edited this to a "son of a gun" remark but the Leadville Democrat ran it in full.

8566717881_3050db3e61_k-jpg
Donald Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland in 2013.
Gage Skidmore/Flickr

We have come a long way from the days when "son-of-a-gun bitchers" would be regarded as unprintable. Really clever insults can be worth a chuckle. They may even keep us from taking the whole thing too seriously. Take Will Rogers' quip: "I don't belong to any organized political party: I'm a Democrat." One of my favorite political quotes is from the political satirist P.J. O'Rourke, who quipped: "The Democrats are the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. ...Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then get elected and prove it."

Criticism can sting. I once gave a talk about heating a new road and bridge building with biomass – chopped up trees -- instead of fossil fuels, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I had the equation all worked out. I was serious! Except for one old codger who thought a boiler would cost too much, my audience wandered off to the bar. It was obvious I'd misjudged an audience of hard working, blue-collar guys even though I knew them. Journalist Ed Quillen was there. His proposed headline: "Local politician gives talk intended for the Environmental Ladies League to out-of-work loggers in Rollinsville bar."

There are a hundred questions facing us as a nation that desperately need airing. Instead, much of the media remain fixated on why Trump said that Hillary should get hammered by the Yiddish word for a male appendage. That kind of shock tactic worked at least once for Colorado Gov. Waite; then voters inevitably got tired of it. In defense of Trump, it is true that he seems to be the only Republican candidate who supports federal stewardship of public lands, not turning them over to the states. Trump said, "I want to keep the lands great, and you don't know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble?" Smart question.

This election season I'm hoping for more incisive comments and fewer slurs. Caucuses and primary elections are upon us soon in the West. It would be refreshing to hear thoughtful ideas out of the mouths of politicians.

Forrest Whitman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He lives and writes in Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • COLORADO PROGRAM MANAGER
    The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading non-profit conservation organization protecting Americas national parks, seeks a Program Manager for its Colorado Field Office located in...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: