Mel Robbins: More politicians -- not just Trump -- have started cursing in public
The emotion, entertainment of profanity distracts us even further from real issues
Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author and keynote speaker. She also is a contributing editor for Success magazine. In 2014, she was named outstanding news talk-radio host by the Gracie Awards. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. WARNING: This post contains profanity readers might find offensive.
We’ve reached a major tipping point in politics and there’s no turning back.
Welcome to the Swear Zone.
Remember the good old days, when decorum was still intact? The days where without a hot mic we never would have heard George W. Bush call a reporter a “major-league asshole” or Joe Biden’s aside to Barack Obama that passing health care reform was “a big fucking deal.”
Those days are over. Politics are not only wildly unpredictable, they’re NSFWAF. Blame Donald Trump for taking us to new lows, but here’s something new: the Democrats are jumping deep in the mud with him.
Last weekend, for example, with children on stage behind him, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez leaned right into a microphone and told an audience in Las Vegas that Trump “doesn’t give a shit about health care.” In Portland, Maine, Perez said, “They call it a skinny budget, I call it a shitty budget.” Earlier this month the DNC began selling a t-shirt that read, “Democrats give a shit about people.”
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand appeared to agree: Of her Congressional cohort she told New York magazine “If we’re not helping people, we should go the fuck home.” Nice.
I consider myself an expert at swearing. I love a good F-bomb. But we have a problem here. All good swearers know – the art of swearing is knowing the time, use and place.
A spokeswoman for the DNC, Xochitli Hinojosa offered this explanation for their chairman, “Tom is angry, and he’s angry because Donald Trump continues to stick it to the American people.”
I have a different explanation – politicians are swearing more because it works. There’s science that suggests why. A team of researchers from the United States, Netherlands, the UK and Hong Kong found that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated by others with lying and deception.
University of California, San Diego, professor Benjamin Bergen’s research on profanity shows that this perceived honesty has a neurological basis. The brain’s language center is in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex but swearing is controlled by the limbic system – which is the part of the brain that processes emotions.
What does that mean? It means, when you swear, other people process it in the emotion center of the brain so you don’t sound so “scripted” and that makes you seem more authentic and passionate about what you’re saying. And there’s yet another benefit to swearing. Author, Michael Adams argues that it can help you bond with people. In his book, “In Praise of Profanity” he writes that swearers “are unexpectedly useful in fostering human relations because they carry risk … We like to get away with things and sometimes we do so with like-minded people.”
And the greatest benefit of all to politicians? When you swear you don’t sound like one. You sound like the rest of us.
Trump, the billionaire who lives in a golden mansion and is actually nothing like the rest of us, is the poster child for this strategy. He rolls out the crass and offensive language and the crowd goes wild. Remember this? And remember the shock of hearing him gloat on tape about moving on a woman “like a bitch” and how he loves to “grab ‘em by the pussy.”
When it happened, I argued that the comments would not hurt him, and in a sick way those comments (and his apology later) would actually help him.
Consider the opening lines of his apology: “I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not.” He was making it clear – I’m not a stiff Washington insider – I swear, I make mistakes and I tell it like it is … just like you. Clearly, it worked. According to a new poll, only 2% of the people who voted for Trump regret it.
Now that we’ve stepped into the Swear Zone, there’s no turning back. Indeed, when Gillibrand dropped the f-bomb, people actually floated the theory that she’s swearing because she’s gearing up for a presidential run.
There’s good reason to worry that these new, profane politics will distract us even further in an already confused and partisan time – that we’ll all be too romanced by the drama, emotion and swearing that we’ll forget about what’s really important for all our futures: thoughtful discussion on policy and the issues. There’s a time and place for bad words, and the place isn’t every time a politician steps up to a mic.
I can just imagine a politician explaining it to you this way:
“This political correctness s–t has to stop! When I swear, you think I’m being honest because of the limbic system in your f-ing brain and it makes me more goddamn convincing to you! I don’t sound like a dumbass politician talking all kinds of fancy bulls–t. I sound like that buddy you drink beers with. How f-ing cool is that?”
It’s not. Not fucking cool at all.