An incident at the recent Missouri State Fair is getting quite a bit of attention. During the bull riding event a clown appeared wearing a ragged sport coat and a cartoon mask of President Obama. The announcer asked the crowd if they wanted to see Obama “run down by a bull.” The crowd cheered and then the announcer said, “We’re going to smoke Obama, man.” At one point another clown walked up and started flapping the lips on the mask. The crowd howled with laughter.
The incident was recorded by an eyewitness and then shared with some news sources. Not everyone thought the stunt was funny. The governor of the state and other Republicans and Democrats stated their strong objection to the way President Obama was characterized and disrespected.
A spokesperson for the State Fair later issued an apology. But of course the damage had been done and hundreds of families and children watched the spectacle of our nation’s president being made fun of and derided and the clown impersonating him chased out of the arena by a stampeding bull while the crowd clapped and roared with delight.
Obviously American presidents have been teased and poked fun at since the days of George Washington. But there is an especially mean spirit behind the badgering of President Obama. The deplorable antics displayed at the Missouri State Fair only serve to reinforce that reality.
If the highest leader in the nation is made to look like a fool, is turned into a clown and chased around a rodeo arena, is taunted and slapped at and demeaned in juvenile mockery, how then do we expect our children and teens, much less ourselves as adults, to care about the law, about morals, about the values of our country?
Novelist Tana French has written, “I remember this country back when I was growing up. We went to church, we ate family suppers round the table, and it would never even have crossed a kid’s mind to tell an adult to fuck off. There was plenty of bad there, I don’t forget that, but we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn’t break the rules lightly. If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this: people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbors, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero.”
It is not being sentimental or naïve to say we have lost so much of that spirit in this country. We simply have. A nation that turns infantile in its behavior, that has no real respect for anyone or anything, that trivializes its leaders and dismisses the law, that displays bigotry and hate with arrogant pride and shamelessness, is a nation in ruin.
People who are proud of their ignorance and have no interest in learning appropriate ways to express themselves are a danger to Democracy.
Writer John Marsden once said, “We kill all the caterpillars, then complain there are no butterflies.”
There is a process to national pride. It has to grow into something beautiful. And that takes citizens who care deeply about their leaders and their country and who know the difference between harmless teasing and tasteless, disgraceful conduct.
© 2013 Timothy Moody