• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Gianforte's Forte

May 2017

Following Montana’s special election last week, the use of fighting words to describe our politics feels oddly uncomfortable right about now. Those pugilistic political euphemisms we so love much—phrase like candidates exchanging “body blows”, or rebuffing media “attacks”, or going to the mat for fiscal policy “fisticuffs”—seem inappropriate at the nonce. If said in polite society, you too might get a “too soon” glare.

We can thank Greg Gianforte for this. Gianforte is the Republican candidate aiming to replace Montana’s congressman Ryan Zinke—who now serves as President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior—in the House of Representatives. In Zinke’s absence, the law requires someone to step in and fill his seat. Gianforte thinks himself just the man for the job.

He’s a hardened conservative of fifty-six and a business behemoth. His net worth exceeds $315 million, and through his career, he’s had a hand in business, engineering, and politics. You would think him adroit, and able to grasp many things as they come, but in the waning hours before the election that would add to his already successful pedigree, Gianforte lost his grip on civility.

To lose one’s grip is forgivable, so long as the hands busy themselves with innocuous occupations. Some stave off their idle hands’ instincts by keeping them in pockets or twiddling thumbs. Others simply sit on them. To each his own, but for Gianforte, neither of these past times appealed to him. Instead, in the furor of an unhinged reptilian response, Gianforte grabbed The Guardian’s political reporter Ben Jacobs and slammed him to the ground. What, you may ask, did the journalist do to deserve such uncongenial treatment? What sort of a transgression could’ve prompted this response?

The craft of Jacobs’ trade was his aggravating offense; the sedulous work of the fourth estate his sin. Doubtless infused with temerity and surely looking for a fight, Jacobs posed a wonky question to Gianforte about the recent healthcare bill and the Congressional Budget Office’s appraisal of it. A wanton body slam is what Jacobs received in turn. If such a question doesn’t stoke the fistic flame in a man, nothing will. The exchange was captured in its entirety on audio and corroborated by others on the scene. You can audibly hear Jacobs being brought to the ground.

Some of the more indecent commentators on the far Right are of the mindset that Jacobs “had it coming”. Others are lauding Gianforte for giving a pesky pundit his just deserts. Essentially, these marginal commentators see in Jacobs the media at-large. He represents that which they love to loathe; a trenchant yuppie pretentious and transgressing. To them, he’s the epitome of the effete liberal pest biting at their feet. And pests must be swept away (or stomped into tomorrow). Many of these far-Right commentators and agitators crave a liberal-free media world. They’d rather do away with the CNN’s, MSNBC’s, Politico’s, and Washington Post’s of the world root and branch. All, as we’ve been told time and again, are fake news.

The loudest trumpeter of the fake news phenomenon is President Trump himself. He’s the pied piper who plays this platitude on a loop. For this reason, some on the Left believe Trump is responsible for prompting Gianforte’s Neolithic answer to an otherwise anodyne question. I think, though, that this rendering gives the president too much credit (if you can call this creditworthy). It also assumes he wields much more influence than he actually does. Aside from a few bewildering beliefs on creationism and aging, Gianforte seems to be a well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult. As I mentioned earlier, during his admirable career as a businessman and engineer, Gianforte was quite the success. I have to believe his failings are independent of the president’s rhetoric and his barbarity his alone to bear. The onus is squarely and only on Gianforte—and not on President Trump.

In responding to the assault, Gianforte’s campaign was downright costive. For days, it dallied in issuing an apology, and when it finally did, the words seemed insincere. Gianforte first tried to impugn Ben Jacobs’ account of the brouhaha. He claimed that it was Jacobs, not he, who started the fight. His claim was that Jacobs grabbed his wrist in a threatening way, and he simply acted out of self-defense. This specious story proved itself to be just that. The audio laid to rest all suspicions. On the tape, you can hear Gianforte acting like the intractable troglodyte that he is.

As such, Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault and is due before court in the weeks to come. It’s a charge that fits the crime, but what then of the congressional race? Surely such a brute can’t be fit to fill an estimable seat in D.C.? While you can argue his fitness or lack thereof, the fact is this: Gianforte will indeed be heading to the Capitol as Montana’s newest addition to the House of Representatives. Because of the Big Sky’s remote geographic makeup, most voters had already submitted by mail their choice before this recent kerfuffle. Voters in Montana, often living in bucolic open-spaces many miles away from polling stations, have an easier time sending ballots through the mail. The major newspapers rescinded their support for Gianforte, but it was all too late. His victory was ultimately a fait accompli.

I was intrigued to see how House and Senate Republicans would respond. Would they deny Gianforte his seat, or force him to seek anger-management therapy? Would they themselves resign in protest if such a man were to be granted access to their hallowed halls? To all questions, the answer was a resounding no. Party solidarity, you see, supplants and supersedes human decency. Situated somewhere between prostrate and hypocritical, the Republican Party finds itself shamefully allowing Gianforte to sit. This, from a party whose pillars are prudence, conservative ethics, and self-control, seems to me nearly as disgusting as what Gianforte did.

Aloof, callous, or just completely unconcerned, President Trump tweeted, “Big win in Montana for Republicans” to celebrate Gianforte’s win. I suppose, in a small way, it is a “big win”, but that’s a temporary thing. What’s bigger is what’s been lost. On this list, we add civility and decency, respect and humanity. Someone seeking a position in civil service would do well to remember the word that defines the role: civil. First and foremost, the civil servant must protect the persons he represents—in this case America’s citizens no matter their political persuasion. Gianforte woefully fell short of this most essential imperative. I can only conclude, then, in light of this, that civil politics simply isn’t Gianforte’s forte.

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