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Hassan intern who shouted expletive at Trump sparks debate about discourse

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., arrives for a vote on Capitol Hill on Thursday, May 17, 2018, in Washington. AP file



For the Monitor
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Amid rising calls by Republicans for the firing of an intern who shouted a swear at President Donald Trump in the Capitol rotunda, Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan stood by the Keene State College student and her office’s decision not to fire her.

The intern can be heard on video yelling, “Mr. President, f--- you!” last week as Trump and a team of aides and security personnel cross the rotunda on their way to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office.

The intern, identified by Hassan’s staff as Caitlin Marriott, was suspended for one week and her congressional intern ID badge revoked.

Hassan said the comment violated the standards of appropriate conduct, but she stood behind her decision not to fire Marriott.

“This young woman immediately accepted responsibility for her actions and is facing consequences for them,” Hassan told Sean Sullivan of the Washington Post on Tuesday. “The president is doing neither.”

Hassan said taking away Marriott’s ID badge will restrict her access to the Capitol complex for the remainder of her internship. While defending her intern, Hassan took the opportunity to criticize Trump.

“I think it’s really important to understand that this behavior shouldn’t be equated with the president’s destructive and divisive actions, like ripping health care away from people by failing to protect pre-existing conditions; going out, gutting the ACA; like separating children from their parents at our southern border,” Hassan told the Post.

America is a nation founded on dissent, but the incident is one of the latest examples of what critics have called an increasing lack of civility in our nation’s political discourse – and the growing rancor has a top political scientist in New Hampshire deeply concerned.

“Speaking truth to power, a much-lauded American ideal, has given way to crude, rude, and disrespectful exchanges not designed to build, but rather to tear down and destroy,” said Wayne Lesperance, New England College professor of political science.

Fox News on Monday was first the report the incident and to name the intern.

Capitol police had searched for the young woman, who had reportedly fled the scene after yelling at Trump. Authorities ultimately determined that Marriott wasn’t a threat to the president.

While reactions to the incident raged on social media Tuesday, including calls by the New Hampshire GOP and other Republicans for the firing of the intern, Hassan refused to bow to the pressure.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said “that outburst was really disgusting behavior and there’s no place in that in terms of public discourse and public office.”

Sununu said he would have taken a different course of action.

“I would not tolerate it in my office,” Sununu said. “There would be a termination.”

Sununu, speaking to reporters following an event in Manchester, hoped that “Hassan will take the appropriate steps.”

After Sununu’s comments appeared on Twitter, the New Hampshire Democratic Party and other top Democrats quickly criticized the governor for being hypocritical.

They pointed to Sununu’s continued support of Donald Trump in October 2016 following the release of an Access Hollywood video from years earlier in which Trump used vulgar language as he bragged about inappropriately grabbing women. That incident nearly wrecked the then-Republican presidential nominee’s campaign.

Longtime Democratic state party Chairman Ray Buckley – a vocal critic of Trump and Sununu who often deals in political vitriol himself – blamed the degraded discourse on the president.

“There’s no breakdown in civility. There is Trump by the hour and a few random incidents by folks in both parties,” Buckley said.

The president has been criticized since his days on the campaign trail for fueling incivility with insults and derogatory language. But in recent days, Trump has been trying to flip the script, following a call by Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters of California for protests of administration officials and the booting of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from a restaurant because she worked for the president.

Lesperance said the toxic political climate revolves around the president.

“Donald Trump is ground zero for incivility in America getting and giving out doses of crude, rude and disrespectful vitriol that passes for public commentary,” he said.

Lesperance said discourse has given way to divisiveness.

“We have lost our way as a country when it comes to any sense of public decorum. We can blame Trump, but the current political climate has been long in the making. He just happens to have mastered the art of invective exchange. In short, when winning and keeping political jobs became more important than doing the people’s business, the groundwork was set for our current predicament,” he said.

Southern New Hampshire University’s Dean Spiliotes also said Trump is symptomatic of the larger situation.

Spiliotes – a veteran political scientist and analyst – said Trump is not solely to blame and that “this has been building for a while, creating an environment in which his particular temperament, his ability to thrive on this kind of division, is increasingly effective.”

Spiliotes pointed to the rise of social media as contributing to the lack of civility.

And Lesperance raised concerns.

“I worry where this is all going,” Lesperance said. “We are a nation that has forgotten its founding. We don’t know the extraordinary promise that is America. We don’t know what’s expected of us as citizens. And charismatic individuals, appealing to the lowest common denominator, appear to be on the rise. It’s not good for the health of our republic. We should all be worried.”