The Senate is debasing itself. Standards still matter, especially among those elected to serve. Senate leadership seems to have forgotten that, now accommodating the half-unclad, shorts-wearing, objectively “not-all-there” Senator Fetterman (D-PA).
We all enjoy hanging out at a BBQ in blue jeans, shorts, and tee at the beach, but respect for others – never mind for yourself – matters. Context matters in all things at all times. Understanding context – an understanding you subtly communicate in how you dress – speaks to self-awareness, a sense of place, and nascent good judgment – or lack of it. That is especially true in the US Senate.
A simple sense of self-respect, respect for others, and respect for institutions bigger than ourselves, for places, positions, vested responsibility, and what you are doing – or have been entrusted to do – is reflected in what you wear.
Most of us would not disrespect others by assuming our appearance in their presence does not matter. We would not walk down a local street naked. Nor would we try to kick a football, ski, skate, or fly fish in slippers.
Beyond discomfort, purpose and place affect what we wear, as well as when, how, with what attitude, and why.
We may love flannel pajamas mid-winter or that old sweatshirt at home; we may don a robe or towel out of the shower – but we would not dress that way for a formal dinner, funeral or wedding, probably not even community supper or meeting, let alone to meet a Supreme Court Justice, a foreign head of state, or someone we respect or should respect – for any reason.
Why is that? Lots of reasons, one chiefly, respect for yourself and others and situational awareness that helps guide us. Bluntly, good judgment includes knowing when shorts, tank tops, bikinis, tuxedos, Bean boots, wingtips, and Halloween masks are appropriate – and not.
Good judgment involves balancing a certain freewheeling, “devil may care” independence or happy non-conformity – even occasional cussedness – with other considerations, like humility and what positions of trust and responsibility entail, whether high or low, temporary or permanent, personal or professional.
Pilots, ship captains, military and police officers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, firefighters, EMS personnel, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, even security guards, innovative chefs, Indian chiefs, plumbers, carpenters, caregivers, housekeepers, lay leaders, stewards, and students – wear uniforms of a sort.
They have a sense of who they are, possess situational awareness, and try to abide trust vested in them. They know respect is earned, not given, have pride in their jobs, skills, and workmanship. Senators should, too.
Most Americans live by a kind of self-set code, which includes a grasp on appropriateness. They know where they are and whether some aspect of what they are doing fits with how they present themselves.
That is part of what they call emotional intelligence, being perceptive, practical, part of society, at once respectful of the individual and self-fenced – respecting.
So, what does Senator Fetterman’s (D-PA) bizarre, indifferent attitude toward the US Senate – to which he somehow got elected while mentally impaired – tell us? What does it mean that he blithely shows up half naked in the chamber, presumes embarrassingly to meet foreign leaders in hairy legs and malodorous sweatshirt, and pretends to represent America to the world this way? He has troubles, simply put.
But what does it mean that Senate Democrats go along? Adding insult to injury, indignity to indifference, they have lowered the dress standards of the US Senate for this disrespectful member.
They not only fail to counsel a misguided, belligerent, often absent, and profane colleague; they decide that 200-year-old Senate traditions, respect for the constitutional chamber, and established history must be kicked aside.
Like many other ways in which modern political leaders disrespect our nation’s hard-won history, Senate Democrats now embrace the disgrace, disrespect our nation’s history for the party, and normalize another abnormal behavior.
Instead of taking their colleague aside, reminding him that our nation is bigger than he, and that they expect something of him – they act cowardly and cave. They punt and move on, removing another piece of what has been kept constant and respectful by the US Senate.
They shrug and destroy another tradition, practice, and moderating influence, one that reflects the mutual respect, good judgment, humility, and trust vested in them.
More and more, these modern leaders have no understanding of where they are – physically and on the arc of history, what the past expects of them. They trade honor, history, and decency for another downshift, less self-discipline, like runaway spending. In this, they dishonor the average American who, yes, wears jeans at a BBQ and shorts at the beach to happy effect but expects better of those they elect.
Standards matter. They have, they do, and they will. Senate leaders have lowered them for themselves, accommodating mediocrity, laziness, and slovenly practices – just as they push lower standards in the military, but these things matter. They do.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.