In the 1983 film “Local Hero” Burt Lancaster is a Texas oil billionaire with issues.
Who hires an aversion therapist to follow him around, hurling insults non-stop.
I suppose it is a job benefit that Gainesville city commissioners don’t have to pay extra for aversion therapy. They get all the verbal venom they can handle, no charge.
At every commission meeting, No matter the issue.
Over and over again.
In 3-minute sound bites.
“You’re the dancing poodle trying to put something over.”
“You guys have lost touch with reality.”
“You are acting like AOC and governing like Trump.”
“This commission has an allergy to black people.”
“I call for dissolving the city council.”
“There is corruption here.”
Every time I turn on a commission meeting I think about what a soul-crushing experience it must be to have to sit there passively, for hours, absorbing the character assassinations, personal insults and accusations of corruption, racism, sexism, misfeasance, malfeasance and general incompetence.
Oh, commissioners mostly sit there passively and take it.
On occasion, Reina Saco – who spent part of her childhood in a refugee camp after a perilous sea voyage from Cuba, worked her way into law school and became a human rights lawyer – simply refuses to accept any more abuse.
“I’m sorry that I don’t look like I had a rough life,” she retorted at one meeting. “If you call me a white supremest I’ve got news for you. I am a woman, I am a minority. This is so offensive.”
Of course, Saco’s hasn’t heard the end of that since. But bless her for speaking her mind.
Listen, this is why friends don’t let friends run for the Gainesville City Commission. Who needs that kind of negativity in their lives?
I suspect that the unrelenting ugliness that passes for a lot of public comment these days causes the average viewer to assume that their elected representatives must indeed be corrupt/venal/stupid etc.
But make no mistake, there is an echo chamber effect at work here. And there’s nothing spontaneous about it.
Like the Greek Chorus in classical theater, there are actors involved whose function is to provide their own warped interpretation of what’s occurring on stage.
In fact, watch enough meetings and you begin to understand that, for the most part, the Greek Chorus consists of a handful of speakers who relentlessly cast doubt and assign bad motives every chance they get.
How dedicated is the chorus? In a given meeting, some of them appropriate more microphone time for themselves than most commissioners chose to take.
But of course, they speak for all of us. They are Vox Populi.
Just ask them.
I blame Mayor Lauren Poe to some extent.
His “liberal” interpretation of commission rules and his reluctance to shut speakers down when they go too far must be demoralizing to commissioners and staff alike.
But there is something else going on here. Something more dangerous.
Call it the Revenge Of The Trumpists.
There are simply people out there who hate government, assume that all politicians are corrupt, and would rather “burn it all down” than talk about the issues of the day.
We are seeing more and more of that at school board meetings. And not just here, but all over the nation.
The insults. The threats. The race baiting.
The sound and the fury.
Is this how local democracy dies?
Not with a whimper but in a fit of rage?
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at www.floridavelocipede.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org