Maybe it’s time to bring back the stocks and possibly the scarlet letter for those among us that are unwilling or unable to speak in public without uttering four-letter words. We’ve had some national and local examples of toilet-tongued prominent people who’ve chosen to expose their laziness or poor upbringing by resorting to gutter talk in public. The latest is Ms. Elizabeth Armijo, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education member who went off the rails in a public meeting and showed her true colors as a boorish cretin without any sense of propriety by regaling those present with use of the ‘F’ word.
The irony of her display of insensitivity was that she is a board member of APS and should be setting a positive example for others to follow instead of choosing the low, vulgar road to express her frustration. I have nothing but contempt for people like her, though my Christian conscience tells me to forgive her. THAT’S the problem these days, we forgive too easily and accept tepid quasi-apologies for bad behavior instead of punishing the offenders.
Armijo should be censured, fined or fired, or be made to write on the blackboard, “I must never say the ‘F’ word in public again” a thousand times. We could, of course, require her to wear a T-shirt to the next meeting that says, “I’m a scatalogical offender and don’t know any better.” Then there’s the washing-out-her-mouth-with-soap option. Personally, I don’t care which punishment she gets as long as other offenders, like Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis who launched a tirade against the NRA with the ‘F’ word on television, get the same punishment. Where do these verbal bomb-throwers get off by dragging the rest of us into their cesspool of demeaning speech? It’s a pity that we don’t have an eight-second delay on public meeting microphones like they do on radio talk shows. The coup de grace was that Armijo said that none of her colleagues mentioned her speech after the meeting and that when Board President David Peercy was later asked about it, he chose not to comment.
THAT’S the other problem. Cowardice. When we don’t punish unacceptable or inappropriate behavior, we get more of it. Every parent knows that. Unfortunately, not every parent nor adult – like board members of APS or its president – is courageous enough to stand up to bullies like Armijo and put her in her place. Yes, I said bully, because that’s what using public profanity is. The use of vulgar speech is aggressive, confrontational and an assault. It is akin to standing nose-to-nose with someone and spitting in their face.
The coarsening of America is getting worse everywhere. Last week, Samantha Bee, a television celebrity, insulted the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, on national TV and called her the most despicable word any woman can ever be called, the ‘C’ word. Her punishment by the network that hosts her program? Nothing. After a typical non-apology apology, Bee went on her merry way.
I suppose that we should all be used to this debasement of our language by now, especially after a few decades of cable TV that has filled its programming with foul-mouthed comedians and other low-lifes. Fortunately, there are still many of us that believe what our parents taught us, “Just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t make it right.” Maybe our forebears in colonial times had the right idea by using the stocks and the scarlet letter as punishment: public humiliation is a powerful remedy for public wrongdoing.
Stephan Helgesen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org