Quote card by Opinion.

Out of all videos to appear on my YouTube feed this week, I did not expect a clip of President Joe Biden calling a reporter a “stupid son of a bitch” to show up. Yet, another part of me says I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it is 2022. Starting off the year cursing at journalists? At this point, crazier moments have happened.

Joe, I understand, inflation is infuriating. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is falling, interest rates are predicted to increase, making borrowing more expensive for working families — the point is, I feel your economic pain. But the unfortunate truth is, we cannot afford to go around hurling insults at people who — regardless of their affiliation or political ideology — are trying to do their jobs. If we could, who knows what some of us would say right now. Biden eventually called and apologized to Fox News reporter Peter Doocy, but the irritation with this childish behavior remains.

As someone who takes their civic duties seriously, I expect better from our commander in chief; Biden’s remarks are a very poor reflection of our nation. I can’t imagine what people in other countries were thinking when they saw this. As for skeptics of Biden and his ability to lead the executive branch given his age, well, let’s just say this certainly doesn’t diminish their argument.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Okay, this isn’t great, but it certainly isn’t any worse than what Donald Trump has said! Fair point, I offer, as Trump said a slew of horrible things during his term, many of which pertained to issues other than the national economy (a relevant question for a president). However, might I pose that the measuring stick applied in this instance was impeached twice? Not to mention, he also was the face of a television show which quite literally ridiculed people (alright, celebrities) for their incompetence. One might say it is in Donald Trump’s DNA to be a bully. 

But it’s not in Biden’s DNA, he has made a career based on being a restrained and respectful statesman, which makes this latest quip all the more concerning, a symptom of a larger issue: the decline of respect in politics. The joke itself? In the grand scheme of the political world, it makes for a nice joke in a talk-show monologue or a quick topic of conversation around the water cooler, but it will carry little societal substance by itself. 

What does bother me, however, is the growing separation between expectations and reality that has defined Biden’s tenure in the Oval Office. Worse yet, based on what Americans have experienced so far, there’s been no indication that this downward spiral will cease. His removal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan was utterly chaotic, his proposed vaccine mandate and Voting Rights Act failed to pass and COVID-19 is raging throughout the country. His approval rating is plummeting, as now only 41% of Americans are pleased with his performance, while 56% disapprove. Therefore, his rather explicit remarks add fuel to the fire. 

Perhaps, what is most infuriating to me is how government officials are continuing to act with less and less accountability. No longer are people internally filtering potentially provocative ideas from those which are more neutralized. Instead, they say what is on their minds and then apologize afterwards. This feels superficial because if a politician was truly remorseful, he or she wouldn’t have said it in the first place. I value honesty, as I’m sure many of you do too, but I also value the notion that if you do not have anything nice to say, then do not say it at all. This lack of forethought goes in both directions — left and right, liberal and conservative — and the intensity of error is heightening with increased political polarity. 

Alas, the rubber is about to firmly meet the road of political impartiality, as Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer — one of the nine judges who is, in theory, responsible for political fairness — is to retire. “USA Today” wrote that his departure will “deprive the Court of its foremost proponent of a living Constitution,” which reigns supreme in determining national accountability. 

Biden may not be the best leader to confront this challenge. Undoubtedly, he will appoint a qualified, liberal-minded candidate to make sure the current imbalance in our judicial branch does not become worse. Yet, I’m more concerned with the nature in which he goes about this process. Will he continue to diminish inquiries from those of opposite beliefs? Will his stubbornness carry over and impede his ability to execute his elected responsibility? While there is no definitive answer, one truth is evident: politicians on both sides of the aisle must uphold norms if they want norms to be upheld. Period.

Sam Woiteshek is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at swoitesh@umich.edu