Watch your words

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Watch your words

The exchange of verbal attacks by politicians is testing the public’s patience. The alarming phenomenon results from their overly competitive efforts to draw attention and, ultimately, votes from supporters. Our patience is also wearing thin in the face of their unfettered resorts to verbal violence.

It all began with rough words from lawmakers after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and three minor opposition parties teamed up to put controversial bills on a fast track in the National Assembly last month. After the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) leader Hwang Kyo-ahn criticized the liberal Moon Jae-in administration for being a “leftist dictatorship” during an outdoor rally, DP Chairman Lee Hae-chan responded, “How can we entrust our legislature to such a group of thugs?” The LKP’s floor leader went so far as to call President Moon “Moonnos,” a combination of Moon and “Thanos,” a supervillain from Marvel Comics’ Avengers franchise.

Our politicians seem to have crossed a point of no return in terms of maintaining their dignity. After LKP leader Hwang decided to go to Gwangju to pay tribute to the victims of the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement in the city without dealing with the May 18 Special Act aimed at punishing people who denigrate the spirit of the movement, Justice Party leader Lee Jung-mee compared him to a “psychopath.” Shortly after a ceremony to commemorate the Gwangju movement, Cho Kuk, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, posted a famous line from a local movie about gang battles, “We should not become monsters even though we can hardly become humans.”

Such provocative rhetoric aims to get support from parties’ bases. The more exciting the words, the more empathy they expect from supporters. Such a war of words will most likely be intensified as the April 2020 general election approaches. It is not an issue that can be resolved by legislative censures.

A down-and-dirty political landscape hardly fosters cooperation among lawmakers. In such hostile circumstances, rational discussion and debate cannot be expected.

One of political leaders’ important roles is lifting the level of debate with decent language. If they only resort to insults, they must thoroughly reflect on where they are taking our political process. They must not forget that every word is monitored by voters who will make the final judgment on politicians who preferred coarse words to good policies. That’s how a democracy ultimately works.
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