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Where have you gone, Silent Cal?

Whether it’s the president of the United States or a resident of the city of Bicknell, I believe it fundamental to the functions of democracy that people feel uninhibited in expressing what they feel, no matter how much I may disagree with them.

We are a nation of loudmouths. We are effusive in offering up whatever ill-formed nonsense comes to mind; we’re never happier than when engaged in some mindless quarrel over a meaningless point.

It’s the arguing we relish, not the substance of the argument.

As the late Anthony Lewis, the Pulitzer-winning columnist of The New York Times, once wrote, “Ours is the most outspoken society on earth.”

And while we claim we want civil discourse in our public realm, what we really prefer is rhetoric rich with invective, dripping with ferocity – words meant to slay our opponents.

This is as it’s always been. As much as historians love to quote the angels singing, the truth, unfortunately, is that much of our political discourse has been delivered with the devil’s tongue.

Intemperance is in our political DNA. We are entertained by rabid speech when delivered by someone “on our side.” We’re angered and appalled when the fire is aimed at us.

The trouble comes when such enflamed speech ignites the fuse to acts of violence.

And these days it seems to be a very short fuse.

I’m no romantic about the past; ours is a long history of politicians issuing a torrent of abuse when attacking their opponents.

The intensity of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s verbal duels led to their appointment at Weehawken; John Randolph of Roanoke would put today’s firebrands to shame, having once described Henry Clay as being so corrupt that “like a rotten mackerel by moonlight, he both shines and stinks;” and Charles Sumner’s vituperative criticisms of slave-holding colleagues, while perhaps justified in his mind, eventually drove a South Carolina congressman to rain blows down upon Sumner’s head with a cane.

For every “better angels of our nature” there have been a thousand “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” speeches to excite our ignoble emotions.

Political speech has incited mobs to tar-and-feather ministers, shoot newspaper editors, and even the public lynchings of random black men for no better reason than their being black.

If anything, what Mr. Trump has been criticized for saying seems somewhat tame by comparison.

That doesn’t excuse Mr. Trump’s poor choice of words. We deserve better from a president.

You would think, what with the intrusiveness of first television and now social media, those inclined to making such speeches would practice greater reticence – or at least do a better job of understanding where they are and especially to whom they are speaking, which today means everyone, I guess.

But maybe it’s the very fact there is such a spotlight shining on them, illuminating their words, making them seem more important than when the same nonsense gets spouted in the back room of a rundown bar, that drives today’s blowhards to speak out all that much more.

What we need now is a modern-day Calvin Coolidge.

Gayle R. Robbins is editor of the Vincennes (Ind.) Sun-Commercial