I'm certain that threats, dirty deals and abuses of power have been part of the political and governmental process going back to Caligula, or Zeus. But some of us prefer our titans of intemperance to be historical figures, dressed up in hyperbole and embellished with mythic meaning, not some 21st Century, Tea Party-abetted Congressman from Staten Island whose nickname is "Mikey Suits" -- like, straight out of "Goodfellas" or "The Sopranos."
Then again, maybe in 300 years, long after the fall of the American Empire, when all three of the remaining polar bears have found the last ice floe and Jeff Bezos has set up a small colony of Asperger's Anonymous to live with their moon-beam powered Kindles on Mars, U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island) will have earned an enduring place in the pantheon of bullies, crooks and ego-maniacal gods.
For anyone who missed it, Grimm is the Congressman who, after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, took offense to a question from a NY1 reporter who had the audacity to ask about an investigation into alleged campaign contribution fraud. So close he could spit into the reporter's nostrils, Grimm threatened to throw the man off a balcony and, well, break him. "Like a boy."
This is the state of the state, circa 2014. Social media, 24-hour news cycles, divided government, reality TV, a consumer economy married with out-of-control former Marines, sitting governors, U.S. prosecutors and, well, the rest of us have all conspired to make our current and collective mode of behavior a living hell.
Civility? Respect? Discourse? All eradicated under the seething pressures of ... WHAT?
People keep saying these are tough times. Our economy is toast despite the stock market run-up and corporations sitting on billions in cash. Wages are stagnant, the 1 percent has 85 percent of the dough. Immigrants are stuck in limbo; college is unaffordable; jobs are not materializing ... it's all horrendous, horrible, bad.
Except, of course, when you compare us to Kiev, or Greece, or Afghanistan or Syria or any number of other hot spots around the world where the world is literally engulfed in flames, blood and misery.
Yet somehow, in America, we have the audacity to fight like steroid-juiced wrestlers mugging for the TV cameras, which is funny since our "greatest" commodity is our slavish devotion to our 15-Minutes-of-Fame "ideal."
I don't believe we are a nation of thugs. I see too many people in daily, ordinary life doing daily, extraordinary acts of kindness for their friends, families or communities. We aren't a nation of lawless people, and there's still enough connection to previous generations of Americans who really had to fight or suffer for us to forget that we ought to work hard and try and play fair. Yet somehow, the infrastructure of power and so many of the people who decide to participate in that arena can't avoid descending into Hades to carry out whatever notion of power they think comes along with it.
Accelerating the fury and distrust and hair-trigger emotion of our national "discourse" is the commentary, the chatter, the "analysis" of it all, which only amplifies the noise and elevates its meaning and alleged importance to such outsized and demoralizing proportion.
Speaking of outsized and demoralizing proportion: Take Chris Christie. As the New Jersey governor lawyers up against abuse of power charges connected to Bridgegate and Sandy funds, there's new reporting that says Christie was so greedily eager to PROVE his popularity as a "both sides of the aisle" Republican in order to boost his 2016 presidential credentials that he might have been tempted to do anything necessary to run up the vote tally in his recent re-election.
The New York Times: They were part of what one high-ranking Republican called “the crew” around Mr. Christie: friends who strategized at Mr. Christie’s kitchen table in Mendham and socialized with him in the governor’s box at MetLife Stadium.
Then there is the ground-to-a-halt endgame of the absurd, partisan divide in Washington D.C., where Republicans vowed to obstruct every Obama initiative, which has now led to Obama's Year 6 State of the Union address in which he vowed to go solo with every power available to him, since Congress will not act on anything that really matters to the American people.
Is Obama finally seizing his presidential pulpit, only to have his foes call it a bully pulpit, denying his presidential authority? Does Obama's "vow" only serve to escalate the underlying sense that everyone's gone rogue in this country? Or is Obama's "threat" that he will move on his own another attempt to smoke out his most violent detractors in order to expose their blind hatred and opposition to him? Look at Ted Cruz and others now emboldened to paint Obama (again) as other, as an "imperial ruler" set out to destroy America?
Are we supposed to be able to navigate all these threats and understand our path forward? I am beginning to lose hope, since our so-called American "exceptionalism" has been replaced by our newest form of cultural expressionism: American Bully-ism.
Gonna break you. Like a boy.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.