Who Is on a Bigger Bender in Our Country: Voters or Elected Officials?

On Sept. 29, 2020, Bethany Hallam, an Allegheny County, Penn. elected official, posted that she was “SO excited to introduce the second round of badass elected officials for the #NoNakedBallots campaign!!!!” with four photos of Democratic women running for office who were entirely naked with the exception of words strategically covering their breasts.

One of those women is former state Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Democrat, who is now running for the most powerful position in the region that oversees the airport, the public transportation system, and health and human services, as well as drawing in new business development and serving as the ambassador to the region.

And given the dominance of registered Democrats over Republicans in this county that surrounds Pittsburgh, she goes into the race for the powerful position this November as the front-runner.

If you think Innamorato might have taken offense or felt some shame with that post, you would be mistaken: She proudly tweeted it out to her own followers, saying she “loved democracy more than dignity.”

This past weekend, Hallam, who has admitted to using heroin daily for years and comes from the socialist wing of the Democratic Party, posted on social media “celebrating” the retirement of the county jail warden, then held up a greeting card at an event filled with several nasty notes that included, “Hope you get a painful, terminal illness.”

Two weeks ago, Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., posted about a congresswoman misbehaving with her date by “grabbing his hog,” and his spokesman Joe Calvello confirmed to me the post indeed meant fondling his male reproductive organ.

However, none of those topped what former President Donald Trump has posted in the past few days on his social media network Truth Social, where he has said that people should “go after” a top elected official in New York, told hundreds of Republican activists in California that shoplifters should be shot, and insinuated that the military general he himself appointed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff should be executed.

America is on a bender that is so circular it is hard to figure out where it starts and where it ends. Are voters putting these people in office because they are on a bender? Or are these elected officials on a bender to start with, while voters are so entertained by it after years of consuming reality TV shows that they reward them with their votes?

Fetterman is the perfect example of a guy who ran as a man answering a call to service in the forgotten communities in Pennsylvania – including his adopted majority-minority hometown of Braddock, where he embraced being “that guy” who was often on the scene of a crime before the police were.

He even tattooed his arms with the dates on which someone died violently when he was the mayor. Today, there is very little evidence that guy exists if he ever did. Instead, he spends most of his political capital posting about “dick pics,” “jagoffs,” weird life-size photos of Sen. Bob Casey’s, D-Pa., head attached to his body, attacking any Republican running for any office, and fundraising off of T-shirts celebrating the five minutes the U.S. Senate changed the dress code so he could dress like an air conditioning repairman.

Yet (unless the post disappeared or I missed it), when two black youths were gunned down blocks from his home in September, Fetterman was eerily silent about that tragedy.

While Fetterman’s office confirmed he attended a vigil days after they were gunned down, his lack of drawing attention to the societal problem that cost the lives of two young men would have been more meaningful than most of the posts he puts up every day.

America is living in an era of fragmentation, and something has gone terribly wrong in our society on our way to that era. We celebrate vulgarity, lies, and anger, and more often than not prop up the people who perpetuate it.

How did this happen? Why are more and more of our elected officials behaving as though they just emerged from a fight scene between Kim and Kourtney Kardashian? In truth, a lot of us aren’t OK with it.

We are currently in a place where we either shrug at a near-naked photo of a woman who wants to lead Allegheny County forward, applaud it or accept it as the new norm. If that is true, if that is indeed the new norm, then dignity, the ability to govern and decorum aren’t durable anymore.

What example is Fetterman giving his children or any other person’s children by posting about “dick pics”? The same goes for what Trump vows to do to his enemies. Or Hallam or one of her crew wishing a gruesome death for a black jail warden she took umbrage with.

The answer is not a good one, but with our norms now being shown the door and bawdy entertainment replacing good governing, it is unclear whose bender is running our country. Is it the voters? Or the elected officials?

It’s hard to say, but the best foot forward should begin by no longer rewarding people with our votes who are more interested in entertaining on social media than in governing.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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About Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner, and co-author (with Brad Todd) of The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES - 2023/07/29: United States Senator John Fetterman (L) shakes the hand of drag performer Estevan Valentine during the 2023 Pride Festival of Central PA. Thousands of people attended the 2023 Pride Festival of Central PA. United States Senator John Fetterman was among the attendees. (Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)