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Steve Daines

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, addresses the Montana House of Representatives in the state Capitol during the 2019 legislative session.

Montana’s U.S. Sen. Steve Daines has had a bad couple of weeks.

As the level of rhetoric in this nation sank to new lows, he chimed in with his own insults and attacks. Any work Daines might have gotten done on behalf of Montana was overshadowed by cringe-worthy grandstanding that served only to further divide an already splintered nation.

It was disappointing, certainly. It was also completely unnecessary. Worst of all, it was unrepresentative of Montana.

The Treasure State is still home to a majority of moderate voters; voters who elected both a Democratic governor and a Republican-majority Legislature, one Democratic U.S. senator and one Republican U.S. senator.

A small sliver of the population may loudly cheer for partisan rhetoric, but we maintain faith that most Montanans favor leadership that unites, rather than divides, our diverse communities.

Currently our nation is being led by a president known for speaking off the cuff. Montana’s delegation may be forgiven for not responding to every one of President Trump’s untrue statements or insulting tweets.

But when those comments are unmistakably racist invective, as were Trump’s recent tweets directed at four newly elected members of Congress — all women of color — our political leaders should have the moral courage to condemn it.

Trump accused the four women of hating America, incorrectly tweeting that they “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all)” and suggesting that they “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

Instead of demonstrating Montana-style statesmanship, Daines doubled down with his own rhetoric, posting on social media that “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”

Let that sink in. Anti-American. Anti-Semite. Radical. If Daines is going to sling mud that slimy, he had better describe his target in detail.

Unfortunately, he followed that broad blast of epithets with an equally vague but empty Senate resolution condemning “socialism.” In his definition, “socialism” is a concern because “a radical, socialist, far Left movement is growing across this country. And it has taken root as the new voice of the Democratic Party.” Daines points to such proposals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and “open borders” as examples of the looming threats of socialism.

Capitalism is the undeniable bedrock of the U.S. economy, but many of the programs Americans may take for granted — such as Medicare, agriculture subsidies and the federal dollars that support Montana highways, airports and public lands — are rooted in "socialism." 

Labeling anyone who supports such policies as "radical" has consequences, as Montana saw almost immediately when the chair of the state Republican Party, Don “K” Kaltschmidt, sent out a deeply disturbing mass email reading: “Let's set the record straight on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar and their radicalized liberal allies in Congress…

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“They are socialists. They hate America. They hate Israel.

“We've had enough of it — we stand with President Trump and Senator Daines and thank them for fighting back and calling out these socialists who have infiltrated and want to destroy our country.

If you don't love America — then leave!”

The people Kaltschmidt is talking about are members of Congress and, of course, duly elected representatives of their home districts. They are American citizens and have not “infiltrated” our country. One might argue whether their positions and policies are harmful to the interests of the United States, but it crosses the line to say that they “hate America.”

This is not constructive debate. It is not even civil. It is mud-slinging of the worst kind, and coming this far away from the federal election in 2020, every Montanan ought to be worried about how much worse these verbal attacks are going to get before the candidates finally speak up to put a stop to it.

Yet Daines seems bent on using the word “radical” to describe pretty much anyone who disagrees with him on any subject. Last week, for just the latest example, a legal ruling in district court fell in favor of the environmental groups who objected to Montana’s re-issuing of a water pollution discharge permit to the proposed Montanore mine in the Cabinet Mountains.

In response, his press secretary provided this quote from Daines: “It’s disappointing to see radical enviro groups yet again causing obstruction and getting in the way of Montana jobs.”

The quote does not explain why he considers these groups “radical.” In reality, they have done nothing more than use the lawful means provided through the judicial branch to uphold state and federal law. What’s radical about that?

Perhaps Daines is seeking to appeal to the baser instincts of his far-right base because he worried about a possible challenge from Gov. Steve Bullock, who is being encouraged to switch his longshot run for the presidency to a more realistic run for the Senate.

But Montanans are not looking for representation from either extreme of the political spectrum. We want statesmen who can work with others, Democrats and Republicans alike, to get things done.

Senator Daines, you have a respected record as a moderate but consistent conservative. Your recent rhetoric threatens that record and does a disservice to the people of Montana — all the people of Montana, of every political persuasion.

But it’s not too late to turn this around. Stop the fear-mongering. Stop slandering people who merely disagree with you. Recognize that your words have an impact, that they help set the tone of discourse in this country, particularly among all the folks in Montana closely watching your actions in D.C., and please, do better.

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