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Against Performative Egalitarianism
John Fetterman’s Disrespect for the Senate Feels Familiar.
Since the American Founding, there has been a decidedly egalitarian, populist, small-d democratic character to the American people. At times, it manifests itself well: refusal to grant titles of nobility. At other times, it manifests in a crass way: installing a reality television host as our president.
It is the latter manifestation which characterizes the attitude of John Fetterman towards the institution in which he finds himself—a prime example of Yuval Levin’s lament about individuals who use their institutions as a platform to perform upon. Fetterman’s gym shorts and hoodie mock the Senate Chamber. Perhaps not at the level of the rioters on January 6th, but certainly enough to be contemptuous. It would be one thing if he expressed contrition, explaining that he really wanted to uphold Senate tradition, but that he was going through a really hard time and needed some slack.
That isn’t what he has done. Instead, he has shown casual disrespect for the institution in which he serves. Perhaps he does find it lame, but his job requires him to keep that opinion to himself. An employee who demonstrates that level of disrespect for his employer typically gets fired.
Egalitarianism becomes performative when it crosses over into intentional crassness. There is a time and place for casual dress, even for swimming trunks. But that place is not the U.S. Senate. Fetterman isn’t merely refusing to wear a suit. One gets the sense that he looks down on his colleagues who wear them, no doubt out of populist insecurity that those who wear suits look down on “people like him.” He isn’t alone in holding that attitude.
Nor is he the only legislator who shows casual disrespect for Congress. Lauren Boebert’s recent behavior merits her immediate removal from the House. But her behavior is no excuse for Fetterman (and vice versa).
We need higher standards, not lower.
The Daily Saucer is our place for freelance contributors and editorial staff to offer short takes on the news cycle, quick observations on the issues, and brief thoughts on broader topics. The views offered in this space reflect only the personal views of the authors.