On Friday, Jerry Springer — who made millions capitalizing on fights between family members on his decades-long NBC show after a scandal-plagued political career — blamed President Donald Trump for America’s declining civility.
“Civility is critical in terms of our norms, and we can’t function as a society unless we have norms of how to behave,” Springer told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle. “You can’t pass enough laws to take care of every human interaction.”
He insisted that when political leaders “misbehave, when they say the norms don’t matter, when they say, ‘You can use whatever language you want, anything you can get away with, get away with it. If you don’t pay taxes, you’re smart.’ … When they have this behavior, it tells society that we really don’t have any norms anymore. There’s no appropriate way to behave. We can’t have that in the leadership of our country.”
Ruhle rightly pressed Springer on the disconnect between the incivility celebrated on his show and this newfound love for civility.
“Jerry, are you saying it’s our leaders that need to set the example?” Ruhle asked. “Because, again, the success of your show in some part was predicated on America’s love of the battle. When people were chanting ‘Jer-ry! Jer-ry!’ it wasn’t when the people on your stage were hugging it out.”
Springer argued that his show “was about dysfunctional behavior, so obviously everyone who’s going to appear on the show is acting dysfunctionally. That was the point of the show. But no one ever suggested, never did I do a final thought, and say, ‘This is the way you ought to behave.'”
Then he argued that it was ridiculous to suggest that just because there is “a crazy television show where you’ve got people that admittedly are dysfunctional, therefore, it’s OK to have an administration that’s dysfunctional.”
“When you have the president of the United States using language that even on our crazy show we’d bleep out, then society’s in trouble,” Springer quipped.
Yet Jerry Springer’s own connection between Trump and his show belies this holier-than-thou approach. “I used to joke and say that my anger at the president is that he took my show and brought it to the White House,” the TV host said.
It is rather rich to see Jerry Springer chiding Trump for a lack of civility. After all, this is the same Jerry Springer who stood up in New York’s Times Square and celebrated the fights on his show.
In August 2016, as Trump’s upset victory in the presidential election loomed, Springer stood up in Times Square and declared, “Now, what does everyone talk about when they talk about my show? The fights!!” To celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Jerry Springer Show, he shared video clips of “the best fights, the sexiest guests, the most outrageous guests, the best transexuals, the most scandalous family secrets, and finally the best food fights from over the last 20 years.”
Yet Springer’s public life did not begin with his salacious show. He ran for Congress in Ohio in 1970, failing to unseat Republican Donald Clancy. He was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1971, but he decided to resign after admitting to hiring a prostitute. A police raid on a Kentucky massage parlor found a bad check from Springer that the parlor had pinned on an office wall with “for services rendered” on the memo. A year after resigning, however, he ran for city council again, and won.
In 1977, the city council elected him as mayor. He entered the Democratic primary in the 1982 Ohio governor race. TV ads for his campaign even referenced his check to pay a prostitute, claiming he was not afraid to tell the truth “even if it hurts.” He also considered running for U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2004, but backed down due to negative associations with The Jerry Springer Show.
Springer clearly considered his show’s emphasis on salacious family drama and fights to be compatible with a political career — even though polling showed that it wasn’t. His willingness to tell the truth about the prostitution was admirable, but he moved back into politics shortly thereafter.
Donald Trump’s schoolyard insults and brash rhetoric are indeed lamentable, and both Republicans and Democrats need to embrace civility in these turbulent times. The left’s increasing push for orthodoxy, its stifling political correctness, and its rush to demonize all dissent arguably helped to create the brash political personality of Donald Trump. Democrats’ calls for harassment against Trump officials serve as a reminder that the president is arguably a symptom, rather than the cause, of this malaise. That said, Trump is far from innocent in the breakdown of American civility.
However, I can hardly think of anyone with less credibility to lecture Donald Trump on civility than Jerry Springer. MSNBC must really be scratching the bottom of the barrel.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.