Column: ‘They go low, we go high’? Great plan. But have you seen how low Republicans will go?

Police tape blocks a San Francisco street
Police last week blocked off the street where Paul and Nancy Pelosi live in San Francisco, after a home invader attacked Paul Pelosi.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

It was at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 when former First Lady Michelle Obama famously shared her family’s motto: “When they go low, we go high.”

At the time I thought it was a brilliant turn of phrase that made it clear that civility was a choice.

At the virtual DNC in 2020, she reiterated the importance of civility, saying “going high is the only thing that works.” That was something President Obama echoed this past weekend while stumping for Democrats heading into the midterms.


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LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

“We don’t have to shout each other down,” he said. “It’s not a good way to do business. You wouldn’t do that in the workplace.”

Clearly, he hasn’t seen “Succession.”

Anyway, I do wonder how much longer the Obamas’ message of choosing to “go high” will resonate with liberal voters who have grown tired of watching the “low” folks win elections, steal Supreme Court seats and avoid prison. The rules work only if everyone is following them. And while fighting fire with fire usually means everything burns, I don’t blame left-leaning voters for wanting to dish themselves, since they’ve been doing more than their fair share of taking.

Last week Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was violently attacked by an intruder in their home in San Francisco. Less than 12 hours later, Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, was treating the horrifying crime as a convenient setup to a line in his campaign speech: “We’re going to send her back to be with him in California.”

Paul Pelosi’s skull was fractured. He was rushed into surgery. He could have died.

And yet Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, joked about it before charges had even been filed. Donald Trump Jr. did so with a meme.

Elon Musk used his new toy — Twitter — to amplify conspiracy theories about the attack as opposed to, I don’t know, well wishes for the victim.

To be completely honest, few moments in life challenge my humanity quite like hearing something bad happening to someone I think is a bad person. I’m not proud of it, but I am aware of the conflict inside.


The lower the political rhetoric descends, the more I understand why Kendrick Lamar began his classic self-examination “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” with a prayer. When trying to go high, it doesn’t hurt to get some help from above.

When the actor Leslie Jordan passed away in a car accident last week, my heart immediately sank. He was a beautiful soul. But when Rush Limbaugh passed away from lung cancer last year, after a beat — or two — I put my phone down and walked out of the room to avoid any temptation to pick it up and join the conversation. That whole “if you don’t have anything nice to say” thing.

Limbaugh had made a career disparaging women and minorities. He had a segment on his radio show dedicated to mocking people dying of AIDS. Needless to say, I was not sad when he died. I also like to think I wasn’t happy. I would hate to get into the habit of having my joy come from someone else’s pain. If joy is even the right word. That little bump of dopamine probably ought to be labeled “vengeance.”

What is often overlooked in discussions about Michelle Obama’s catchphrase is that she shared it after at least seven bullets hit the upstairs residence of the White House back in 2011. Her mother and younger daughter were inside. There’s no need to revisit all the racist attacks the first Black president endured. All we need to remember is he wasn’t the only Obama who had to endure them.

Civility isn’t the absence of emotions. It is the management of them. We all want to go off on somebody sometimes. That’s only human nature. And sometimes we do go off, and that’s human nature as well. But without civility, relationships cannot develop, and societies struggle to evolve.

When jokes about an attack on an 82-year-old man are considered red meat on the campaign trail, I can’t help but wonder what kind of person is being fed.