It’s being called the “tweet heard round the world,” a 135-character missive fired off last week by state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-District 17) and directed at none other than the tweeter-in-chief, President Donald Trump.
“I oppose civil asset forfeiture too!” Leach wrote the afternoon of Feb. 7. “Why don’t you try to destroy my career you fascist, loofa-faced s—- gibbon!”
I have no idea what a “s—- gibbon” is, and apparently, neither does Leach, a Jewish legislator from Wayne who has served in Harrisburg since 2003, first as a member of the House of Representatives and now — among other titles — chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He told The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of many worldwide news outlets that reported on the odd choice of words, that he heard it awhile back. It sprang forth from his unconscious when he heard that Trump suggested to county sheriffs meeting at the White House that he’d go after a Texas state senator who was trying to limit civil asset forfeiture.
“Who is the state senator?” Trump asked Rockwall County Sheriff Harold Eavenson, who, according to Politico, bemoaned the introduction of legislation that would make securing a conviction a prerequisite to seizing a person’s property. “Do you want to give his name? We’ll destroy his career.”
By all indications, that was the last straw for Leach.
The debate over civil asset forfeiture programs is a real one, pitting substantial questions of due process against equally substantial concerns of public safety. It’s through civil asset forfeiture, for instance, that police departments can seize the property of drug dealers. But it’s also through civil asset forfeiture that law-abiding citizens have lost their homes solely on suspicion that another resident — a child, for example — was engaging in illegal activity.
For the record, because of the actual cases of abuse, as well as the continued potential for further abuse of the system, civil asset forfeiture should face a much higher due process bar than currently exists. That puts me on roughly the same side as Leach. But the senator’s tweet was uncalled for, impolitic and damaging to the very debate that a public servant such as himself should instead seek to promote.
There’s nothing to be gained by hurling a feces-laden epithet at the president, save for perhaps notoriety and fundraising dollars. (Leach got the former and may even have successfully obtained the latter, as his campaign was invoking the incident in an appeal for cash days later.) In fact, the tweet in question drowned out attention to Leach’s opposition to the anti-abortion bill that passed the Senate the following day.
Wanting to oppose Trump for suggesting he’d bring the power of the White House to bear and ruin the career of a lowly state senator for raising legitimate constitutional concerns is laudable. As is using the president’s medium of choice to do it. But couldn’t Leach have done so without lobbing a variety of personal attack that appears eerily like the same kinds of insults that make up Trump’s own rhetorical palette?
Leach, to his credit, is a fighter. I get that. And you can’t survive in politics without being willing to roll around in the mud. But this time, he might be looking like a pig while doing it. That is damaging to his message, as well as to the campaign that so many of us have waged against what passes for “civil debate” in the new Trump era. By stooping to the president’s level, Leach now looks more like his opponent than I, quite frankly, am comfortable with.
In many ways, Twitter itself has gotten us here, because it’s so much easier to scrape the bottom of the linguistic barrel for a 140-character tweet than it is to mine the depths of human reasoning to craft a cogent argument. But at the end of the day, which would Leach rather be remembered for — making “s—- gibbon” a part of our vernacular or his principled stands for reproductive choice and constitutional principles?
I’m guessing it’s the latter, no matter how fun it may be to wallow in filth.
Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected].