The word screed has multiple definitions, (a) a lengthy discourse, (b) an informal piece of writing, (c) a rant, (d) a strip of plaster of the thickness planned for the coat, or (e) a leveling device drawn over freshly poured concrete.[1]  In answering the question du jour, I’m using screed as a rant. Although, I’m tempted to dip my ethical wick into leveling devices for poured concrete. How deep or how solid could that be?

Ranting is an occupational hazard for writers. Mostly we rant at computers and monitors when they twist our fingers into incomprehensible prose, and cannot intuit our inner thoughts outwardly. Sometimes we rant beyond the confines of our writing caves—that’s where ethics comes in.

Ranting is not covered by any of the standardized ethical guides.[2] Rants made but never published are not subject to ethical norms, any more than unuttered curses are. When we do rant in public, for all to see, we want our rants to be taken seriously and adopted by like-minded ranters worldwide.

That’s where ethics comes in, sort of. It might be called reverse-ethics. If our rants are loud enough, brash to the eye, a bit guttural, and in poor taste, they might be ethically wanting, which is exactly what you want in a good rant. The word “good,” as used here, is not morally good; it is good in the sense that it does its job—it rants.

2018 gave us thousands of “good” political rants. Here are five notable ones.

  1. A New York Republican gubernatorial candidate ranted, “I’m gonna take you out.”[3]
  2. After he became President, Donald Trump ranted and vented about one of our oldest allies, French President Emmanuel Macron, during their 2018 bilateral meeting. He “lambasted the European Union for its trade policies, saying it was worse than China.”[4]
  3. Before he became President, Donald Trump insulted untold millions by asking, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”[5]
  4. In May, Roseanne Barr went on a Twitter diatribe about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrettcalling her an “ape” and leading to her show getting canceled by ABC.[6]
  5. Regarding Special Counsel Mueller, President Trump has frequently belittled him by Tweeting “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!” and “Attorney-client privilege is dead!”[7]

These five are suitable proxies for how rants are standard fare for politicians and their antagonists. They call for criminal acts, they insult allied countries, they demean, they are racist, and they are far below what we expect from leaders.

But they work—they do their job. They rally a base (pun intended). Sadly, they are ethically acceptable in communities of like-mouthed citizens. They cheer rants. They laugh at criminal acts. They practice racism at home and on the job.

As long as rants are cheered, they will be the sausage of politics—the saucier the better.

Gary L StuartI am an author and a part-time lawyer with a focus on ethics and professional discipline. I teach creative writing and ethics to law students at Arizona State University. Read my bio.

If you have an important story you want told, you can commission me to write it for you. Learn how.