On the one hand, this seems an unfair charge. The men at the dais in these kinds of proceedings regularly treated Yellen’s predecessors, all of them male, in a similar manner—interrupting them, patronizing them, and generally making fools of themselves—while the economist in the chair would do his best not to explode.
On the other hand, it’s a tough week to ignore the role of gender dynamics in US political discourse. Just days after Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was subject to 90 minutes of thinly veiled microaggressions from Republican challenger Donald Trump at their first debate—the interruptions, the remarks about her “temperament,” the questioning of her “stamina,” the criticism of her preparedness—another intelligent woman of great achievement was reprimanded by men of lesser knowledge in her area of expertise.
This is not to say that Congress doesn’t have an important role to play as a check against the power of the US central bank. These hearings ought to be substantively tough. But do our elected officials have to act so rough in their treatment of the human being sitting across from them?
Yellen’s grilling on Capitol Hill, along with Trump’s references to her during his debate with Clinton, highlights a disturbing trend in how Americans talk to and treat one another. We have a seemingly unlimited capacity for coarseness and an increasingly widespread tolerance for using it, a downward spiraling no doubt hastened by the low blows and sophomoric hijinks proudly offered up by the Trump campaign.
If it’s any solace, there also seems to be an awakening about what’s at the root of these messages. Perhaps the next generation of American voters will do a better job insisting on the civility we all deserve, regardless of gender, party affiliation, or monetary policy views.