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Rep. Eric Swalwell Republicans smear me on Fox News then want to grab dinner. But Congress isn't the WWE.

You can’t smash a chair over someone’s head in the ring, then hang out backstage like it was all an act.
Vince McMahon gets more than he bargained for when Donald Trump got physical after signing the contract for Wrestlemania XXIII's \"Hair vs Hair\" match at Monday Night RAW in Washington on March 12, 2007.
Vince McMahon gets more than he bargained for when Donald Trump got physical after signing the contract for Wrestlemania XXIII's "Hair vs Hair" match in Washington on March 12, 2007.Sam Greenwood / WireImage for WWE via Getty Images

Congress has become a deeply divided, almost toxic work environment in part because of the “pro wrestling” mentality too many members have adopted, putting showmanship ahead of statesmanship.

You may be surprised to know that most of the right-wing House members who spend endless hours on Fox News smearing Democrats actually want to be back-slapping buddies with us when the cameras are off. Some have defamed me on national television or by tweet and then, within a day, approached me in a hallway or on the House floor, smiling and wanting to chat me up. They seem surprised when I don’t want to share pleasantries; to them, they’re just “playing the game.”

Last week one representative told me we were due to grab dinner again, as we had before the insurrection. I was stunned.

Last week one representative told me we were due to grab dinner again, as we had before the insurrection. I was stunned. This guy tweets about me and slams me on Fox News at every opportunity.

Many of my Republican colleagues also don’t see the people they represent as constituents to serve; they see fans to entertain, thinking this will help them win re-election. But Congress shouldn’t be like WWE wrestling. You can’t smash a chair over someone’s head in the ring, then hang out backstage like it was all an act, and still expect to make any real progress on behalf of the people who elected us. The preoccupation with putting on a show often devastates the relationships required for bipartisan cooperation.

My friend and constituent Donald James of Pleasanton, California, recently retired as NASA’s associate administrator for education, a position in which he worked to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and explorers. He’s among the most thoroughly decent and deeply thoughtful people I know. In February he published a book titled, “Manners Will Take You Where Brains and Money Won’t," positing that our manners signal our authenticity; the way you speak and interact with others creates the foundation for a fulfilling and meaningful life.

As I had the honor of writing in the book’s foreword: “Don’t mistake this for some milquetoast, go-along-to-get-along philosophy. Being consistently genuine, polite and principled is a learned skill and hard work. It requires you to step outside your comfort zone, to subvert your reflexive impulse to hit back, and to constantly think about how to stay on the higher ground. It is in many ways a spiritual undertaking and a journey that never ends.”

This lesson is lost on many members of Congress.

Our legislative branch seems to have devolved into a never-ending argument — but not an argument of principles and policy.

Our legislative branch seems to have devolved into a never-ending argument — but not an argument of principles and policy. Rather, it’s an argument staged as a modern-day version of the ancient Roman “bread and circuses,” to entertain and distract voters from real issues like protecting voting rights, rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, and ending the scourge of gun violence.

Too many conservative lawmakers are fast to throw away any shred of respect for a political opponent’s knowledge or motive, tossing truth and facts aside in favor of whatever will “own the libs” and get hourly coverage on Fox News, One America and Newsmax. It’s a battle for ratings, not results, and it gets Americans nothing.

I don’t think, even cynically, that this is what Americans really want. Most people I meet say they crave honesty from their elected officials, not the political piledrivers that last only as long as a soundbite on the nightly news. “Telling it like it is” can’t mean “putting on a show for the cameras.”

We’re never going to agree all the time. We should fight for what we believe in. Friction is inevitable in the fierce competition of ideas necessary to maintain our democratic republic.

But our republic would be stronger if we argued on the basis of facts and truth, and if we put the nation’s best interests ahead of our own limelight and career advancement. When we disagree, we should do so honestly; if it’s serious enough to fight about, it must be for real. And that is what is increasingly missing from the halls of Congress.

Politics is not sport and we shouldn’t treat it as such. We disrespect ourselves, each other and American voters when we do so.

We also can’t just shrug and say, “These are the times we live in.” We make our times by our actions. The only way to kill the beast is to stop feeding it.

I hope some of my peers read Donald James’ book, and learn from it. And leave WWE to the real experts.