Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On Trump, Scare Rhetoric & Civil Discourse

It's lucky I'm a liberal, because otherwise I would be having a pretty hard time at Northwestern.

It's de rigueur for students to be distraught over the outcome of the election. On the one hand, I appreciate that Donald Trump is a morally repugnant, unpleasant man. On the other hand, it's become increasingly clear that people create their own narrative of events and stick to it, ignoring evidence in favor of their personal flavor of frustration.

Donald Trump is already walking back many of his statements. Where before, he declared that he would deport all illegal immigrants, he is now limiting his plan to deporting those with criminal records. Where before, he said that one of his first acts in office would be to overturn Obamacare, he now wants to keep the clauses that allow children to stay on their parents' health insurance into their 20s and which forbid insurance companies from denying coverage due to preexisting conditions. Where before, he maligned Obama and referred to him in insulting ways, he is now willing to be tutored by Obama because he has been humbled by the realization that he does not actually understand the scope of the presidency.

During the third presidential debate, Hillary Clinton decried Trump's "scare rhetoric" and alarmist tactics when it came to his factually incorrect description of partial birth abortion. I think the same point can be made about current responses to Trump. Too many news outlets have been engaging in alarmist scare rhetoric, such that I even have liberal friends who are comparing the man to Hitler. I do not like Trump as a human being; he has chosen to be or don a persona that is misogynist, sexist and (intentionally or unintentionally) racist. Despite this, he is not Hitler. He has no plans of perpetrating mass genocide. To suggest otherwise is to enter the theater of the absurd.

There does appear to have been a rise in hate crimes due to people who think they know what Trump stands for and who believe themselves to be empowered by Trump. I question whether one can really hold Trump directly responsible for this; that seems similar to holding Eminem or other recording artists responsible for individuals who perpetrate crimes based on their music. (Of course, one could argue that someone running for such a public office as President bears more responsibility for his language than a recording artist.) I agree that it would behoove Trump to distance himself from these groups and condemn the hate crimes in very strong language, and thus far, he has not done that. This is certainly problematic.

I am disturbed by language in our media (especially media that skews liberal) that attacks individuals, not based on the merits, but based on who they are. For example, Ben Carson has been tipped to become the Secretary of Education. An explanation based on the merits would argue that Ben Carson has absolutely no qualifications for this position. Just because one has been educated in this country, created a foundation to hand out scholarships and has served as a prominent surgeon does not an educator make. An educator would be someone who has really thought about how public, private and charter schools are being run today, who understands policy issues, funding issues, cultural and racial issues and who has a plan to better our schools overall. An educator would be someone willing to listen to individuals across all viewpoints in an effort to lead with humility.

But the articles I am reading about Carson do not make these simple, sensible arguments. Instead, they talk about him as a creationist, deriding him for his religious views. People assume that because he is religious, he must also be ignorant. Because he believes in creation, it must mean that he wants all children in all public schools to be taught mythology rather than scientific reality. Now, it's possible that Carson has indeed stated this publicly and that I have just missed it. In that case, I would be troubled, as public schools must respect the separation between church and state. But until I see this stated publicly, Carson ought to be critiqued on the merits, and not because liberals cannot stand that he believes in God.

Our society as a whole would benefit from more civil discourse. Civil discourse would mean that liberals would not assume condescendingly that people who are religious only are that way due to a lack of exposure to other beliefs and ways of being. They would not assume that their values are the only correct values. It would also mean conservatives would not paint all liberals as out to corrupt their children. Our society is becoming increasingly black and white, and our news outlets are losing the ability to construct nuanced pieces. It's much easier for two sides to stand up and shout at one another than it is for the two to come together and truly hear one another. Hearing means reserving judgment and looking at the other person as a fellow human being.

It is important for us to stand up for fellow humans if they are being attacked or harmed. Thus, I applaud various initiatives that seek to make humans feel safe- such as wearing a safety pin or trying to create more camaraderie in the world. I disagree with continuing the divisive rhetoric by promoting protests, riots or ridiculous hashtags such as #NotMyPresident. You do not have to agree with Trump's values, nor do you have to respect him, to be governed by him. It is imperative that you recognize that this is not Syria. We are not directly at risk from ISIS or Boko Haram. We do not (for the most part) experience famine or water crises. There are people out there in the world who are experiencing actual disasters and Donald Trump as president is not one of these. He is foolish and possibly incompetent, maybe even dangerously so, but luckily we have a system of checks and balances in place that will prevent him from doing too much harm. If he does something unconstitutional, we have the ability to impeach him. Trump is hemmed in by laws and statutes. Thus, rather than grieving that people in the world do not share your values, the time has come to let those values shine- in a positive way. Give blood. Perform random acts of kindness. Volunteer your time with a worthy organization. Bring more good into the world. If you act like the kind of person others would want to become, they will come to you and ask to learn from you. This is the way to influence others and win respect.

If Trump begins to act in a way that directly threatens others, that will be the time to defend those individuals' human rights. But right now, it's time to be constructive, not destructive. As Mad-Eye Moody would say, "Constant vigilance!" Be watchful. Be ready. But in the meantime- actively work to be kind. Try to find what you have in common with someone who supports the candidate you did not vote for. Look for what is similar between you, not for what is different. If dialogue begins with love, it is far more powerful. Try to begin dialogues with love.


David Staum said...

Very well put. I needed this. I have become a Facebook refugee the last few days because of the poisonous nature of the discourse there, and am looking for civility, critical thinking, and above all, respect for each other.

David Staum said...

Did Mad-Eye Moody say that, or was that Barty Crouch, disguised as Moody?

Shayna Bekritsky said...

I couldn't love this more. Thank you for this post. Your comparison to Eminem is great (though I get the caveat as well.)
Everyone just needs to grow up and yes, be vigilant.

Miriam I said...

While I agree with a lot of what you say, I think there are a few weaknesses in relation to Trump:
1. as you point out, the president has a special moral authority. And Trump clearly took advantage of the hate speech to gain presidency. I don't think we can dismiss it so easily or let him off. He has to denounce it and his pick of associates like Bannon is a clear indication of making a choice to go with divisiveness.
2. Carson is now a moot point but there are 2 strikes against him--a) possibly no substantive background for education though an argument can be made that he has some since he has written about education and b) he has stated that the pyramids were built to store grain. This biblical literalism is relevant to the education position because there is a debate about what should be taught in US public schools and he is an advocate of teaching this in public schools. So I don't mock him for his religious beliefs. Instead, I am concerned that these beliefs have no place in government--while he is (was?) in politics specifically to promote these beliefs in government.