Of Civility, Americanism, and Racism
President Trump this weekend posted a series of vile and racist tweets aimed at four liberal congresswomen with whom he has long disagreed. Although three of the four women are native-born Americans, and the fourth was a refugee brought here when she was ten and is since a naturalized citizen, the President told them to “go back” from where they came from. A day later, in a press event, he doubled down, claiming the women didn’t love America and therefore should leave. Then later came another tweet, again reiterating the claim that the women don’t love this country and therefore should leave.
A few thoughts.
First, childish temper tantrums are the refuge of the fearful. What President Trump did yesterday and today show some level of fear. Of what? Of not having a cogent argument for the policies these women embrace? Of powerful women in general? Of women of different ethnicities rising up in positions of strength when he can’t control the situation? Of things having nothing to do with these women, but instead are outside his control, such as the Jeffrey Epstein case or the upcoming Mueller hearing? Whatever the reason, the temper tantrum, still ongoing as seen by tweets more than 36 hours after the original thread, is unbecoming of any adult, let alone the President of the entire United States of America.
Second, when Americans have disagreements, they should be able to be discussed civilly. I’m reminded of a scene from a movie, Camelot, where King Arthur is trying to explain his vision of the rule of law, wherein disagreements would be decided in a civilized manner. Pellinore, the old faithful friend, can’t comprehend the concept, and is determined that it must ultimately end in bloodshed. Ultimately, of course, Pellinore was right, as Camelot tried law and ended up in bloody tatters. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin from many centuries later, they tried their republic and couldn’t keep it.
But we are far from the medieval court of King Arthur. We truly are free to discuss, debate, and then, ultimately, decide for ourselves what side we come down on. If, for example, there is a part of the country that wishes a more socialistic form of government and a part of the country that wishes a more capitalistic form of government, then both sides are free to persuade others to their point of view. One of the worst things to happen is to begin labelling and hyperbolically calling names. Not all things liberal are socialistic. Not all things conservative are going to kill the poor. If I am convinced of the rightness of my argument, then it should be able to stand on its own merits; attacking the people on the other side will not actually win my point.
Third, a person can be a patriotic American and still believe that there are systemic and substantive problems within the country that need to be addressed and changed. That does not make such a person less of an American or less patriotic. It is not a case of “right or wrong, my country,” but rather, as Carl Schurz said, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
There are things within America that are wrong and need to be set right. Maybe I don’t see the same severity in some issues that others see. That is acceptable. Let them try, through whatever means lawfully allowed, to convince me otherwise. There are things that I see that are right, that others see as wrong. It is my privilege to try to convince them that I am in the right. But to degrade others because their views do not align with mine is as unAmerican as it comes. To call people “communists” because their views differ is frightening. Such incendiary language should be carefully and cautiously used. The title “Socialist” also needs to be caveated, unless the person themselves has used that in conjunction with themselves. Their policy positions may be socialist in nature, but unless they have aligned themselves with the socialist dictators (and some of these individuals in question have), we should be careful how we throw around that word. After all, there is a broad spectrum between European socialism and Venezuela-style socialism.
Fourth, it is an interesting phenomenon how giving controversial viewpoints political oxygen allows the person with that viewpoint to grow in almost mythical ways. The four women targeted by the President in his tirade are freshmen members of congress. Their actual authority is pretty minimal. But as conservatives and the President in particular continue to give them undue focus then their positions are given more attention by the public overall. How much wiser to mostly ignore the more outrageous ideas and stunts.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the President. He doesn’t just represent a small congressional district, but rather represents the entire United States. He should be held to higher scrutiny and a higher standard.
Fifth, and finally, the subject of racism. I am so loath to apply the label of racist to someone due to something they say. Being a racist includes motivation and I tend to try to avoid judging motivation as much as possible. Having said that, when someone leaves a paper trail on a particular issue then it becomes much easier to formulate an opinion, even on motivation. After all, either someone is really dense and can’t learn after being told numerous times what their actions appear to be and thus continue repeating them, or the person truly is – deep down – what it is that their actions seem to betray. In this case, there are literally decades worth of examples of Donald Trump’s purposeful actions against people of different races, particularly African American, Hispanic, and Muslim. In his businesses, in his actions against the Central Park Five, his statements and actions relating to immigrants and refugees, and many other examples there are actions that cannot be explained except by accepting that Donald Trump is racist. That is a sad thing to contemplate. I hope that he can be helped. But America is a nation that is magnificent in its diversity. That diversity needs to be cherished. To have a racist and xenophobic leader at the head of the great American melting pot is terrifying. We must speak out. We cannot allow it to go unchecked. This truly is our responsibility. Otherwise, generations forevermore will look at us with shame and wonder at our lack of courage and conviction.