By Joe America
Often, we are the problem, not someone else.
Have you ever been driving the car down the expressway taking your mother-in-law to the doctor’s office when some twit in a big black SUV zooms past and cuts you off? What do you say? (1) Nothing? (2) Mutter quietly, “What an idiot!”? (3) Shake your fist at the other driver and scream, “You asshole!”?
It doesn’t matter to the driver, and doesn’t change the incident, whatever you do. So all you are doing is venting your anger at having been treated badly. We all do that.
Well, having mother-in-law in the car interjects a new factor into the equation. Now what you say does matter because your mother-in-law, if she is like most, is a judgmental creature and will not think highly of you if you curse. If your lack of decorum gets back to your wife, then YOU pay the price for your emotional rant.
I’m thinking that we ought to participate in social media as if our mother-in-law were sitting beside us. Not as if what we said did not matter.
Because it does matter.
It matters to us.
How did I get to this conclusion?
After Donald Trump’s winning of the US presidential election, this tweet came across my monitor:
“So, America has resoundingly affirmed they’re a racist, bigoted nation with little care or compassion for minorities or, really, the world.”
Now I don’t like Donald Trump either, but it occurred to me that this particular observation was itself a form of bigotry, and it is EXACTLY the form of bigotry that the writer dislikes. The tweet casts easy slurs that denigrate rather than search for reason, or reasons.
America is not a racist, bigoted nation with little care or compassion for minorities. Consider the laws and the social movements in favor of human rights that have dominated American social discourse the past half-century. America is one of the most diverse, racially mixed nations on the planet, with people living in peace and constructively, Jews beside Arabs, Muslims with Christians, Blacks with Whites, men and women competing within laws that mandate fairness, laws that protect the old, the handicapped, the children . . .
But if you look at the election through the lens of personal anger about Trump, well, you can see a different picture, and it is a characterization that denies the truth about America. It also does not consider that millions of voters were earnest in casting their votes. It does not even try to comprehend the REASONS for the vote.
Americans did not vote for bigotry any more than Filipinos voted for killing thousands of Filipinos.
I have a hard time distinguishing the bigotry of Trump’s language and demeanor from that of the person who sent out that tweet. Both are disparaging millions of people who had a personal reason for doing what they did. I’d guess these millions are not malicious people, they just got to their place in life differently than we did. It seems to me that each individual ought to be considered innocent of bigotry until they are proved guilty. No EJS, no extra-judicial slurring, allowed.
Donald Trump was elected for the same reason that Rody Duterte was elected. Americans believe their government is not working earnestly and successfully for THEM, and Hillary Clinton represented exactly what Mar Roxas represented here. More of the same. (The rightness or wrongness of that conclusion is not the topic of this blog.)
Voters essentially concluded that the only way to break the mold is to break the mold. Throw the old model of polite-speak and diplomacy out and cut to the chase. For that purpose, civility is a WEAKNESS and abrasive is a strength. Ineffectual civility and political gameplaying is just more of the same.
I think the vote had very little to do with racial or gender bigotry, and a lot to do with what it takes to change government’s way of getting things done (or not getting things done). Indeed, most voters likely believe sincerely that their vote was FOR harmony, not against it. If it takes a wall to get harmony, build a wall. That is an earnest view.
It seems to me that until we understand that easy labels, easy slurs, easy categorizations are the PROBLEM, not the solution, we won’t get where we want to go.
I suggest we invite our mothers-in-law to read our tweets and Facebook postings before we push “send”.
We are, in the end, affected by the style and tone of our writing. Our nation is either a civil place or uncivil based on the character of our dialogue, and today there is not enough civility. You are I are often a part of the problem.
I would add that I think there definitely IS a proper time to object or protest, to curse and stomp about. But it ought to be calculated and done with a full understanding of the consequences. When a dictator is being buried with honors, and the goal is to stop that . . . hey, we have a clear understanding of why we do what we do.
But every word we type need not be emotionalized, and we ought to understand that we all pay the price for our . . . and other people’s . . . quick and easy incivility to earnest people.