I think virtually everyone would agree, even if they cannot agree on who is to blame, that America is in a nasty mood these days. We are deeply divided and a snarl is more common than a smile when we encounter people on the “other side” of our great divide. I confess to frequently feeling angry myself, and sometimes letting that slip into my own language in interactions with people who push my buttons.
I don’t apologize for the former. I think there is plenty going on in America that people should be angry about.
I do feel ashamed about and apologize for the latter. I need to be able to handle my own emotions better. We need to be able to disagree without insulting, using profanity and calling people vile names.
Comedian Samantha Bee and actor Robert DeNiro both attracted attention and condemnation recently for using aggressive and profane language to express their disgust for the policies of this President. I agree with the disgust. Not with the way they expressed it. Bee has the graciousness (or at least the savvy) to apologize and retract her statement, but DeNiro has doubled down on it. And it depresses me that many people cheer him for it.
Now you can certainly argue that many, many Trump supporters, and Trump himself have said far worse and said it far more often, and point out their hypocrisy. That’s undoubtedly true. We all remember the frothing hatefests that surrounded Trumps campaign appearances. But it’s not a justification for doing the same. And it is incredibly counterproductive.
President Trump’s success was made possible, in large part, because many people saw his opponents as just as bad as he is. If all politicians and political viewpoints are corrupt, immoral and unethical, why not vote at least for the one that you think will advance your pet causes, whichever they may be? Or why vote at all, if you cannot vote for someone you respect and admire?
The cold hard facts are that political cynicism, which fuels low voter turnout, plays into the hands of conservatives and the Republican Party. They cannot win any competitive election in which there is high voter turnout. The poll numbers have said that for years, and it is even more true under Trump. That is why they work ceaselessly to depress voter turnout in any way they can. And highlighting angry, hateful speech by liberals is an important part of that campaign.
It’s absolutely not fair that one party can insult and belittle their opponents in the most vile and profane ways and pay little to no political price for it, while the other party is punished deeply for doing the same thing. That hypocrisy and imbalance makes me even more angry, and the tribalism and propaganda that make it possible deeply sadden me. I understand the desire to lash out and rage against the injustice.
But it doesn’t work. It may be cathartic, and it may satisfy those who already agree with us, but it does not impress anyone whose mind is not already made up. Rather it pushes them away. And that will doom us to failure.
I’m not saying that the outrages of the Trump Administration should be ignored. To the contrary, we must not ignore them. We must respond to and condemn each and every one of them. But we can’t lash out and use Trump’s own weapons against him. They just don’t work for us.
Anyone who has a brain and a conscience already has many reasons to oppose Trump. Adding more is fine, but unlikely to move many votes.
What is needed is not just reasons to vote against Trump and the party which spawned him and is now utterly dominated by him. What is needed are positive reasons to vote for liberals and Democrats, particularly when we get to the next presidential election.
Part of that is showing we can be better than Trump. That we can strongly oppose what he stands for without stooping to his level. That we can criticize without insulting. That we can ignore the insults made against us. That we stand for something more than just a change in who’s in charge.
So it’s time to put on our big boy and big girl pants, and give people a reason to vote for us, and not just against Trump. And part of that is proving that politics does not have to be as nasty, insulting and demeaning as it has become over the last few years.
In sports there are teams that benefit from slowing a game down, making it more physical, and from throwing their opponents “off their game” with dirty tricks. I would submit that the Republican Party of today is just such a team, and they are very, very good at it. Perhaps the best. To beat them, we need to avoid falling into their traps and engaging on their level. In sports parlance, we need to play a game that emphasizes skill and speed, instead. Policy, rationality and compassion are our best weapons. We need to bottle our anger, not be provoked, and “keep our heads in the game” to quote every coach ever.
Or we lose again.