My 14-year-old is quick to anger if he thinks I’ve misinterpreted something that took place on the soccer field—especially if he feels I’m criticizing a play he made. “That’s not what happened, stupid. There was a defender right behind me, and another one blocking the near side. My only shot was the far corner, and it was a bad angle. Dummy. Stupid.”
Obviously he was not brought up to say “Yes sir” and No sir.” He was third in a house with four boys, and that’s a lot of brotherly competition, and a lot of colorful language. I’m okay for now with the disrespectful words—it’s his emotions talking, and it’s also part of how we spar. And part of how he expresses his displeasure with me for having the gall to think he might have missed an easy shot.
There’s plenty of time for him (and his brothers) to learn to use respectful, civil language in their interactions with me—and with the world. I try to set an example for them, which includes choosing my own language as carefully as I can, apologizing when I do yell at them (worth apologizing for even if deserved), and admitting when I’ve been rude or insulting to someone else. And I try to teach them that other people’s apparent shortcomings and/or obnoxious behaviors may not be what they seem, that other people have anxieties and insecurities and motives you can’t possibly know about. I’m sure I have said that you can’t really judge another person’s actions until you’ve walked in their shoes.
They may not seem to be listening now, but we always hope that the messages become embedded in the subconscious for future consideration. I know that I discovered as I got older that I was remembering little bits of wisdom I had picked up from my mother and father, and other adults, including schoolteachers and ministers (I used to go to church). I’m fairly certain this is true for most of us.
So here I am in 2016, and I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen and heard so many harsh insults flying around. Civil discourse appears to be at an all-time low.
The reasons for this, presumably, are the uniquely bitter and polarizing election season, and the seemingly never-ending American tragedy of police killing unarmed black men. I also believe there is a backstory in the increasingly partisan, hostile, and truth-twisting media climate spawned by the likes of Fox News, but … I’m not going there today.
Today, I want to talk specifically about Donald Trump, his supporters, and their detractors.
You want to insult Donald Trump? Go for it. He deserves it. He’s practically begging us to do it. Call him a racist, call him a misogynist, call him a bully, call him a liar, call him a loudmouthed dick. He is publicly and proudly all of these things. And he flings insults like nobody else. And he is running for president.
By the way, I am now fully behind Hillary Clinton for president (I wasn’t always). So I have plenty of common ground with my friends and fellow supporters who agree that she is smart, competent, hard-working, and perhaps the best-qualified (in terms of experience) presidential candidate of all time.
Here is where we differ. Many of you, on Facebook and elsewhere, frequently refer to Donald Trump’s supporters with words like stupid, ignorant, backward, racist, misogynist, loutish, redneck, hate-filled, white trash, and so on. You cannot believe any intelligent, educated, respectable person would vote for Trump, and you seem to view those who say they would as inferior human beings.
This is where I get off the bus.
Now, if a Trump enthusiast says something rude to you (in person, on Facebook, wherever), and you’re just responding in kind to someone you take for an idiot, I get it—but you might do well to look up what Mark Twain said about arguing with a fool.
I can’t claim to know much about Trump supporters, but I do know a couple of things. Contrary to what some people would like to think, there are intelligent, educated people out there who identify as Republicans and/or conservatives and say they are voting for Trump. I know a few of them. Typically they hate Hillary Clinton, and they will not be convinced that she isn’t a far worse alternative than Trump. And typically they would have preferred a different Republican nominee, but they’re not going to waste their vote on Gary Johnson when there is a Hillary to be stopped. Besides, once the shouting is over and Trump takes office, who’s to say he can’t be persuaded to pursue an acceptable conservative agenda? It may take a certain amount of rationalization for them to overlook Trump’s more outlandish statements and behaviors, but, well, that’s what people do. At the end of the day, they have a right to their own conclusions.
As for some of Trump’s other supporters—the ones who proudly carried him through the primaries, waving their guns and Confederate flags and “All Lives Matter” posters—I don’t think I know many of them at all. And yes, the items I just mentioned create a broad caricature, but just to be clear, we’re talking about Trump’s far-right base, the voters whose beliefs are considered ugly and primitive by educated Northeast liberals. The beliefs that place them in that lovely little basket marked “Deplorables.”
Not that “deplorable” isn’t a good word for the racial intolerance Trump has nurtured and validated among his supporters. But I think a little perspective is in order; this is not the first time in American history that people who fear they are becoming marginalized and replaced by immigrants who look and speak differently have manifested that fear as hatred and intolerance. This is not something for any of us to be proud of. It is something to overcome—as we have done in the past.
Again, I doubt I know many of the Trump supporters who cheer his bullying and bigotry. And that’s my point. I don’t know their lives and experiences. I don’t know their parents or children or friends or what they were taught in school. I don’t know where they work, or if they are having trouble finding work. I don’t know their motivations and struggles and anxieties and fears. And I don’t know what common ground we share, but I do know that we share a common humanity.
Getting to know people I disagree with on issues almost always changes my perspective on who they are and how they arrived at their beliefs—as I hope it does for them. Without this perspective, I really don’t know who they are. And unless they’re public figures spewing their ignorance and hate at the world, I choose not to insult people I don’t know.
And I would like my children to grow up in a society more civil than the one we have today, though we’d have to reverse the current course pretty soon—like after Donald Trump blows over. Actually, he could be our wake-up call.
Did I just see Michelle Obama and George W. Bush hugging? So maybe there’s hope after all …
Copyright 2016 Stephen Leon