Provocateur and peacemaker
Monday, I scanned the news and saw that President Trump had once again blamed journalists for the divisions in America – and called us “the true enemy of America.”
In a sense, it was an advancement of my profession in the president’s eyes – the other times he’s said such things, he left out the word “true.” Anyway, here’s what I, wisely or otherwise, posted on my Facebook page:
“Three days after the alleged Democrat-hating bomber was arrested, our president once again said journalists are the enemy of the people. He truly doesn’t care that such language inspires the likes of Cesar Sayoc. Somewhere, Stalin and others are smiling.”
I wasn’t saying or even implying that Trump was responsible for Sayoc allegedly mailing pipe bombs to a dozen or so of the people or media outlets the president routinely demonizes at rallies and on Twitter. I was suggesting that using such rhetoric is dangerous, and reminding people that it’s been used by dictators such as Josef Stalin. In a country of more than 300 million people, there’s a good chance that a mentally ill Trump fan who considers himself a patriot will be emboldened to remove a few enemies of America from America.
As I might and should have guessed, my page blew up. Most chimers-in agreed that it was wrong and even dangerous for President Trump to say such things, but there were a couple of exceptions.
Someone I’ve known since grade school asked who inspired the 2017 Congressional baseball game shooter and the man arrested in early October for sending Ricin-laced letters to the Pentagon and White House. I responded that I didn’t recall any high-ranking Democrats referring to the targets as enemies of the people, but I don’t think I changed his mind. A woman I met last year declared that President Trump was the best president ever, and that shooters and bombers are responsible for their own actions. (I mostly agree with the second half of that sentence, by the way.)
The folks who agreed with me began to get into it with my grade school classmate and the other Trump fan, and I began to try to figure out how to shut the war of words down before more feelings were hurt. As I was the provocateur – sort of – I felt responsible for being the peacemaker.
After one unsuccessful appeal to get folks to put down their phones or pull their fingers off their keyboards, I wrote, “I greatly disagree with John Doe and Jane Doe (not their real names) on their judgment of President Trump. However: I’ve known John Doe since grade school, and he’s a good egg. And Jane Doe once (jump-started) my car. It’s important to not let political differences keep us from remembering that we’re all human beings and Americans.”
That seemed to settle things down just fine, though I doubt the feelings of anyone involved in the virtual debate about our president’s words were changed. Still, Jane Doe and her biggest critic wound up saying nice things about each other, and that was … nice.
So … should an arsonist (me) be rewarded for putting out a blaze he set? Probably not. However, it’s possible that some of the folks who took part in Monday’s exercise in free speech – including myself – needed a reminder that it’s possible to disagree without being disagreeable.
These days, that’s darn hard sometimes.
My feelings regarding the president’s dehumanizing language about Democrats, Muslims, Mexicans and other brown-skinned immigrants, journalists (handicapped and otherwise) and others haven’t changed. I believe it’s not only un-presidential, but damaging to America, and potentially life-threatening. I will not be surprised if a deranged person whose hatred and fear are fueled by such language one day walks into a newsroom and does terrible things to people merely trying to seek and tell the truth.
I hope I’m wrong.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to remind myself that some people feel differently, and that they don’t have to be an old classmate or jump-start my car for me to see their humanity.