Saturday, November 12, 2016

Words Matter

As we work ourselves through the rubble of a cataclysmic election which followed the most hostile campaign in modern memory, it's good to see our political leaders take a congenial, conciliatory tone. I also appreciate the sentiments of so many who cast votes for Mr. Trump in their attempts to reach out and urge that there be no hard feelings. I've personally encountered very little boasting, bragging, and insulting since the election concluded (though the news and second-hand accounts I trust tell me of some very unsettling nastiness . . . here's one from a local newspaper about racist and antisemitic ramblings at a suburban public school). 

I urge my fellow Americans to understand, though, the perspective of someone who will have a hard time moving past the rhetoric of this campaign. Though I fit the profile of a Democrat and Clinton supporter in some ways (middle or upper-middle class, college educated, employed in the public sector, member of a public sector union), and in at least one conversation recently was cast as elitist for having supported her, there are many ways in which I don't fit that mold. I entered this campaign as a registered Republican. I voted for Romney in 2012, for McCain in 2008. I had only one chance to vote against Bill Clinton and exercised it in 1996. I voted twice for George Bush. For much of my adult life I characterized myself as a conservative, but prefer the label moderate today. 

I also at first supported Jeb Bush in the Republican primaries. When he fell to the side, I looked to Marco Rubio next as the candidate I wanted. He had dropped out by the time the primaries came to Pennsylvania at which time I voted for John Kasich. And then in the general election I voted Hillary. You're reading the post of someone who is 0-4 in 2016. 

And that winless run was joyless, too. I saw Mr. Trump demean, mock really, Jeb for being "low energy." Marco? Marco wasn't man enough for Mr. Trump. Little Marco with his little hands was how that campaign ended. Kasich wasn't in the limelight long enough to be laid low by Trump's words the way the previous two were. But the mean-spiritedness hit its crescendo with Mrs. Clinton: "Lock Her Up," Crooked Hillary, "Nasty Woman" who was more dishonest and criminal than even Richard Nixon. The pattern by which he brought down this series of opponents, people I supported, was a pattern of bullying. And I draw that conclusion just from observing (not objectively, mind you) the treatment of these four opponents. 

So, words matter. In my first teaching assignment, the assistant principal often reminded us that words are a reflection of character. It was true for me early in my teaching career. It remains true for me now as a citizen, father, teacher, and friend. It's true for the politicians we look to lead (and for the politicians who look for our support). 

One of the most helpful articles I've read since the election pointed to a basic difference between those who voted for Trump vs. those who voted against. That writer said that those who cast a vote for Hillary were often casting a moral vote. Those who voted for Trump were casting a vote for survival. If such a simplification is accurate, I won't argue that one (morality or survival) is more correct than another. It depends on where one sits, I suppose. 

As a people, we will make a great mistake if words don't matter. It's important that citizens hold politicians accountable for the words and tone of their campaigns and administration. We acknowledge the bare-knuckle arena in which politics must often take place. But we must also look to those politicians to own their rhetoric, meaningfully reach out to groups that feel damaged by it, and reign in the most rabid supporters and surrogates. 

As an American I need to hope and pray that Donald Trump is a good president. I need to hope that he proves me wrong, that his promises, words, and tone from the campaign aren't as sinister or harmful as I think they are. And, at some point, I need to forgive him for the harm he caused, indirectly, to me. Forgiveness, to paraphrase a religious book I read some time ago, means I don't prevent him from doing good or being useful. Forgiveness, also, doesn't imply forgetting. It would be a mistake for us to forget as we forgive. 

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