Monday, December 5, 2016

Trying to Talk to Trump Supporters



Folks, I know I have not posted on this blog in a long time, and I apologize. The reasons are complex.

In any case, I am posting here an account of an encounter I had on Facebook. I don't mention Poland once in this essay, but astute readers will understand why I post this here, as well as on my other blog, Save Send Delete. 

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I read a post from a friend. I felt like I was reading someone else's vomit. I walked away from the computer and tried to forget. I knew if I responded I would not be heard. I knew if I responded I risked hurting someone. I knew that someone had already hurt me, and nothing would erase that post from my memory. Even as I tried to forget the post, a reply kept formulating itself in my head. The post, and its hate, were a puzzle. I was compelled to piece its disparate parts into a pattern in order to make better sense of the world I suddenly found myself inhabiting. The post was a diabolical labyrinth constructed of words; I need to craft my escape, marshalling my own words.

A woman for whom I feel genuine affection and respect re-posted a thousand-word rant by "Mark."

Mark was excoriating anyone who criticized Donald J. Trump. Trump's critics, Mark insisted, were intolerant, convulsive, tyrannical, dictatorial, reactionary, insidious, pablum-feeding lapdogs of left-wing academics and little snowflake students who are crippled by anxiety when viewing the American flag and therefore outlaw its display. These teachers and students want to force America into a homogenized, contrived, politically correct image. These inflammatory words are all Mark's, taken directly from his rant. The rant took special exception to any comparison of Trump to Hitler.

Mark identified the populations to blame for turning America into a dystopian nightmare: teachers, students and the press. He named no other individual or group as guilty. Not Bernie Madoff. Not Wall Street and the 2008 crash. Not drug dealers and the heroin epidemic. Not mass shootings like Newtown or absentee fathers or misguided wars or lead-polluted water or income inequality or Kim Kardashian. No. Just teachers. Just students.

One response to Mark's screed made mention of how Trump would protect America from "dangerous immigrants."

Nowhere in the screed did Mark mention by name any real critic of Donald Trump. Mark never cited a single article critiquing Donald Trump. Mark never quoted a single real teacher or a single real student or one real immigrant.

Mark said that leftists say that Trump is exactly like Hitler. Mark seemed to find it important to insist that Trump would never murder tens of millions of civilians.

I haven't seen any serious commentary by a significant journalist or other public figure saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler, and no serious critique suggests that Trump will murder tens of millions of civilians.

Clearly, Mark was not talking about real opponents.

Clearly, Mark was condemning the monsters plotting under his bed, the gremlins slithering through his nightmares, the worst possible imaginings of alt-right conspiracy theorists. He located all of America's enemies in classrooms and in media.

Mark's hatred of teachers and students reminded me of some great dialogue from Ship of Fools.

Siegfried Rieber: You know it is a historical fact that the Jews are the basis of all our misfortunes.
Julius Lowenthal: Of course it is. The Jews and the bicycle riders.
Siegfried Rieber: Why the bicycle riders?
Julius Lowenthal: Why the Jews?

Why the teachers? The students? The immigrants?

Mark was shadow-boxing a caricature of a fantasy of a right-wing man who hates students and teachers and people who didn't vote for Donald Trump.

This ritual erection and defeat of straw men, constant in Team Trump rhetoric, matters.

Straw men, imaginary enemies, stereotypes rather than flesh-and-blood persons: these are what you encounter in the Malleus Maleficarum, The Witches' Hammer, the go-to manual for witch hunters. You encounter straw men in the transcripts of Stalinist show trials, in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion: in propaganda that panders to and reflects the fears of the paranoid or merely misanthropic. Lies crafted to stir up hatred and make any reconciliation or even mere respect impossible litter propaganda.

Ethics require that we encounter real persons. Civics require that we encounter real persons. Truth requires this encounter. Solving problems requires it. Friendship is impossible without this encounter, as is compassion. You must encounter the person in front of you, not your imaginings about that person. Ecce homo. Behold the man. Not the man your imagination dreamt up – the man God created.

I wondered if Mark had ever entered a university classroom, or met a teacher or a student. I wanted Mark and my Facebook friend who shared Mark's screed to come to my classroom, to meet me as a teacher, as a child of immigrants, to meet my students. Flesh and blood. Real people.

Would they call me a "dangerous immigrant" to my face? Would they mock my students as "special snowflakes" to their young faces?

Would Mark look me right in my big blue eyes and call me a convulsing, tyrannical, dictatorial, concentration-camp-capo wannabe?

Why would Mark, a successful person, a published author, lie like this? Fantasize like this?  Catastrophize like this? And, at a moment of national tension, work to stir up hatred against his fellow citizens?

Why?

More on this question, below. Because I think I've found the answer, and it's probably not what you think. And you can tell me if I have it wrong.

Look, I said. No serious person is saying that Trump is exactly like Hitler.

But responsible people have pointed out that Trump is a demagogue, that he plays some of the same devious games that all demagogues, including Hitler, play.  

Patriots need to address this:  

The ADL report on the unprecedented flow of hate during the Trump campaign. See here: http://www.adl.org/assets/pdf/press-center/CR_4862_Journalism-Task-Force_v2.pdf

Teachers report an increase in bullying at schools, bullying overtly inspired by Trump, e.g., "Trump is going to throw you over the wall." "Trump that bitch" is now a phrase. Students shout "Hail Trump" or merely "Trump, Trump" when harassing others. See here https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Frank Navarro, a 1997 Mandel Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and a teacher with forty years' experience, pointed out some parallels between Trump and Hitler. And was promptly told he had to stop teaching.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/11/14/a-holocaust-scholar-compared-donald-trump-to-hitler-his-high-school-placed-him-on-leave/?utm_term=.aa22dc854180I

Two-hundred fifty Jewish scholars, on November 15, 2016, released an agonized statement. They wrote

"As scholars of Jewish history, we are acutely attuned to the fragility of democracies and the consequences for minorities when democracies fail to live up to their highest principles … in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory, it is time to re-evaluate where the country stands. The election campaign was marked by unprecedented expressions of racial, ethnic, gender-based, and religious hatred."

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/jewish_historians_speak_out_on_the_election_of_donald_trump

I mentioned celebrated Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt's stating that Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon was "a game-changer" in how decent people address bigotry.  


Facebook friend Otto Gross also felt compelled to speak up. Otto's essay "Ripples of Sin" describes growing up with parents who had been Nazis. His perspective is wise, unique, and worthy of respect. (Otto's essay here: http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2011/12/ripples-of-sin.html)

In response to our posts, Otto and I were called "presumptuous" "rotting," "corrupt," "anti-intellectual," "profoundly ignorant," and "violently anti-Semitic" "leftists." We "denigrated" the actual suffering of Jews in order to express "annoyance" at a "politician." We were told we had contributed to the "devolution" of the conversation, like drunks at a bar. We were "separate" from real "working class Americans" who would reject us like the deviants that we are.

We were told that we had just "called your fellow Americans Nazis" and that we had just said that "Trump is Hitler."

We had never called anyone a Nazi. We had not said that Trump was Hitler. Otto laughed at being called a "leftist." He's never voted for a Democrat in his life.

Working class? My father was a coal miner. My mother cleaned houses. Otto's father was a metal worker. His mother did farm labor. I have worked as a nurse's aide, carpenter, and live-in domestic servant. Otto has pumped gas and mopped up hospital waste.

The Facebook posters shouting at us that we are not "working class" live lives of wealth, power, and influence.

These objective facts made no difference to Team Trump. Team Trump was doing what Team Trump does: obstinately erecting and strenuously demonizing a completely imaginary straw man.

They could work up fuming outrage to condemn Otto and me, people who posed no threat to them, but could not even acknowledge the hundreds of hate crimes that spiked directly after Trump's election. (See here: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/18/update-incidents-hateful-harassment-election-day-now-number-701).

I threw in the towel and retreated. My friend was choosing a fact-free world in which I, a teacher and a child of immigrants, was the ogre.

Then something odd happened.

A couple of the participants communicated to me, in public and in private, virtual resumes.

In one follow-up, thousand-word post, the poster used the word "I," "me," and "my" fifty times: "I've done this, this, and this. I have this and this accomplishment. I have done all these important things! I have been well-assessed! I am a good person!"

I was confused. All of this "I" stuff struck me as complete non-sequiturs. Weren't we talking about the Big Picture? About our nation, the United States of America?

And then it hit me.

People who voted for Trump feel shamed. It's a stigma, a taint.

Those who feel shamed are doing two things:

First, they discredit those who note Trump's flaws as beyond the pale – as drunks, as extreme leftists, insidious, special snowflakes, anti-American, elitist. We are so bad our perceptions are worthless.

And they must distort any criticism of Trump into a parody – "You are saying that Trump is just like Hitler! That's ridiculous! Trump will never murder millions!"

When you distort critiques of Trump that badly, he comes out looking relatively good. "Hey! He'll never murder millions so he must be an okay guy!"

As a teacher, I struggle to play my part in keeping the American dream alive. That's why I keep trying to talk to Trump voters. So far, though, I have gotten nowhere. The Team Trump trademark post-truth approach pulverizes language and drives us all lightyears apart.

Mostly what I encounter are logical fallacies.

Ad hominem: "You are an insidious leftist."

Change the subject: "Hillary Clinton is Satan."

Outright lies. "Trump won in a landslide. The votes for Hillary Clinton were illegal. Hillary Clinton murdered JFK Jr!"

Now that Trump has won, it appears to be important to Team Trump to reduce all of us who didn't vote for Trump to a marginally inhuman status, and to dismiss any criticism of him as extremist violations of Godwin's Law.


I'm worried for my country. 

12 comments:

  1. Regardless of how we may feel about the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election, it seems to me that this blogspot is an exercise in selective indignation. There is no mention of all the vile hatred that emanated, and still emanates, from the political Left.

    There is also no mention of the hatred that is consistently directed at Poles--by the Holocaust establishment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jan, Danusha and all This election seems to have caused a lot of division and hatred, and I have seen people on both sides saying hateful things about"the other". It is depressingly like the Brexit/Bremain referendum in the UK - very divisive, lots of hatred and contempt from one side to the other(from people on both sides). Not of course from everyone. But there is more than enough of it.

      We have had plenty of firm but gentle reminders in the congregation to stay out of it and take no sides.

      But talking about the hatred directed at Poles - there is an interesting and almost perfect bit of Bieganski-ing in this blogpost:

      http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/my-trip-to-poland/?fb_comment_id=1227108720647704_1301333646558544&comment_id=1301301809895061&reply_comment_id=1301333646558544#f2495dc2822bb44

      Rich Brownstein begins this way:

      "I had the privilege of staffing a Young Judaea trip to Poland, traveling with 28 remarkable North American gap-year students. During the trip, I posted some pictures at three death camps captioned somewhat cynically, believing that my innate contempt for Poland was universal, needing no commentary. So I was surprised when a colleague at Yad Vashem suggested that I be less sardonic and more specific about my observations. But first, a parable and some background before I get into the specifics of the trip."

      Innate contempt for Poland. Universal. Needing no commentary. Its a keeper - for those who think we are imagining or exaggerating the issues. And a classic, in that all this "untering" is going on in an article about remembering and learning from the Holocaust... its beyond satire really.

      I have commented a couple of times below - politely of course.

      The world is full of hatred and violence it seems. All I can say is stand firm, and remember Psalm 37, which contains the perfect advice for dealing with it without being shaped by it.

      Delete
    2. I have no words to describe what I read in that article. Somebody let him publish that?

      Chris Helinsky

      Delete
    3. Hello,

      I've read that article. I will make a post about it tomorrow. Today I will only clear up a few things.

      Public toilets are in town Oświęcim, not in Auschwitz camp. The cost to use those toilets is 50 groszy (not 50 dollars). It's 12 cents.
      http://www.oswiecimskie24.pl/newsy,9787-oswiecim-oswiecim--toaleta-publiczna-otwarta-od-jutra

      Soil mixed with ashes in Majdanek monument are protected from forces of nature with sodium silicate.

      Author whines that Jews in Poland are not considered Poles. Well, my current Jewish countrymen are Poles.
      Thank God. Finally.
      Majority of previous generation was Jewish, just Jewish and nothing but Jewish. Not only they were not Poles, but they did everything to avoid becoming Poles.
      Mr. Brownstein should visit Mea Shearim with an Israeli flag-cape. Local nothing-but-Jews will surely give him a warm welcome.

      P.S.
      I have finished reading Bieganski the book.

      Delete
  2. Thank you, Sue, for this article. I have now read it in the original. Since this blogspot is about hatred, it is a perfect choice.

    The article features the same-old, standard Jewish Polonophobia. However, at least the author is candid about the the fact that he is deeply prejudiced against Poles. Not many Polonophobes are this honest.

    You may be interested in the case of Shimon Redlich, a Holocaust survivor and Holocaust scholar. He is the exception that proves the rule. He openly spoke out against what HE called the widespread tendency of Jews to shift blame, for the Holocaust, from the Germans to the Poles. For telling the truth, he caught tremendous flak from the Holocaust establishment and the Israeli media! To read more about this, please click on my name in this specific posting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Its a classic of its kind Jan! And that was good of Shimon Redlich - an honest man. And brave. There is someone under the comments on the hateful blog post, also Jewish, who protests this shifting of blame. I can't remember his name, but I posted a Thank you to him.

      The important thing though is not to be shaped by "the world" and its hatreds. So I come back to Psalm 37 - and the rescue it promises that is so close at hand. So please don't let any of this worry or upset you too much.

      And thanks for all the work you do. As I say in my comment on the blogpost, it can seem like trying bail out The Titantic with only a plastic teaspoon, but while we have our teaspoons, why not have a go?



      Delete
  3. We interrupt this programme to wish everyone a Happy Christmas (even my ideological adversaries). Have a great 2017!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fie on Christmas! Fie on you running dog capitalist swine! Long live the Revolution!

      Further, Sue don't celebrate no stinkin' infidel Christmas!

      (It's an attempt at humor, people, based on Michal's comment, above, about ideological enemies.)

      Delete
    2. You all behave yourselves now, or else Santa won't bring you anything--except for a darn lump of coal, or KIJE-SAMOBIJE (robotic sticks that spank you of their own accord).

      Delete
    3. Hello,

      I wanted to write more about that article, but for the sake of holiday spirit I will write no more about that sanctimonious rubbish.

      Merry Christmas Everyone and Happy New Year!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tU5Rnd-HM6A

      Delete
    4. Lukasz I look forward to what you write when you feel up to it.

      Delete
    5. Some other day. When I chill out.
      At first I wanted to write an emotional rant.
      Bad time. Bad idea.
      It's better to cool down. And gather arguments.

      One thing keeps bugging me. Was Mr. Brownstein forced to tighten up his toches in Oświęcim?
      I wonder.

      Delete

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