Politeness, Political Discourse, Debate—Hyperbole or Prophecy?

July 21, 2016

I hope conservative friends will read what I write here with an open mind. I don’t write this to anger anyone but to explain, invite conversation and purge my mind of a few clamoring thoughts. I’ve seen numerous posts this morning from some of you, many of you moderate pastors, who are inviting a calm and even-handed look at the current election from and for both sides due to the anger you see from both sides in your daily feed.

This is easily the most volatile election of my lifetime. Though each election since I was old enough to vote has grown increasingly volatile this one easily takes the cake. With the stakes so high, the media so loud, and the sides so split there is little room for conversation in any fruitful manner.

I remember growing up and debating issues whether religious, political or pop culture. One of the most formative voices in my youth was a Sunday school teacher who was the father of my best friend. He and I argued week in and out in Sunday school because even at 12 I was beginning to have different views than much of what I heard at my  church. Despite this we were always friendly and though it was in his nature to tease me, he was always respectful in our disagreements. He was also my first boss and when we argued there it was also respectful. Through high school, college, grad school and beyond, debating issues was simply something I did. To this day I have great friends and loved ones who disagree with me on some pretty huge issues (is there a God, is Bruce Springsteen the best American rock star of all time) but we remain friends.

I don’t have to agree with you to love you. Heck, I don’t have to agree with you to like you. I like voices that challenge me, so long as they do so in a way that is informed, engaged and caring. Disagreeing and constructively debating began to slip away from public discourse, at least in my life, right around the time Obama closed in on the White House.  Whereas one of my favorite professors (a Republican) tried to console me in my under-grad years as I moped after W.’s re-election, after Obama’s victory I found coworkers and acquaintances who made it clear they would rather I shut up that I even cared for the new President whenever they made a negative comment. Even discussing the issues leading up to that election was fraught—I had always found even-toned, fact-based discourse to be an appropriate manner of discussing politics but that began to fade in 2008.

I have moved around a lot but I always wind up in predominantly conservative areas. The area I live in today is governed by some of the most conservative tea-party House members around yet their opponents are running against them on a platform that insists they are the true conservatives. Everyone tries to out-conservative each other here. As a result, and particularly because I’ve found fact-based debate to be frowned upon, I do not generally mention my political opinions in public places especially if it may in any way be seen as associated with my vocation or company. This however is a favor that is rarely returned. Just as most liberal friends consistently recount that when they attempt to leave politics away from the dinner table there is always a conservative uncle or two who insists on muttering “I hate Obama” out of nowhere, it is also common for conservatives to announce uninvited and out of context their often hateful political exhortations at business meetings, town hall meetings, church meetings (etc). Early in my tenure living and working in my new community I was at a community event where out of nowhere a guest speaker began shouting fairly vile and ultra-partisan political and religious opinions into the microphone inviting those who disagreed to “get the hell out of this country”. He was applauded.

Watching this week’s RNC has been frightening to me but I must be a sucker for punishment that goes beyond my political junky tendencies. I’ve read and studied politics and American history for much of my life and have increased that as of late but I know most of us do not vote based on study or rationale. Most of us vote on pure emotion or personal fear related to our own specific life situation. This can make debating politics, especially in the volatile schism we now find ourselves in, fraught with tension. But I want to tell you, especially if you are a conservative friend or loved one of mine, why I am scared and why I find this election different than any previous election I have witnessed in my life or am aware of in modern history. I invite you to consider these fears and give me your own in the comments. If we can at least acknowledge each other’s points maybe we won’t demonize each other.  Furthermore, if we can at least try to consider each other’s points in a rational manner we may find common ground and understanding.

So why do I find this election different, why does it scare me? Though I disagreed with the policies and politics of George W. Bush and voted against him, I found debate was possible on his presidency and could understand why someone did or did not support him. The same thing goes for McCain and Romney.  So why do I find Trump so different, so scary, and (in my opinion) so dangerous?

  1. Trump has made inflammatory and aggressive statements against many populations including Hispanics, Muslims, and women.

No, you are not a racist simply because you vote for Trump. I can’t even unequivocally label Trump himself a racist as for all I know he is playing George Wallace style politics by utilizing the dangerous fuel of racism to tap into votes while not actually being racist. Furthermore, I don’t deny you can hold contrary opinions on immigration reform, inter-religious relations or the role of religious extremism in terrorism without being racist, xenophobic or bigoted. I understand that once the insult of “bigot” is thrown out many conservatives feel that debate is closed. Yet you can admit that at least SOME of what Trump has said at rallies to thunderous applause does come off as prejudiced, does hurt many groups of people and can very well do lasting damage on the relations between different groups in America and between America and other countries.  There is after all at least some reason that Trump is polling at a 0% approval rating among African American voters in the city where the RNC (Cleveland) is taking place and that his approval rating among American Muslims and Hispanic-Americans is not much better. His history and remarks on women as human beings has resulted in historic lows in his approval rating among women (even Republican women). At perhaps the most critical time for race-relations, religious interaction and population diversification since the 1960s statements and policies that fan the flames of discontent are doubly dangerous.

  1. Trump openly supports torture, praises the actions of dictators, and pledges the type of military policies that will increase violence and animosity particularly in volatile areas of the Middle East.

If we believe in human rights as we should and as we expect other countries to, we must reject all uses of torture.

  1. Trump denies climate science.

Trump would be the only world leader to openly deny global warming. For some, especially conservatives, this seems a minor issue as even if they don’t themselves outright deny the existence of global warming they do not accept that human action has much to do with it or that it is as bad as is said. In many ways, this is the scariest part of Trump’s platform because there is overwhelming scientific consensus that not only is global warming real and exacerbated by human actions, it is nearing the tipping point of no turning back. We are on pace to reach a mean global temperature 4 degrees warmer than preindustrial levels by the end of this century—which will cause flooding of all coastal cities, astronomic levels of malnutrition and food/clean water shortages around the globe particularly in poor countries, violent heat waves, increased cyclones and the disappearance of the coral reef system.  What this means is, that without significant policy changes babies born today who live a normal life expectancy will have to live through the dangerous and violent affects of global climate change and population shifts. We current young adults may be the last living generation fortunate enough to daily function on a relatively normal basis with the ability (all other factors allowing) to go to the beach for vacation, turn on the tap for clean water, eat a balanced meal a day, etc.  Yet we know what causes global warming—the largest human contributor is the burning of fossil fuels particularly coal but also oil and to a lesser degree natural gas. We’re all in this together and all bear responsibility because every nugget of coal we burn and every tank of gas we run through pumps carbon into the atmosphere, adds to the greenhouse effect, melts polar ice caps and heats up the mean temperature. So rather than point fingers we have to admit our culpability for the sake of future generations and begin making the shift, from coal to less aggressive fuel sources to ultimately clean fuel sources. Trump does not admit this; in fact his platform has re-written science to say “coal is clean” in defiance of all scientific data. Of course there are economic concerns tied to the shift that MUST be addressed but the time is running out to make those shifts if we want to preserve this planet as livable for future humans and animals. I come from coal country with family members going back generations who have depended on the coal industry to earn a living, but just as miners fought the coal industry when the company store exploited them economically and when the management killed them through lack of safety regulation producing the most vibrant union in worker history, today’s miners and the connected industry must be just as strong in making adaptations, acquiring training and demanding proper stimulus packages to revitalize their local economies– and the rest of us interested in a livable future must fight this battle with them if we truly believe in economic justice as a platform and that no one is left on their own. Regardless, if changes are not made within the next 4 years it may be too late for any future generations. Trump could be the nail in the coffin of this earth even if he keeps his hands off the nuclear button.

  1. Trump is post-factual

Facts do not matter to Trump. If caught in a lie or an inconsistency he doubles down and never apologizes. He does not offer examples of how he will concretely pursue his goals. He plays on fears, prejudices and irrational thoughts to emotionally stir up his crowd which has included physically assaulting those who protest, encouraging shouts of slurs toward his opponents, and dangerously misrepresenting the actions and positions of those who run against him. If we cannot debate Trump’s policies with facts and if those who support Trump reject all facts as liberal bias, if history, science, and political theory are all thrown out as useless how does Trump build anything of use and how do we as a people have any say in how it is constructed? How do we have constructive debate to find ways to truly better this country if we can’t agree to acknowledge reality?

….and here’s where I lose some of you (if I haven’t already) with what you no doubt will call hyperbole. This is the crux of my argument and the reason I find it difficult to compare this campaign to any previous campaign I’ve lived through. Too many have cried wolf over the years to make the comparison seem anything but overblown no matter who we’re talking about but unfortunately Trump is that candidate that comes around so rarely that this comparison (scarily) may very well be apt—when Hitler began his rise to power it was just “politics” too. He scapegoated the Jews, stoked economic fears that the Jews were stealing the jobs of good Germans and controlled the economy, labeled the “others” as threats to national security and he proudly proclaimed he would make Germany live up to its glorious past again. In hindsight it’s easy to condemn those that allowed Hitler to happen in the face of genocide and removed by time. But it was average, everyday people, those who supported Hitler AND those who simply refused to actively oppose him that allowed him to rise to power. Trump talks of building a wall, of deporting Mexicans who are mostly “rapists and criminals”, of profiling and barring Muslims from entry into the country, of closing our borders to suffering refugees, of using torture to enforce American military goals. Trump is not an acceptable candidate. His policies are past the pale, they cross the line from an area where we can civilly discuss political issues into an area that is scary, violent, false and damaging. How am I to be quiet of this if I am to live up to what I know is right? I may no longer be a religious person but my lifelong study of it and its heroes has instilled in me a desire to see peace and justice reign. If I don’t speak truth as I see it and invite others into conversation to clarify the danger as I see it then how will I decry the misery Trump inflicts if he becomes President? Is vocally opposing him now prophetic in the truest sense of the word or is it hyperbolic?

I work with, live around, do business with, am friend and family to, like and love people who disagree with me on many, many issues. That is fine. That is life and the way it should be. I am sure I am connected to people who I care about that will vote for Trump in the fall and I wager that most (if not all) of them will do so out of deep aversion to the alternative. I could write a lot about why I support Hillary regardless of Trump but I could also offer plenty of my own critique of her politics as well. I feel we can debate her policies but I don’t see how we can debate Trump’s as his all rely on emotion in a post-factual world. I invite you, if you are so inclined, to tell me (if you fear) why you fear Hillary in the way I have told you my fears of Trump. What damage do you see imminent in a presidency of hers? Does it outweigh the potential damage of a Trump presidency? Are my fears listed above invalid in your opinion? If so, what about them reads false? I honestly welcome your discussion so long as you are civil. Thank you.

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One Response to “Politeness, Political Discourse, Debate—Hyperbole or Prophecy?”

  1. […] a brief follow-up to my last piece which called for discussion with those who support Trump on the fears many of us have of …, here is my evaluation of the most common pro-Trump sentiments I’ve read and heard from moderate […]

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