Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Words matter

Just call me a liberal Hollywood elitist if you like, but many of the words spoken by Meryl Streep at Sunday night's Golden Globes awards ceremony resonated, expressing eloquently what I've been thinking during these last few weeks but haven't said. And wouldn't have said so well:

"There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can't get it out of my head because it wasn't in a movie. It was real life.

"And this instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose."

Somewhat earlier, a gone-viral Facebook post by Sparrow R. Jones, who blogs and writes from inside autism, had the same effect:

"I am not mad at you that Clinton lost. I am unconcerned that we have different politics. And I don’t think less of you because you vote one way and I vote another. No… I think less of you because you watched an adult mock a disabled person in front of a crowd and still supported him. I think less of you because you saw a man spouting clear racism and backed him. I think less of you because you listened to him advocate for war crimes, and still thought he should run this country. I think less of you because you watched him equate a woman’s worth to her appearance and got on board. It isn’t your politics that I find repulsive. It is your personal willingness to support racism, sexism, and cruelty. You sided with a bully when it mattered and that is something I will never forget. So, no… you and I won’t be “coming together” to move forward or whatever. Trump disgusts me, but it is the fact that he doesn’t disgust you that will stick with me long after this election."

These are uneasy times for many of us --- and there are many of us. It will pay in the long run to remember that the president-elect won the electoral vote, but lost the popular vote by some three million. The unease is shared by some who voted for Mr. Trump or who voted for others simply because they were not Secretary Clinton or who didn't vote at all.

So far as I've seen during post-election weeks, the president-elect has yet to demonstrate that he is emotionally mature enough to govern wisely --- and that's troubling. There will be wisdom issues, too, in an Iowa now governed by rightist majorities who rode in on the coat tails of the Trump victory.

This is a small town and I have friends who supported the president-elect from the outset and continued that support calmly to the ballot box --- without yelling, sharing offensive memes in the social media or demeaning others. I think they were mistaken, but bless their hearts for civility.

On the other hand, I know some who behaved in an entirely different manner and I'm uncomfortable with them now because of what I learned about them during that divisive campaign season. That's painful.

Perhaps, in the long run, we'll be able to look back and be grateful that political divisiveness of 2016 exposed elements of the rot that gnaws away at our collective underpinnings --- racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and more --- and reminded us all that these issues still require lifetimes of concerted labor by women and men of good will. Perhaps.

Through all of this, the words we use and how we use them will continue to matter.

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