January 11, 2016
This is America, so we’re all allowed to support or oppose whomever we want in the political world.
It’s part of a lifeblood that has long made this country great. It’s also part of what disturbed me so much about the latest in an increasingly long list of acrid scenes caught on video at rallies for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (see here, here and here).
When much of the social-media world was sharing tributes to the late David Bowie on Monday morning – a great loss, to be sure – I was fixated on a Boston.com story from a Jan. 4 rally in Lowell, Massachusetts. In it, a pair of attendees was escorted out of the building after a confrontation arose over their “America Is Already Great” and “God Bless President Obama” signs.
In and of themselves, these messages aren’t offensive.
Well, they weren’t until Trump rallies turned into something that resembles scenes from an “Idiocracy: Beyond Thunderdome” mashup.
Here's an excerpt from that story:
“You’re at a Trump rally? Ditch those. Ditch ’em,” says the man sitting in front, before he reaches back and rips a piece of the sign off.
Other Trump supporters follow suit, tearing apart the two men’s signs while the section chants, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“Friend or foe, I don’t know,” Trump can be heard saying in the background, having taken notice of the skirmish.
Shortly thereafter, security arrives at the seats, informing the two men to leave. After a brief discussion, they are escorted out, as the crowd chants “U.S.A.”
Let’s unpack this latest example of Trump-rally ejections for a moment:
Phase One: Two people who apparently don’t support Trump were confronted at a rally for someone seeking to run in an election where Americans are free to support whichever candidate they like.
Phase Two: Instead of engaging in an intelligent, issues-based discussion with the interlopers, their foes ripped up their signs and had them removed with the apparent blessing of the man with a microphone on stage.
Phase Three: The crowd chants as if these actions are a robust defense of liberty. The underlying premise: If you don't like him, leave and don't ever come back.
Well, if I can steal a line from people backing a man who filed for bankruptcy protection in Atlantic City one more time than he’s gotten divorced: I want my America back.
When did our splintered hiveminded-ness devolve into a state of paranoid war-footing?
What does it mean when supporters of the Republican field’s frontrunner resort to taunting, violence and removing opposing views from eye- and earshot rather than engaging in discussion about the merits of their political views?
More importantly, is it possible to even attempt to answer these questions in a way that doesn’t provoke confrontation?
I’m starting to think the answer to that last question is an unequivocal "no," for that’s how wide the mental gap has widened.
We could once write it off to ideological differences, but not anymore. That would oversimplify the chasm created when one side eschews fact-based arguments for the visceral rush that comes with shouting everyone else down.
Make no mistake about it: This dynamic extends well beyond a singular political campaign.
We have let it become steeped in most facets of societal conversation from big-picture issues like Black vs. All vs. Blue Lives Matter and immigration to localized flare-ups like, say, Mummers Parades past vs. present vs. future.
If people don’t even acknowledge the facts of the other side’s argument, it becomes an M.C. Escherian image of never-ending entanglement. So, why even engage in the conversation in the first place?
These are important questions to consider as a nation approaches a primary and caucus season to decide who’ll be the next leader of the free world. If things continue along the same path, we’ll be more fractured, angry and – dare I say – dangerous than ever before. One thing America won't be is great.
I’ve already drawn a line in the Facebook sand – Encourage shutting down opposing views? Not a “friend” of mine – which may seem counterintuitive, but desperate times call for outspoken measures.
There’s too much at stake for things to continue along the path they’re currently on, so something has to give.
Maybe a good place to start is admitting that America was built on collaboration, but only after dissenting opinions were considered thoughtfully. (And, yes, this will be difficult for me, too.)
If we're not willing to do even that, the country will never be as great as it once was.