Let’s just get this out of the way. I am 66 years old, white, male, straight and Southern in my roots. Recently I have learned that I am, ipso facto, a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, ignorant oinker.
After a lifetime of fighting any trace of these things in myself and others, it took me awhile to grasp this fact, which I now understand to be eternal and incontrovertible.
In the knowledge that I was jumping into the lions’ den, I exercised the temerity on social media to express an opinion about Rep Rashida Tlaib calling Donald Trump a “motherf*cker” in public. I thought — still think — her performance was politically stupid, unnecessary and counterproductive, switching the subject from Trump’s incivility to hers.
What I did not anticipate was the number, the voracious appetite, and in some cases the identity of the lions. Tlaib is female, of course, Muslim, and not as white as I am. Now, I’ve posted a lot of stuff on Facebook, and most of my Republican friends, unfortunately, have dropped me because I am consistently and aggressively progressive in my politics. What I got back from these posts about Tlaib was a storm of ugly criticism from those who consider themselves liberal and, in almost all cases, Democrats. It was, by miles, the most protracted and emotional outburst I’ve ever provoked.
Most of the criticism took the following forms:
- “Trump said stuff just as bad, so it’s OK.”
- “I’m hopelessly behind the times; bad language in any forum is perfectly acceptable.”
- “Women curse; get used to it.”
- Tlaib said it in a bar — where, of course, anything goes.”
- “What she said of Trump is ‘true.'”
- “You’re sexist or racist or both because you’re criticized Tlaib.”
I tried to respond. For example, I took on Trump’s vile language on Facebook long before I ever heard of Rep. Tlaib. It’s not OK in either case. You may think foul language is acceptable anywhere, but I believe civility has something to do with civilization, and I see them crumbling in tandem — not, I think, coincidentally. I know women curse. I use salty language myself, although I regret having done it in places too public. I don’t care who else uses it, with some measure of discretion. There are public houses where this kind of language is acceptable, and others where it definitely is not. In any case, Rep. Tlaib made her utterance into a microphone, with, I believe, children present. Trump certainly deserves criticism, but it needs to take more artful, less offensive forms, without ceding the high ground to his kind.
Now to that last argument, the only one that bothered me: the ad hominem attack. Racism and sexism are real, and they are terrible things. I am hardly the first to make this point, but I think It bears repeating: to accuse someone of this sort of prejudice frivolously or without solid reason to do so is harmful — mostly to the cause of justice. It is vicious name-calling of the Trump variety, and it contributes nothing to the public debate except anger. It obscures the real, vicious nature of class, race, sex and gender bias, and thus is quickly self-defeating.
I think there is such a thing as a gentleman, and, though I fail often, I try to be one. That means, among other things, that I do try not to offend people. But it’s come to this for me: I cannot avoid offending people whose exquisite sensibilities are worn on their sleeves; whose sensitive antennae are finely tuned to up-to-the-minute, abruptly banned buzzwords and quirks of language; who are incessantly poised for attack. I do not propose to try.
I will, though, continue to call out those of my own persuasion who go over the top and fall into every political trap the right-wing lays for them. Here’s the truth: you can’t decry Trump for his public indecency in 2016, and now, in 2019, say that public indecency is fine so long as it is used against the President. I will say, and I do say, that Trump is the worst president this nation has ever had. Please don’t be like him.