Smear the “Other”

December 9, 2015

fightHad a flashback to grade school today.

I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade. We were on the playground for recess. We started to play a game. I don’t remember us giving it a name. Maybe my memory fails me, maybe I’m just blocking it. If we did give it a name, that name was surely “Smear the Queer”. You know the game – you were a kid once. The leaders of the gang would call out someone’s name, and the mob would chase them, and of course the mob would catch them, because a mob does. They were pushed down, roughed up. As I recall (maybe I’m blocking), no one was really hurt. Their feelings were hurt, definitely. I do remember tears. And then they’d leave the playground, and a new name was shouted, and the whole thing repeated.

I joined in. I was part of the mob. It felt good. I was a nerdy little kid, painfully shy, and almost always on the outside of things. I certainly wasn’t one of the “cool” kids. But this time I was. I remember it feeling good, being part of the mob. Powerful. On top.

And then a light bulb went on in my little head. I realized that every time the mob was done with one person, there were tears, and then that person left the playground. The mob turned to someone else. We were not a big group (I grew up in a very small town). I figured out that my number was coming up. Once you’ve got a mob, you have to have a target. Even at that young age, I had a pretty well-developed sense of self-preservation. Being the nerdy shy kid, you have to develop those skills. So I left the playground, before the target was me.

Fast forward nearly 40 years, and I’m watching the exact same game play out in a freaking Presidential race. Trump’s recent announcement that he would bar Muslims from entering the U.S. and maybe, just maybe, consider internment is just the latest asinine idea to come out of his mouth. From mention of “rapists and murders” from south of the border, to Obama birtherism, Trump’s is a campaign built entirely on fear of “the other.”

But we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking this is a Trump problem. This problem spans virtually all the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Whether it’s Ben Carson suggesting that every visitor to this country be “monitored”, or Ted Cruz submitting a bill that makes it legal for states to turn away refugees, the entire party leadership is catering to this hatred. A recent poll showed that 76% (!!!) of Republicans believe we’re allowing too many Middle Easterners to legally immigrate (Democrats come in at a still-worrying 39%). I’d truly be amazed if 10% of those people could accurately report just how many immigrants we allow. So maybe it’s a safe bet – maybe a fearful mob is the most powerful force in American politics.

Most telling, I think, is the reaction of other Republican leaders to Trump’s outrageous plan to bar Muslims from our country. Nearly across the board, rejections of Trump were boilerplate and fairly moderate, considering the extremism of the suggestion. Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, House Speaker, denounced Trump nicely by saying “This is not conservatism.” But is he right about that? If the majority of people in your party are supporting candidates that espouse similar views, is that not what your party is made of? Ryan went on to say that he would, of course, support his party’s nominee for President. He knows full well that Trump may be the nominee, and he’ll continue to support him even if he continues with this vile suggestion? So really? “This is not conservatism?” Does party loyalty rule all?

I am sad for my country. I am sad that so many people in this country are so overcome with fear that they’re willing to toss out even the most basic human decency. I am sad that our Presidential race has become a contest to see who can belittle “the other” and generate more fear in the name of votes. I am sad that so few in our country can see any connection between our own military campaigns in the Middle East, including non-stop drone assassinations, and the current threats facing the world today. And I am angry that we’re acting like a childhood playground mob. I managed to figure out the harm in that when I was 8 years old. When will this country figure it out?

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