Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Horrific Downward Spiral of Normalized Bigotry

A lot of people out there are wondering how we got to Trump. How did we manage to end up as a country where 40% of our citizens are willing and even eager to vote for this awful man who is in every category woefully unqualified to be President yet is able to carry on his candidacy based purely on hateful rhetoric? Everyone knows he's a liar. Everyone knows he's said and done terrible things. But a large chuck of the population doesn't care, thinks he's right in his beliefs, and even likes him more for his bigotry, lying, and blowhardedness.

The other day I read an article in which the author interviewed a Trump supporter, and he said that in Russia, protesters are hit with tear gas right away, before things ever have a chance to get violent. The police attack them for protesting. This man said that things should be done this way in the U.S. When the author reminded him that this is against the U.S. Constitution, the Trump supporter replied with "so?"

How did we get to a country where not only do many people not see that we're hurtling toward fascism, but some of us actually want it? Trump supporters are practically begging for fascism - for the imprisonment of Trump's enemies, state-sanctioned violence against protesters, and the oppression of journalists. They actively support all of these things, which are clear hallmarks of fascism. I bet if confronted with this, many of them would outright say that fascism isn't so bad!

At the same time, people are already starting to lament the clear damage that Trump has done to this nation and beyond. Whether or not he's elected president, and even though he almost certainly won't be at this point, the damage of his campaign has already been done and can be seen throughout our society. How can this be?

There are a lot of answers to these questions, and a lot of people theorizing on this. You can look back through history for clues. But the thing I want to point to is the undeniable effect of words. Of rhetoric. I've talked about this before, and as the years have gone by, it's only become more apparent. Words matter. Words harm. Words can in fact do far more harm than any fist ever could. I think people generally know this and will readily acknowledge it under the right circumstances, but criticize their own words or that of someone they identify with and they go right back to "it's just words!"

It's not just words. Words form speeches, propaganda campaigns, books, education programs, legislation, media. Politicians pay experts on words a crap ton of money to choose just the right language to manipulate audiences. Calling welfare programs "entitlements" was not an accident, but a deliberate and careful strategy to demonize both welfare and those who need it. A well-chosen derogatory nickname for one's political opponent can stick and have a huge impact on the outcome of the election. This has happened in multiple Presidential elections. Maybe all.

Words are everything.

But it's not just words that are responsible for the downward shit spiral that led to and is being actively perpetuated by Donald Trump and his hell campaign. It's the idea that words are both incapable of causing harm and also somehow sacred at the same time. This has led to a widespread, mainly liberal tolerance of all speech, no matter how horrid.

Freedom of speech, of course, does not mean the freedom to say anything you want without being criticized for it by others. Freedom of speech means that you can't be arrested by the police or other government forces and thrown in jail for it. Yet the definition of freedom of speech has been twisted and perverted (with words) so that anyone who suggests that certain speech shouldn't be tolerated is basically called a fascist - even if it's fascist speech that person is refusing to tolerate.

We as a people, as a society, don't have to tolerate anything. We're allowed to use our own speech to shout down people saying bigoted, harmful things. We're allowed to punish these people through various social means, including ostracization, withdrawal of support, refusing to buy what they're selling, and notifying mothers and employers of their behavior.

The odd thing is, everyone seems to be willing to acknowledge the harm that speech can do when it targets bigots and gets them in trouble. A few people collectively yell at a bigot on Twitter and that's "bullying." Informing a company that you will no longer be buying their crap due to a racist ad is "abusive." And if you use words to direct an employer to horribly offensive content posted by an employee willingly on a public social media account? Well, you're a horrible person trying to ruin someone's life over nothing but words.

Are words capable of harm or not, people?

At some point in this country, due at least in part to toxic masculinity, it became a fun pastime to intentionally be as much of an asshole as possible. Assholes became immortalized on TV and in movies. Shock jocks became a thing - there are men (and only men) who are paid quite a lot to do nothing but be horrible assholes on the radio. Denis Leary wrote a song about how he's an asshole and proud of it. South Park happened.

And anyone who didn't like it got immediately shoved into the category of killjoy. You're uncool and no fun and you're trying to take away everyone else's cool fun. Plus you're attacking free speech somehow.

It's fucking ridiculous, but the real joke is that we've all put up with it. Average, decent people everywhere are so afraid of being labeled mean, uncool freedom haters that we've put up with increasingly harmful and hateful rhetoric and "jokes." Plus, we've allowed this to go on so long that recent counter-movements to the Being an Asshole is Cool and Funny Brigade have been viciously attacked. Not only are trolls are serious problem, they're rabid and extremely destructive in their attempts to "defend" what we've let them gain.

And so the spiral continues. Assholes say harmful things and declare themselves so very cool and funny for doing so, attack people who are like "um can you not" as being killjoys, then young impressionable people who have observed this not only emulate this asshole behavior but try to outdo each other by being the biggest asshole and creating the biggest shock. It's a lot like the spiral of deepening porn addiction, wherein people need to view more fucked up porn in order to orgasm. And though people may not orgasm from it, social approval and praise is a significant reward for behavior.

There are a lot of other factors going into this, including the brutal length to which we fail our children in both parenting and caretaking through our shit school system that actually does nothing to stop bullying at all. But part of it is very much the fault of well-meaning liberals who don't want to be labeled with that very scary and harmful word - "uncool." Or they want to uphold utterly twisted definitions of free speech and equality, to the point that Democrats are donating to rebuild the North Carolina GOP headquarters that was burned down by people who are actually refusing to tolerate the damage that Republicans are doing to this country.

There are so many better things to donate to than Keep Trans Women Out of the Bathroom Headquarters.

U.S. politics is not a sport. This is not a friendly rivalry or a minor disagreement. Republican rhetoric and policy kills. It fucking kills people. It's violent. The party is rocketing toward fascism and you're donating to that? That rocket needs to be destabilized as much as possible so that it explodes on impact, not given money for repairs.

People on the left, whether they call themselves liberal or whatever, need to fight back. We need to refuse to tolerate the waves of brutal violence launched upon us that land primarily on the marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed. You can't stop someone who prides themself in being an asshole by being nice to them. That will not impress them at all. That doesn't mean physical violence has to happen (though it can't be ruled out entirely). Social ostracization, or the threat of it, is an incredibly powerful motivator.

No tolerance for bigotry. No tolerance for harmful words. No tolerance for verbal violence. Fight back.

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