Divisiveness creates the space for hate speech to thrive
I was surprised this week by the response to comedian Kathy Griffin’s photo that shows her holding the bloodied, severed head of Donald Trump.
Notice I didn’t say that I was surprised by the photo itself. Not at all. That kind of crazy has become our new norm. Which is why I was taken aback by the immediate and swift backlash against the photo. People were outraged. Really? Where the heck have they been for the last few years. We are so far beyond the line of decency that we adhered to even a year ago and at that point I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Is it possible that there is actually a line that we won’t tolerate? It seems holding up the bloodied, severed head of the president of the United States might be the point where society has decided we’ve gone too far. Well at least we have that.
It seems to me that respect for our president and consequently each other began to degrade under George W. Bush. But the disrespect paid to him that started by making fun of his consistent misuse of words and phrases to indicate that he wasn’t too bright and then slowly devolved into anger over the Iraq War pales in comparison to the disrespect shown to Barak Obama during his eight years. But even the treatment of Obama seems a far cry from the treatment of Donald Trump today. We’re so far from being able to separate our difference of opinion in policy from our differences with each other as people that we’ve forgotten the basic rules that we all learned in kindergarten.
And that scares me. Because I don’t know how we go backward from here. We’re on this slippery slope that keeps dividing us into our separate silos of race, gender, sexual orientation, political party, and socioeconomics. And even within those groups, we keep adding labels that further define and separate us from each other. And as we lose the strength of just being Americans and break into smaller and smaller labeled groups, we lose a united voice and our collective conscience.
This breakdown of civility seems to have given voice to a small minority who preach hate. They’ve always been there on the fringes, but now that we no longer adhere to the social norms and behaviors that were used in the past to clearly differentiate between right and wrong, we’ve shaped a landscape where those people that hate feel more comfortable speaking and acting out.
I often feel thankful for our isolation here in western Colorado, as if we’re somehow sheltered from the bad things that happen in larger, more urban areas. We might have our problems, but I always felt like this was a great place to raise a family and that people are nicer here than most places. We’ve always felt safe here and my kids have a huge support network through their friends, our school, and the activities in which they participate. But recent events have begun to erode that foundation that my husband and I have worked so hard to build.
When some local friends received a racially-charged threatening letter in the mail, I wrote it off as a freak occurrence by some crazy person. When a YouTube video went viral of a local woman ranting and screaming at a Latino woman and her children in a local parking lot, calling them wetbacks, it made me pause and wonder. And finally, when a local Jewish woman woke up one morning to find her garage door spray painted with racially charged epithets, I realized we have a problem.
But I’m not giving up so easily and I don’t see the independent people of western Colorado doing so either. I refuse to let the national dialogue dictate our local dialogue. As the federal government, which sometimes reads like a script from “House of Cards” and other times like “Saturday Night Live,” continues to disappoint and divide us, I believe the only thing we can do is chart our own course.
If there’s no longer a collective American conscience that helps us to define right from wrong, encourages us to treat each other with respect, and leads us to solve problems with people with whom we disagree, then we must create our own standard. Call it a standard, or a conscience, an independence or even way of life that is in keeping with the people of western Colorado.