Words matter. “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more,” Chinese philosopher Confucious wrote thousands of years ago. He embraced the principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself,” now referred to as the Golden Rule. When I was little my parents taught me and my siblings this essential tenet and it still stands as a cornerstone in my life. I imagine Confucious would concur that when you propel a verbal or written arrow, the wound remains long after any apology because it has taken on form. Obnoxious words are intended to hurt. We’re humans and we don’t always hit the perfect tone by mistake rather than intention, but we must try to pay better attention to our chosen words. Especially now.
Admittedly, I am still struggling deep inside with the bitterly nasty rhetoric of the Trump campaign because now there is a wound. In an age of rocket fire instant communication, I call halt, so that we might pay closer attention to what words are used in public discourse in the United States of America. I’ve been accused by family members of obsessing about this; cautioned to just forget it and focus on my work. “You’ll make yourself sick!” I’ve been admonished. I take umbrage that if I meet a girlfriend for lunch or book a long massage, both of which I’ve done, the past eighteen months of negative speech will dissipate. When someone hints that focusing on this topic could make me ill, my response is that not releasing powerful and trapped emotions is what creates disease.
The inference by a good number of people in the media and government right now is that because not all Trump voters are racists and bigots, we should just absolve the recent past. Thus, the volumes of toxic language and actions should be sanitized and given extreme unction, the sacrament of the Catholic Church that anoints the critically ill, by those who didn’t support Mr. Trump’s agenda. But could someone wiser please opine on how to forget that a large section of my countrymen are completely at ease with the misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-immigrant name calling? Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, recently called on Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid to watch his words and lead with “responsibility, maturity and decency”. Conway said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s attacks on Donald Trump last week were “beyond the pale”. Reid had said that “the election of Donald Trump has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America” and that “white nationalists, Vladimir Putin and ISIS are celebrating Donald Trump’s victory, while innocent, law-abiding Americans are wracked with fear.” I see a pattern forming here of the Trump camp projecting all of their vitriolic language and insults back onto their opposition. I am personally having difficulty reconciling the actions and words of Trump with responsibility, maturity and decency.
Pay attention. I’ve decided to document examples from my new President of responsibility, maturity and decency. It may be a lonely and barren watch because supposedly there are 282 people, places and things that our new leader has insulted to date. “Losers, total disasters, really dumb, disgusting, hopeless, chokers, fat slobs, worthless” among a few on the hit parade. He has denigrated NBC News, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The National Review, The Huffington Post, Fox News, Fortune, Forbes, The Washington Post, and many individual respected reporters as well as a hit Broadway show. He swears that Hamilton is a “highly over rated” production, yet the simple facts say otherwise because the show is sold out until August of 2017. So if I am assessing this properly, because Donald J. Trump writes a tweet, it is to be taken as true even in the face of facts supporting the opposite? I feel as if I am living in the Twilight Zone episode where gullible humans are being loaded onto a space craft thinking that they are going on an adventure, without realizing that they are being transported into space in order to be eaten by their alien hosts once they arrive at their exotic destination. It’s a classic episode and worth looking up for a grimace. I’m just starting to realize the broader application of what that means to me as a woman, wife, mother and grandmother. Will I be required to live in an alternate reality while this man is in office, and discount his specific words? How will I assess which of his words are based on truth? He is the titular head of our nation now and my gut says “beware” as surely as it would warn me on a date with a creepy guy whose hands go places that they should not.
I just read a New York Times column by David Brooks that urges that I ought to push pause and listen more carefully to those that supported Donald Trump. Fair enough. I should try to understand my fellow Americans who were feeling so neglected that they were willing to look the other way while a bully spoke in the most hateful way about nearly everybody. But I cannot get those ignorant phrases out of my head and I am beginning to form a picture of an arrogance that is stupefying. A hubris that is epic in proportion. We have as the leader of the free world a person who does not care which words he uses and what is even more terrifying, he does not understand that words matter.