Does this sound familiar?
You throw open your arms in exasperation, look skyward, and say to the Universe, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?”
We have a prime learning opportunity in the current presidential campaign. Spiritual learning, practical learning. We get to reaffirm our values and reawaken our sense of civic duty.
Thanks to Donald Trump. Whatever you think of him, he is offering three important life lessons.
1. WORDS MATTER
The whole country has been roused by Trump’s powerful choice of words. Some love it, some hate it, but they hear the words and are moved to opinion and action.
Part of what Trump’s supporters find so refreshing is what they call his honesty – others have called it toxic, inflammatory and dangerous – in speaking his mind. And they’re right that unfiltered speech is unusual in a politician.
Trump is finding out why other candidates don’t talk that way. Every joke, sarcasm or flippant comment he makes is taken literally and used against him.
Gun owners might do what with Hillary? Kill her? Kill her Supreme Court nominees?
Watching the clip, I’m willing to believe Trump was making an off-the-cuff attempt at humor. Heaven knows, I have also put my foot in my mouth when ad libbing.
That’s why professional politicians don’t do it. That’s why most candidates strive to be bland and stay on script.
But under our Constitution, words spoken in public don’t have to be reasonable or true.
Trump is happily yelling fire in a crowded theater. Nearly 100 years ago, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that shouldn’t be allowed.
But did you know the court opinion that prompted Holmes’ famous phrase was overturned in 1969 with a sweepingly broad interpretation of free speech?
In a case involving the Ku Klux Klan, the court ruled that inflammatory speech and even speech advocating violence is protected under the First Amendment unless it “is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
We could debate where the line should be drawn. But the court was trying to say objectionable speech is best dealt with by more speech from others, not by shutting up the speaker.
Besides, Trump and his supporters might say there really IS a fire in the theater, and immediate action is required.
It’s up to us to decide whom and what to believe. It’s our responsibility to inform ourselves well enough to know fact from fiction so we can vote in our own best interests.
We make crucial decisions based on the words we’ve heard.