Moral Weariness in a Trump World

Moral Weariness in a Trump World August 21, 2017

To say last week, with all of the madness in Charlottesville, was frustrating for me would be an understatement. As someone who cares greatly about racial issues, as well as issues surrounding free speech, in our society, last week was morally exhausting. For the first time of my life, I took an intentional 24 hour fast from facebook and from all news shows. It was an insightful exercise which I will need to do in the future. It showed me how I use social media and helped me to think about whether I could do a better job with that. But it also helped me to get away from the depressing news for just one day.

Let me lay out why I am so weary. President’s Trump argument that there was hate on all sides literally takes the wind out of the sails of those of us fighting some of the anti-free speech elements in the left. The timing of his comments could not be worse. After riots on college campuses it would have been a great time to look at oppressive anti-speech forces within some progressive movements. I would have welcomed comments from Trump at that point in time about the Antifa. But, when the KKK and other white supremacists and nationalists begin their version of a pathetic race war in a southern city, that is not the right time to make a tu quoque argument.
Look, I agree that the Antifa is a real problem. I agree that we need to balance out some of the worst impulses at BLM. I agree that we need an honest conversation on racial issues that does not begin and end with blacks calling whites racist. I agree that there are excesses in the demands from radical protest movements that need to be reined in. And I am willing to engage in that conversation. But I cannot right now. Know why? Because our incompetent president chose Charlottesville to make some point about moral equivalency.
I want to advance a rational and reasoned argument on those issues. There are others I respect who also have coherent reasonable arguments about how progressive movements inhibit dialog or they offer solid critiques of progressive social movements. I believe I, and they, are more capable of offering those arguments than our inarticulate president. But now those reasonable arguments will be lumped in with the rantings of the Twitter happy leader of the free world. Trump has managed to replace solid and well thought-out arguments with his form of non-disciplined musings. That does not help the cause of free speech and rational discourse. In fact, his efforts can, and will, be used in attempts to discredit those efforts.
The anti-free speech elements in the left could not have asked for a better situation. Those who critique them will be lumped in with the tone-deaf responses of Trump. It will seem that we too are arguing that progressive counter protest groups are the equivalent of Nazis. I fear this response even though I am on record as stating that BLM is not the KKK. I fear this response even though I have been Never-Trump from the day he announced his intentions to seek office and have no motivation to carry so much as a drop of water for the man. Nevertheless I will have to be extra careful in my defense of free speech for a while and any attempts to critique progressive movements. Because if I am not careful, it becomes easy for those who oppose my ideas to stigmatize them by tying them to Trump’s statements. I know that is not fair, but life is not fair. Ironically, Trump, the supposedly great answer to PC excesses, has stifled me in ways that none of the PC pressure has been able to do in the past.
I know there will be those who say that I should continue to speak out regardless of the effect of Trump’s comments. They may even think of me as a coward for not speaking out on what I believe in spite of Trump’s statements. It is not about cowardice or being brave. It is about being able to communicate my ideas. If those ideas are tied to Trump’s dubious comments, then my arguments will not reach the ears of those who need to hear them. I can be silenced even though I am technically free to speak because the ideas I present will not be given any due assessment. I am more interested in being effective in what I present and to have it heard than in being “brave” and stupid.
I remember before the election that some of my friends supported Trump because they thought that he would be able to correct some of the problems created by political correctness. Some of them had very legitimate complaints about the repressive effects of political correctness in their lives and careers. I was, and still am, sympathetic to how they were mistreated. Some of them were being harassed and others even lost their occupational positions. But I was also firm in the knowledge that the answer to political correctness is not rudeness and crude comments from someone proclaiming to be a strong man. And I feared that if Trump was elected that in many ways he will make political correctness worse. Well, he was elected and it is worse. He has provided a rationale by which we will see more attempts to stifle those who desire to take controversial stands on sensitive topics.
Make no mistake about it. There are those on the left who have no desire to hear competing arguments. They are completely comfortable imposing their solutions and values on others without having to negotiate with those they consider immoral. Having an opportunity to link their political and social opponents to Trump’s moral equivalency argument allows them more power to impose their values and programs on others. So instead of Trump helping to take down political correctness, it is now entirely possible, and maybe even probable, that political correctness will be stronger after his administration than it was at the beginning of it. I can have sympathy for my friends who want to tackle the problems of political correctness; however, good intentions do not always lead to sound thinking. Sending Trump to the White House to deal with political correctness simply was not sound thinking. He may well make the problem worse.
Beyond the issues connected to free speech Trump has also made our race relations much worse and harder for us to address. I desire to see us make some headway on dealing with the racial alienation that continues to plague our society. My solution focuses on honest conversation between those of different races. We need whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and any other race to freely discuss their fears and concerns so that we can find compromises that can help dial down the anger in our society. But before his election, I told anyone who would listen that a Trump presidency would make such a conversation harder to achieve. I feared that his kind of bombastic style would make people of color more defensive, and it would embolden some of the worst elements within the majority culture. This was a time I wish I was wrong, but once again my fear of a Trump presidency has proven to be correct.
Where do we go as a nation now? The problems of diminished free speech and racial polarization that existed before Charlottesville are still with us. In fact they are even worse today. Those problems are not unrelated to each other. The sort of conversations we need in our racial culture cannot be overly constrained by politically correct dictates. Even before the debacle in Charlottesville and the unhelpful statements of Trump, we needed honest conversations to get past the racial barriers in the United States. Now I believe we need those conversations more than ever. But we are farther away from having those conversations than ever before because Trump has, temporarily for now, closed off important ideas that need to be discussed.
There is talk that we may be heading to a new civil war. A few years ago I would attribute such talk to the work of nutjobs and conspiracy theorists. Now I am not so sure. We already have the violence and hatred needed for a civil war. Is it possible that this violence and hatred simply increased to the point that we do have some semblance of a civil war in our society? Can anyone who witnessed what we have witnessed over the past week think that this is not possible?
We need that honest conversation in the United States, but now the timing is not right for it. The importance of timing is something that appears to be lost on our president. Timing is incredibly important when we are trying to rebuild relationships. Ask any married man if he knows not to bring up complaints about his wife’s cooking right after she is confiding in you about the idiot at work. And following that sort of rule on timing is important even in a healthy relationship. What we see in the United States today is the opposite of healthy relationships with each other.
My complaint about Trump is clearly not an endorsement of the counter protestors or an argument against the notion that even vile racists have free speech rights in the United States. It is not saying that there is not a kernel of truth that occasionally emerges in the middle of his deceptive words and tweets. My complaint reflects my frustration with a politician who seems to be oblivious to how his undisciplined comments actually hurt the causes he professes to care about.
What do I advise those who, like me, want to address not only the horrific racism that still lingers in our society but also the smothering political correctness and attacks on free speech that poison our dialog. Because timing is so important, I know that we will have to postpone some of the much needed conversations in our society. We still have to address those issues but must do so more carefully now than before Charlottesville. We will have to be careful in how we challenge people and communities of color to engage in honest dialog. We will have to bide our time for the right moment for a more honest discussion of the shortcomings of the Antifa or BLM. We will have to be careful in how we defend free speech in the near future. In time, passions will cool a bit, and we may have more freedom to push for these ideas. But, my fear is that in the waiting our situation will get worst. We will become more polarized and paralyzed in our dealings with each other, creating a chasm that we may never be able to mend.
I wish I had easy answers. I think this essay shows that I am struggling with how to move forward on these issues myself. I know that while we may not be able to push forward right now with the vigor we want on those issue of free speech and such, we cannot be silent forever. The problems we are addressing will not simply disappear because we want them to go away. We will continue to have polarization and political correctness excesses if we do nothing about it. The best advice I can offer is to use wisdom and, in my case, prayer to know when the best time to get back full force into the fray on these issues. We cannot stay on the sidelines forever. I am hoping that this temporary setback will not become a permanent defeat.
At some point, we will have to take a chance and make our concerns known. Perhaps the SJWs will overreach with the new found authority Trump has granted them. In that moment we will have an opportunity to look at bigger pictures than Trump’s ego (Although that is plenty huge itself). Perhaps after passions have cooled a bit, there will be opportunities to press on with these issues. Those who care about free speech and fighting politically correct externalities may have to bide our time for a while. But our time to press those issues will come, and we have to be ready to deal with them when we get our opportunity.
And please do what I did and take a break from this madness every now and then. Pull the plug on the news for a day or two. Keep your sanity or you will not be any good to anybody else. I hope this does not sound arrogant because that is not my intent. But I know that I am an important voice that has to be out there. I know I can impact some individuals that others cannot reach. But it gets tiring and I have to have my Sabbath from it all from time to time. I hope that those of you who also want to see our society move toward real healing and reconciliation do the self-care needed to keep engaged. I do not have the ultimate answer to all of this but I know that I need you as allies in this difficult time in our history.

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  • William

    I stopped reading at “Because our incompetent president…”

    Your attitude is part of the overall problem. Point out a time when you ever called Obama “incompetent” on a matter. I doubt you ever did. Fix your vitriolic attitude toward our president and perhaps your opinion will be more valid. Right now it’s more fit for CNN than Patheos.

  • Katherine

    I really appreciate this blog. We need voices (and perspectives) that are willing to step back from the vitriol and the reactionary all-or-nothing thinking that seem to have taken over much of the national discourse lately, and truly engage with the nuances and complexities of these issues. I think you model that well–keep up the good work!

  • Newton Finn

    Don’t just take a few days off from reading about Trump on the MSM and social media, RETIRE entirely from that frustrating and debilitating preoccupation. Every minute spent on analysis of or reaction to an empty-headed narcissistic bully is a minute of life utterly wasted. Instead, throw your time and energy into building a better world with the means and opportunity at hand. The ecocidal, dehumanizing system of neoliberal global capitalism and the so-called indispensable nation that provides its muscle are crumbling before our eyes. Trump is only a symptom of their fatal condition as houses built upon the sand of social Darwinist greed and ruthless competition. Work to bring forth more humane and beautiful alternatives, on whatever scale you can make the most impact, and take Jesus’ advice: “Let the dead bury the dead.”

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