Some Thoughts on the State of American Politics

Sometimes I have thoughts; a lot of them. When that happens, I like to write a post made up of several (relatively) short mini-posts. I might expand on them later (okay, will definitely expand on at least one of them later) but for now, here goes.

One of the primary goals I have for this space is to create within it a resource center where you can turn if there's something you don't understand, want to learn more about, or if you want to get involved but don't know where to begin. I'm still working on building a list of links, articles, blogs, and individuals to be included in this resource center, but if you have any suggestions for something or someone to include, please let me know in the comments!

Let me be clear: as a former communications and journalism student who loves reading and writing, word choice is important to me. I firmly believe that the words we use matter and can't stand when parents tell children who are being bullied that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me." Words do hurt, and oftentimes that's the goal. If words didn't have meaning, we wouldn't use them; we wouldn't be able to communicate, at least not verbally. That said, there comes a point where the specific dictionary definition of something doesn't tell the full story. I'm looking at you, white people who insist they're the victims of racism because Merriam-Webster says so. 

Lately, a lot of people have been comparing Trump to Hitler; not because he has committed, or even spoken about genocide, but because his actions now, at the start of his presidency can be very easily aligned with the actions Hitler took at the start of his rise to power. I'm not saying these comparisons are entirely without fault; as a society, we have a tendency to compare people and things we don't like to Hitler. Hell, feminists and people who like grammar are regularly referred to as "nazis." So obviously there's a point where comparing the two leaders is a trigger response to something you don't like or agree with. But with Trump - a man who recently called the majority of news media outlets an enemy of the state, who is doing everything in his power to demonize people of color and immigrants, and whose supporters have been known to give him the Nazi salute and have been committing more and more hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim citizens - the comparison isn't entirely unwarranted. There are undeniably similarities between Hitler and Trump.

That's not to suggest that a couple of years from now he'll be calling for mass genocide. I honestly don't believe it will go that far, and it would be wildly offensive to survivors of the Holocaust to suggest that's where we're headed. But frankly, lecturing people on the history of World War II or on the dictionary-definition-differences between Nazis and the Alt-Right seems to me a lot like derailing. There's an important conversation going on here, and it isn't about the ideological reasons behind why the Nazis are hateful and violent vs why the Alt-Right is hateful and violent.

Over the last several weeks, I've noticed a lot of articles, social media posts, and think pieces focused on the idea that Trump has a mental illness (and even videos and articles insisting that racism in general is a mental illness). At first, I didn't pay much attention to it because I was focused on larger issues than how people chose to categorize Trump's racism, xenophobia, and sexism. But as I read more and more articles that essentially excuse his behavior on the basis of "he needs a therapist," I got angry.

People suffering from mental illnesses already face an indescribable level of difficulty in having their illness recognized, without the added problem of taking responsibility for Trump's actions. The undeniable stigma surrounding mental illness aside though, diagnosing Trump with a mental illness gives him a built-in excuse to continue treating anyone who isn't white, male, able-bodied, straight, and well-off financially as "less than." Men like Trump are a very small demographic in this country, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are the only demographic Trump and his supporters believe truly matter. Labeling Trump's actions and words as "mental illness" provides an excuse not only for him, but for his violent and hateful supporters. It provides protection where there shouldn't be one.

Let me be clear: hate is not a mental illness. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and the litany of hateful messages directed at other groups, are not symptoms of any mental illness. They are symptoms of a hateful, angry person who has never tried to do any better. They are symptoms of a society that teaches and excuses racially and sexually motivated crimes while simultaneously criminalizing those people who try to fight back (for example, the wide-ranging set of excuses for police brutality, while Black Lives Matter protestors are dismissed as overly violent and their actions inexcusable).

Ultimately, perhaps Trump is mentally ill. I'm not going to pretend to hold an understanding of his health or mental state. But if he is, the wide-reaching hate he has personally exhibited and which he has brought out in millions of Americans is not a symptom of that. Pretending that his actions are symptoms is not helpful to anyone except Trump. The only result of this discussion is a level of sympathy and understanding which Trump and his supporters neither need nor deserve.

In the battle between oppressed and oppressor, I am always going to be on the side of the oppressed. That's not to say that minority groups can do no wrong, or that every form of protest is inherently okay. Violent protests are obviously not okay, and I'm not going to suggest they are. Setting fire to public buildings and stores, attacking police officers, burning flags...those things are unacceptable.

But I also know what led us to this point. I know that there is a reason protesters are as angry as they are right now, and I'm not going to pretend their actions exist in a vacuum. I'm not going to pretend they were unprovoked or that unequally horrendous crimes haven't been perpetrated against them.

Fighting over what protestors do and don't have the right to do is not getting us anywhere. Perhaps instead of focusing on what a small group of protestors did that was unacceptable, we should be focusing on the larger reason why they are protesting in the first place. Perhaps instead of excusing Trump voters on the basis of "these violent protests are why people voted for him," we should be discussing and working to fix what has been broken in this country for so long.

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