A coffee mug holding my pens and pencils sits on my desk. It is decorated with insulting phrases spoken in Shakespeare’s plays. They are pithy, insightful, humorous, imaginative images. They hint at truths about the adversary and the speaker. They often embody a critique of manners, selfishness, or ethics: “A fusty nut with no kernel.” “Highly fed and lowly taught.” “Infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise-breaker.” I’m envious that I did not think these up or recognize occasions to use them.
Verbalizing ludicrous images that encapsulate a germ of truth contained in an action, an attitude, or an idea contribute to understanding and expose hidden motives. At the same time laughter eases the tension of discomfort over the personal and societal flaws exposed. The goal is to raise consciousness and stimulate the intellect of the audience.
However, Donald Trump’s political rhetoric consuming this year’s presidential campaign leads us in a different direction. His efforts to show his superiority are blatantly uncreative, dull, humorless, and lacking any hint of truth. His goal is to win by domination, destroying the dignity of the opposition, and playing his audience for fools. It’s troubling to me to read reports of people saying, “We like Donald Trump because he speaks like us. We admire Trump’s refusal to be ‘politically correct.’”
Joining with a “winner” sounds good when we feel buried in the daily frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on our lives. It’s distressing when a health insurance company resists paying for a covered procedure; a bill collector demands money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and education for our children; or when ordered to work overtime instead of attending a daughter’s school play. It’s fearful when we experience familiar laws, rules, and customs changing in ways that challenge historic relationships between women and men, among races, strangers, immigrants, and levels of privilege.
Given these daily struggles, joining Trump’s chorus of angry words, labels, and accusations seems like a good idea. How good would it feel to let it all out, shake loose from inhibitions, and join the world of name-calling; invective; derision; and ethnic, religious, racial, and gender slander! And if I’m unable to risk it, I can at least be on the side of someone rich enough and brazen enough to abandon political correctness and hurl derogatory epithets without consequences.
However, I would suggest that bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, creativity, and clear thinking. “Political correctness” may be simply recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. It invites people into community: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding and solve problems. The models come from our childhood and may include the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. They may recall the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia. The model comes from the Torah, the Bible, the Koran, and other writings from faith traditions. Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children and contemplate as adults. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?”
This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! There are ways toward empowerment that are far more effective than lashing out with bluster or hitching our wagon to a rich man who cannot relate to an hourly or salaried worker, a grocery shopper, a commuter, a prisoner of war, or a refugee. To make our lives better, it is not necessary to associate with a man who has bankrupted two companies and makes questionable statements true by saying them over and over until they seem true. To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.
The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, has shown up in most political cartoons of Naji al-Ali since the early 1970’s. We see Handala standing with his hands clasped behind his back observing the injustice portrayed in each cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States and around the world. He’s the witness to oppression everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is our conscience.
What does Handala see when he looks our way? Donald Trump with his entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of a bully? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America? I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.
I hope Handala will see a small group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly together in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see college students in Palestine seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. He will see a group of Concord church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Obama, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention. He will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other. He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon. And he will see groups of people speaking truth to power in the language of reason, imagination, and empathy while affirming the dignity of all people.
These ways are filtered out of Trump’s awareness. He seeks personal domination to rule. People in a democracy seek community empowerment to correct injustices. No matter who we are: our education, our social or economic class, our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or skill set; we have contributions to make for a greater America. Donald Trump does not speak for us. We can refuse to be, in Shakespeare’s words, “not so much brain as earwax.” We can choose faithfulness over fear, hospitality over hostility, dignity over domination.
Rev. John Buttrick, Minds Crossing, Concord, NH