It’s getting harder and harder every day to watch the news. Today, I saw tweets from the literal White House that seemed as though they were written by a middle schooler:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) July 2, 2018
It’s childish, passive aggressive, and also blatantly untrue. Senator Harris responded on her Twitter account with the following:
As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That’s being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers. pic.twitter.com/WyyHU3U7jE
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 2, 2018
It’s hard to watch. Senator Harris was left with a difficult choice: speak truth to power or let her voice go unheard, her reputation undefended.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that this is the type of interaction that is occurring regularly on Twitter. But as a teacher, I have not been able to find resolution to a question that has been plaguing me for the past year or so.
We live in this world now where anything is fair game. There seems to be no code of conduct–no decorum or standard to which the literal President of the United States and his staff are held accountable. They are able to harass and bully reputable members of Congress for sharing their perspective and advocating for human rights.
It’s fear mongering. It’s fascism, reminiscent of Nazi Germany. In fact, I went to the United States Holocaust Museum’s website today, to better understand some of the events that led to one of the darkest times in modern human history. Here’s what I found:
While I’m still unsure whether the detention centers can be called concentration camps, the events leading up to World War II and the Holocaust bear a striking resemblance to those occurring right now: the federal government is initiating policy that is chipping away at basic human rights; groups of people are classified as dangerous, especially those who disagree with the current administration; aspects of minority groups’ private and public lives are at risk of being restricted, especially with the upcoming changes to the Supreme Court.
In effect, the era we thought would never happen again very may well–that is, if we don’t do something about it.
What is it that I teach my kids? I teach them to handle disagreement, debate, and discourse by assuming positive intent, to let everyone tell their story, to make sure everyone has a voice.
But the more and more I think about it, I think that may be bad advice.
While I tell them to assume positive intent and hear people out, I also tell them to advocate for themselves. I encourage them to continue to ask questions and say what they think if they don’t feel resolve or resolution after finding themselves in a conflict.
In our current political world, shattered by emotionally-stunted, narcissistic Republicans who seem to have difficulty seeing millimeters outside themselves, I struggle to find any role models who are demonstrating the very things I tell my kids every day. Just yesterday, I heard Maxine Waters, representative from the State of California, call upon her opponents to “shoot straight” if they wanted her dead, for “there is nothing worse than a wounded animal.”
To be clear, I’m on Rep. Waters’s side. I’m on Senator Harris’s side. I don’t blame them for fighting back so fiercely. I don’t blame them for bringing out their claws because that is where we are now in our society. We are in an ideological war, and we all know the adage that all is fair in both love and war. I could go so far to say that we are in a new type of civil warfare: one where hate groups armored with quiet blessings from the administration feel emboldened to enact physical harm on those opposed to them.
And in this era–this era where kindness and civility seem to be asleep and a civil war seems to be brewing beneath the surface of the Twittersphere–I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say to my kids.
After all, what if another child says something racist, homophobic, or xenophobic to them out a recess? Do I expect them to assume positive intent? Of course, not. What if a child heard Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric on TV and begins to emulate it with the support of his parents? Do I chalk it up to the child telling their story? Sharing their perspective?
No, I don’t chalk it up to that, and I don’t tell the child to assume positive intent. In fact, I tell the child to do exactly the opposite of what I’ve been telling them. I tell them to stand their ground, and to not put up with any sort of hatred, intolerance, or bigotry.
Unfortunately, though, the kind of tolerance I preach–the kind that involves regulating their emotions and speaking civilly in the presence of conflict–it doesn’t work in these situations where hatred is so fueled by fear. It doesn’t work when our identities and physical safety are threatened.
And so where am I left as a teacher, speaking with other people’s kids on a day-to-day basis? I’m either left a hypocrite or a liar. Sure, I could tell my students that kindness and civility only work in certain situations, and that when lines are crossed, we can throw it out the window for the sake of our own safety, leaving them with an unproductive ambiguity that I know, for certain, they’re not ready for.
Or, I can tell them that kindness and civility will prevail, when I know damn well it won’t.