Fighting Words Only Cause More Fighting

Thankfully, there are still those of us who are willing to express our thoughts openly, although it seems more and more Americans are unwilling to speak due their legitimate fears of social media mob attacks.  I understand this inclination to keep one’s thoughts and feelings private in the hyper-partisan environment of our country today, but I still wish more Americans would offer their ideas regarding the many pressing issues facing their communities and our nation so that they can play a part in the search for solutions.

However, there is one group of Americans I sometimes wish could discover the joys of silence: our political leadership.

I realize that I am preaching to people who rose to their exalted elected positions by continually running their mouths beyond the point where the average person would drop dead from sheer exhaustion, but sometimes their incredible inability to restrain themselves causes many more problems for our country.

Exhibit A in any discussion of the destructive potential of ill-advised and inflammatory speech is the politicians jumping in to comment of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was just found guilty of willfully killing George Floyd while arresting him last year.  This was, of course, the event that set off months of rioting and looting that caused widespread destruction and terror in many American cities, so it is perhaps unsurprising that so many politicians felt compelled to comment.

However, there is no doubt that the language of both Representative Maxine Waters and President Joe Biden prior to the final deliberations of the jurors demonstrated both poor judgment and a blatant disregard for the norms of the American legal system.

Representative Waters, a long-serving Democrat from California, traveled to Minneapolis days before the conclusion of the presentation of evidence in the trial to both urge protesters to “get more confrontational” if Derek Chauvin was found innocent and demand a guilty verdict from the jury.  Given that her words implied a clear threat to the safety of jurors and their families that could affect their deliberations, the judge overseeing the trial admonished Representative Waters from the bench and pointed out that she “may have given [Mr. Chauvin’s attorneys] something on appeal that may result in his whole trial being overturned.”  Should this come to pass, she will certainly have reason to regret her intemperate and thoughtless language—as we all will should this lead to yet more arson and violence.  

As it is, the names of the jurors have had to be sealed for at least the next 6 months in order to protect them and their families from threats and harassment, so it could be reasonably argued that her ill-considered words have only caused more problems and put others at risk.

Unfortunately, President Joe Biden also could not hold himself back from further creating the appearance of putting undue governmental pressure on the jurors by stating he was “praying the verdict is the right verdict” while also putting the Presidential imprimatur on the prosecution’s case by declaring the evidence was “overwhelming”.  Court watchers certainly seemed to agree that Mr. Chauvin’s defense of his actions was weak, but it is also equally true that waiting for the conclusion of the jury deliberations before speaking would have positioned Mr. Biden to make entirely different comments that could have helped to soothe a nation instead of seeming to encourage more destructive actions born of anger had the trial verdict gone the other way.

Had he waited just a single day, President Biden could have used his Presidential pulpit to reassure a rattled country that the integrity of the courts and accountability of the police had been validated.  Rather than “praying” for a particular verdict, which clearly communicated a crushing lack of faith in our nation’s system of justice, and indicating that the evidence was “overwhelming”, which was obviously meant to set the stage for explosive outrage if a guilty verdict was not forthcoming, Mr. Biden could have celebrated American justice and the American people  However, he instead chose to denigrate the values of our nation and the good faith of our courts of law.

Perhaps President Biden truly believes that he was elected by an irredeemably racist nation that now must be bludgeoned into confronting its sins, but his clear lack of faith in America’s courts and police served to encourage more hateful and thoughtless rhetoric.  Of course, it did not help that a seemingly endless parade of other elected officials raced to their microphones and social media accounts to castigate Americans—clearly oblivious to the plain fact that the jury had quickly ruled just as they had hoped—while employing the most inflammatory possible language to both anger and frighten our nation.  

The lack of thoughtful leadership demonstrated by all these pointless rants was a depressing reminder of just what a bunch of yapping fools now commonly occupy our country’s highest offices.  Politicians who took this opportunity to tell black Americans to both fear and hate the police—and every other white person they see—are offering an implausibly circuitous path to national harmony.  It is difficult to credit elected officials who insist on using hatred as a tool of supposed healing with any shred of good sense—or good intentions.

Setting one group of Americans against another based on the colors of their skin is neither brave nor constructive; hate speech disguised as statesmanship is an open invitation to extremists to act upon on their worst impulses.  Any politician who believes their job description includes fanning racial hatreds in order to goose their campaign contributions must be censured and, should this type of speech continue, either resign or be removed from office.  If you so despise the nation and people whom you presume to lead, you have no business in any elected office whatsoever.

The harsh reality, which somehow seems to escape so many of our politicians, is that exploiting people’s fears and emotions is the very definition of demagoguery—not leadership.  Our nation cannot be improved by setting one group of Americans at the throats of another.  Fomenting irrational anger only creates the conditions for yet more irrational anger, and no dialogue is possible when everyone is put into a defensive crouch—with their fists raised and ready.  

Thoughtful discussion might encourage the kernel of trust that is necessary in order to heal our nation and seek solutions, but President Biden, Representative Waters, and much of our elected leadership have ignominiously mistaken confrontation for conciliation.  We need new voices, but I fear, as I wrote at the outset, that too many ordinary Americans are now afraid that speaking up only paints a target on their backs.

The silence of so many regarding issues of race relations in America might seem a wise strategy at the present time, but it leaves our nation vulnerable to the rantings of hate mongers who seek to divide us for their own nefarious purposes.  The many Americans of moderation and good will should not be elbowed out of our national dialogue because too many politicians see compromises as abject defeats.  We can do better—and we must do better—but we will be able to do better only when our elected officials learn to restrain their grandstanding.  The best kind of leadership is that which does not crowd 330 million other Americans entirely out of the discussions.  

If we can somehow stop those who live deep inside the adolescent Washington echo chamber and toxic Twitterverse from dominating all of the conversations, we might be surprised by the extraordinary progress that could be made toward uniting our deeply divided nation.  However, if average Americans continue to refrain from speaking their minds because they fear unjust personal attacks that put both their safety and careers at risk, we will continue to suffer under the tyranny of those who apparently hate America and Americans—and who will continue to racially divide our nation with their venomous language and dangerous actions.

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