There is No “Other”

Last week, Donald Trump (I know; bear with me) held an event in a town not far from where I live. During this event, he took questions from the crowd (which, given the nature of the people who would be likely to attend a Donald Trump rally, seems a bit of a risk and makes me wonder what his campaign managers were thinking, but that’s a conversation for another time).

What happened next should have come as a surprise to exactly nobody. Some cretin stood up and proclaimed that – and I’m quoting here – “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American.”

Trump, laughing, said, “We need this question. This is the first question.” Please note here that no effort was made by Trump or his campaign to shut this guy down.

“Anyway,” Mr. Cretin continues, “we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. “That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?”

Now, let me say here – as an English teacher who’s also a reasonable human being – that it is entirely possible that Mr. Cretin was expressing, in his own limited way, that he’s concerned about ISIS and Taliban training camps (though the “we” in his sentence makes me wonder if he thinks said training camps are located in the US, but really, who knows what’s happening in that fevered, frightened little brain of his) and he wants to hear from his candidate about what the government might be relied upon to do to try to limit their effectiveness (if not their very existence). It’s possible that that’s what this guy was asking; that his facility with language is such that he wasn’t able to clearly express that idea, and that he didn’t have enough education (or it didn’t stick well enough) for him to discern his unclear pronoun references, but I really don’t think that’s what was happening here.

The fact that Mr. Cretin opened his comment by specifically mentioning this country’s “problem” with Muslims is the first clue that I have to tell me that he wasn’t being nuanced, and he wasn’t talking about training camps in the Middle East.  Further, the fact that Mr. Cretin expresses the idea that “they want to kill us” immediately before asking “when can we get rid of them” tells me that Mr. Cretin isn’t talking about the camps at all.  He’s scared of Muslims; he was talking about icky, scary brown people in his country.

Mr. Cretin was advocating for ethic cleansing, plain and simple.  And, more to the point, I bet if you asked Mr. Cretin if he’d be okay with rounding American Muslims up and sticking them on boats and airplanes and shipping them off the continent, he’d think that would be a capital piece of domestic policy.

Now, there are a couple of things about this that horrify and disgust me.

First, this guy is my neighbor.  I mean, he doesn’t literally live in the house next door (and, as far as I know, he remains “unidentified”), but he may as well; we live in the same area and I am a fellow in this man’s community.

Up until now, I have comforted myself into thinking that my neighbors don’t think like Mr. Cretin.  I’d managed to convince myself that I share my space with decent, reasonably well educated, moderate human beings who have a base level of respect for the dignity of all people, regardless of their race or gender or ethnicity or religion.

Mr. Cretin (and all the other people who were at that event) has convinced me that I’ve been kidding myself.

Second, and perhaps more frightening, is that the mainstream of one of the two major political parties in this country has worked tirelessly for years now to cultivate just this kind of attitude among is base and almost NOTHING has been done to counter that narrative.  This guy, and countless others like him, are the direct and inevitable result of the xenophobic, racist, and bigoted rhetoric and policy the Republican party has been championing for nearly a decade.  What scares the hell out of me is how good the GOP were/are at generating this kind of hatred and how willing people are to swallow it whole and embrace it as their own.

Exhibit A: The other day, I made a comment on a Facebook post comparing Trump’s response to his Mr. Cretin  – “You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We’re going to be looking at that and many other things” – with McCain’s response to a Mrs. Cretin at one of his events in 2008.  In McCain’s case, a woman got hold of the microphone and said, “I can’t trust Obama… he’s an Arab.”  to which McCain replied, “No, Ma’am; he’s a decent, family man citizen…blah, blah, difference of opinion.”

On the Facebook post, I made mention of the fact that, while McCain certainly handled his xenophobe better than Trump did, McCain’s response was really pretty shitty on its face.  In denying the woman’s claim by saying that Obama is a “decent family man,” McCain set up a direct, explicit, and unfavorable comparison between “Arab” and “decent.”  “Oh, no, Mrs. Cretin; Obama’s NOT an Arab; he’s a DECENT man.”  While the response to my comment has been mostly favorable (“wow; you’re right, I never thought of that”), there have been a bunch of “oh, get over yourself you whiney, liberal crybaby” responses, too.

Between Mr. Cretin and his fellows and the news about the deplorable situation for Syrian refugees fleeing into Europe (and don’t get me started on the comments under news articles about cities in the US whose mayors have offered to take in some of those refugees), I have been have been heartbroken lately.

My yoga message for my class today was about actively rejecting the “us vs. them” narrative that is so horribly present in our day to day right now.  I want people to stop thinking about people as “others” and to remember that every human being is worthy and deserving of love and respect and decency simply because they exist.

On my way home from yoga class this morning, I was listening to On the Media on NPR.  One of the stories was about people in Austria and Germany who’ve been volunteering to help the refugees, and about some of the creative ways they’ve found to offer comfort and aid to people who desperately need it.  The story that got to me was of a young man in Vienna who is talented with computers and IT.  He has gone to a train station to set up WIFI or 3G for refugees so they can be in touch with family and friends.  When asked how long he’d keep coming back to do this work, he replied with “I will be here until nobody needs me no more.”

I wept all the way home.

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