President Trump’s nasty attack on the city of Baltimore last weekend, calling it a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being would want to live,” hit closer to home than any of his recent attacks on people of color and those who cherish America’s multi-ethnicity. His related attack on the Baltimore area’s venerable Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) just deepened the wound.
We have no problem with the president sparring with political opponents on matters of policy. It’s what politicians do. Political parties and politicians regularly differ on policy goals, approaches and objectives. And if their sometimes heated exchanges are, in Lincoln’s words, intended to help form “a more perfect union,” or in Jewish parlance, “for the sake of heaven,” so be it. Adding emotion, intensity and focus to thoughtful debate can be a good thing, and can help elevate understanding and expand perspectives.
But words matter, and so does common courtesy. Trump’s free-flowing, undisciplined tweets show little care and no measure in their attacks, and his juvenile name calling is ugly. And when those offensive barbs are repeatedly directed to particular ethnic or racial groups, the effect becomes much worse – because the attacks divide and demean us.
If the president wants to take on Cummings on substantive issues, he is welcome to do so. And despite our affinity for our community’s longstanding, reliable and credible congressional friend, the public is welcome to entertain such a debate. But that’s not what happened here. Nor did Trump focus on Baltimore’s longstanding problems of poverty and racism, or follow through with his campaign promise to deliver an infrastructure initiative to help the city physically and economically.
Instead, we were treated to dehumanizing, inaccurate taunts reminiscent of sixth-grade shouting matches.
The timing of these attacks was troubling, even if inadvertent on the president’s part. They came on the heels of headlines about Thinkspot, a new social media hub and “anti-censorship platform” founded by controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson. Purveyors of hate speech who have been banned from popular social media platforms and are looking for new homes for their bile have reacted to the news about Thinkspot with glee. We can only imagine the unfiltered, raw hate and hurtful postings it will attract, as Peterson has refused to disavow even the most extreme voices. Even banned bloggers acknowledge as much: “I will sign up for Jordan Peterson’s thing of course, and will be banned for some inane reason,” said neo-Nazi blogger AndrewAnglin. “But it will be necessary to sign up and be banned to prove the point.”
We don’t see the merit in providing an outlet for the sewage of hateful minds. And we encourage the president to show sensitivity to this issue by reforming his own approach toward the sharing of every thought that runs through his mind. He has the power of the bully pulpit. He should use it for something other than being a bully.