I’m going to keep this brief. (Your sigh of relief is duly noted.) A lot of us are discussing politics, which is of course perfectly appropriate right now. In the course of those discussions, some of us are getting heated, and even letting it get personal. That too is perfectly fine. I’m doing a bit of that myself. Most of all, a lot of people are saying some kind of dumb things. I’m not sure if that’s just as appropriate, but it’s inevitable, particularly given the dearth of quality candidates this election cycle. I swear, I watch the candidates on television, and at any given moment, I’m thinking, “Oh my god, somewhere out there, people are voting for this person.” So yeah, there’s plenty of ridiculousness being stated out there. I get that.
But the thing I keep seeing with alarming frequency is the use in these political discourses of variations of what we like to gently call “the R word”. I’ve seen some form of that word more in the past few months than at any time in my life, and it’s making me crazy.
You’ve really got to stop.
One thing that complicates the “R word” issue for me goes back to a pledge I made to myself. In the past, and not even all that long ago, I was a serial offender where using that word is concerned. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s true. And while I’m embarrassed by that fact, I’ve committed to two things as a result. First, I won’t pretend I never used that word (which would be pointless anyway). Part of penance is confession, or so I hear. Secondly and more importantly, I promised myself that I’d never again allow it to go unanswered. That can be hard when it comes from someone you respect or care about, but I think that’s probably when it’s the most important to speak up. I thought it was easier when it’s a total stranger on the internet, and that’s mostly true, with a caveat. It’s only easier when it’s not happening over and over and over. During an election year, people lose their minds, and suddenly the word is fashionable. Addressing it every time you hear it becomes a game of Whack-a-Mole. And save that last hammer blow for yourself, because you’ll want the sweet release of oblivion.
I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping my promise and not letting it go unanswered, but god, it’s not been easy. Sometimes it comes up in the middle of a fast and furious discussion, and pointing it out has the effect of screeching brakes and a sense of “Who let this boring scold join the discussion?” More than a few times, it has come from supporters of candidates who I either support or at least don’t believe are dangerous incompetent. (A surprisingly small number, to be sure, but then, I’m something of a curmudgeon.)
So let’s just quickly review a few things. Using that word doesn’t make you look cool. Defending it by whipping out a dictionary and reading the literal definition of the word doesn’t make you clever. Defending your right to use whatever word you damn well please doesn’t make you a free speech warrior. And applying that word either to a candidate or his/her followers doesn’t make you an edgy pundit. You’re taking a word that derogatorily refers to people with intellectual disabilities and turning it into a punchline, one that utilizes human beings who are loved and valued by other human beings. By me, for one.
You’d probably never insult people with intellectual disabilities to our faces, and certainly not to a person with such a disability. And yet you have no hesitation to do so in order to score a political point. “Hey, Frank, your candidate’s immigration policy is so stupid, it reminds me of your kid sister.”
There are a lot of reasons I’m already disgusted and exhausted by this election season. If you want to understand, spend about twenty minutes on Facebook, or a minute and a half watching one of the debates. But perhaps the most disheartening for me right now is the intersection of politics and that old familiar ugliness, our society’s propensity for using our most vulnerable population so cheaply and with so little regard for their basic humanity. I made a promise to never give my silent consent to dehumanizing our loved ones by saying nothing in the moment, and I intend to keep it. But it’s sucking the life out of me, and I’m beginning to feel like if this is as good as we are, we deserve one of these embarrassments as our President. We deserve to be represented by our own kind.
So yeah. Cut it out. You don’t have to be nice. (I’m certainly not.) Just try to be a little more creative in your rudeness. As a people, we’re good at the inventive put-down. As the man says in the movie, I believe in America.
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