Monday, December 26, 2016

Hateful Speech

Much of what is called "hate speech" in our contemporary political climate is not "hate" speech at all but is in fact simply the expression of ideas with which someone disagrees. Like the little boy who cried "wolf" when there was no wolf, the frequent imputation of "hate" to speech which is not actually hateful has desensitized many people to the genuine article. What I prefer to call "hateful" speech does exist, however, and our current political environment has seen a lot of it. The recent election cycle has brought out the worst in some people in whom the worst seems to lie pretty close to the surface.

Here are three genuine examples, in my opinion, of hateful speech.

The first is the case of a lawyer who spotted Ivanka Trump on his flight. As the plane was boarding this man took it upon himself to berate Ms Trump in front of her children for what he perceived to be the sins of her father:
Ivanka was on a JetBlue flight leaving JFK Thursday morning with her family when a passenger started screaming, “Your father is ruining the country.” The guy went on, “Why is she on our flight? She should be flying private.” The guy had his kid in his arms as he went on the tirade.

It turned out the person harassing Trump was Dan Goldstein, a lawyer, who was on the flight with his husband Matthew Lasner. Just before the incident took place during boarding, Lasner tweeted this:

Ivanka and Jared at JFK T5 flying commerical. My husband chasing them down to harrass them.
That sounds a lot like harassment was the intent all along. Lasner apparently deleted his Twitter account a short time later. He and Goldstein were taken off the plane and put on a subsequent flight. JetBlue released a statement saying:
The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly. If the crew determines that a customer is causing conflict on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane, especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of escalation during flight. In this instance, our team worked to re-accommodate the party on the next available flight.
Some witnesses said that Goldstein never screamed but that he was visibly agitated and shaking. They also said that Ivanka handled the situation calmly and with class. Airline security made the call to remove Goldstein on their own. A number of tweets from progressives supporting Goldstein can be found at the link.

I wonder what this lawyer and those who defended him would have said about someone who treated Barack Obama's family this way.

Speaking of which, the second example of hateful speech is much worse than the first. A politician named Carl Paladino, well-known in New York political circles, voiced the following sentiments in responding to a survey by an alternative weekly magazine, Artvoice.
Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.
People on both left and right have condemned the actions of both Goldstein and Paladino although others on the left have applauded Goldstein (see also the tweets at the link), and doubtless some on the right applaud Paladino, although I haven't yet seen any public approval of him.

The third example is perhaps the worst because of the three it had the saddest consequences. A freshman student at Bryn Mawr College was hounded out of school by other students because it became known that she was a Trump supporter:
A freshman student at Bryn Mawr College has dropped out after what she says was unbearable harassment from her fellow students for supporting President-elect Donald Trump.

In September, shortly after starting at the Pennsylvania women’s school, Andi Moritz made a post on the Bryn Mawr’s ride-sharing Facebook page, asking if anybody wanted to accompany her during a Saturday spent campaigning for Trump. Moritz said she wanted another girl along to ensure her safety since she was carpooling with a man she didn’t know.

The request turned out to be a big mistake, as Moritz was bombarded with hundreds of comments from fellow students, most of them extremely hostile.

Students on Moritz’s floor held a meeting about the content of her post, and after a discussion, she took it down entirely.

Moritz told the English House Gazette, a Bryn Mawr student blog, that a low point came when she was approached by a peer mentor in her dorm, who instead of offering support began to vilify her. The peer mentor said Moritz had “personally attacked” other students by expressing support for Trump.

Moritz told the response was so hostile she ended up calling a suicide hotline for support. Later, she visited a campus counselor, who she says wasn’t very helpful.

“She basically defended the people who had said mean things to me,” she told the English House Gazette.

Just a few days after the Facebook post, Moritz decided to drop out of Bryn Mawr. She says when she told a school dean about it, the dean appeared “relieved,” and made no effort to convince her to stay.

The backlash apparently wasn’t limited to Moritz. Anna Gargiulo, who wrote the English House Gazette article that first told Moritz’s story, told she has also been harassed simply for writing the article.

“It was me speaking up about an event that honestly shouldn’t have happened on a college campus like Bryn Mawr,” said Gargiulo, who herself voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “It just makes me scared in terms of where we’re headed if the youth in this country can’t understand how to respectfully disagree.”
Ms Gargiulo's point is well-taken. When people feel the need to hurt others as a means of expressing their disagreement they reveal their own sense of inadequacy and helplessness since lashing out in hateful anger is a favored resort of frustrated individuals whose ideas have been defeated in the political marketplace. But more than that they reveal a deep-seated ugliness in their own hearts, they further alienate us from each other as a people, and they bring us all a step closer to serious violence. Wouldn't it be better for our polity, wouldn't it reflect better on dissenters and their beliefs, to focus on courteously criticizing their opponents' ideas and avoid the childish personal attacks? Or are we beyond that?

Sadly, we certainly can't look to our president-elect as a role model in this regard.