Fundamentally, being a Liberal means that I respect the rights and dignity of all human beings. It means that I believe each person should have an equal opportunity in our society, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or any other characteristic we use to divide us from them.
It makes me angry when I see some people trying to deny others equal opportunity. To correct for the intentional and unintentional structural barriers that face many people in their quest for the American dream, I believe society as a whole has an obligation to intervene to extend the benefits of equality to all. How we do that is through government action. Government is, after all, the embodiment of our collective will.
I must admit that I am passionate about these beliefs. They have guided me in my choice of profession, friends, and faith. Although I do have Republican friends, even conservative ones, I cannot abide anyone who does not respect the dignity of another human being.
This tradition has a long history in my family. Members of my family fought for the North in the Civil War. My grandfather often told me that he could not tolerate displays of the stars and bars as it symbolized treason to our country, and the effort to prop up a fundamentally immoral institution. In his house, he proudly displayed a black and white picture of himself posing as a child with his great grandfather who fought in the Union army.
My mother has always been deeply religious, believing in the true Gospel. Not the one some people use to divide us, but the one that preaches love and teaches us to love our neighbors, strangers, and our enemies (Matthew 5:43). Even though I went through a period in my youth in which I questioned my faith, I never lost respect for Jesus and his teachings.
My father was an academic who believed in truth above all else. With sufficient hard work, anyone could come to a deeper understanding of the truth, and it mattered not what your background was if you were willing to bring that commitment to the table.
I honor those who came before me because, despite their human flaws, these individuals and others taught me the values that guide my life. In some respects, these values are as much a part of my identity as any other characteristic I can point to.
If that identity demands that I respect all people, regardless of how different they are from me, then I should respect those who oppose me politically, namely conservative Republicans. My gender is part of my identity, and I respect the rights of women; my sexuality is a part of my identity, and I respect the rights of LGBTQ people; my American citizenship is part of my identity, and I respect those of different national origins . . . you get the picture.
Unfortunately, that respect for others has run up against the realities of politics in America. The reaction to my efforts to extend the privileges I enjoy as a white, cisgendered, American male have run head first into a buzzsaw of personal attacks and bullying from Conservatives in an apparent effort to stop me from advocating for the greater good.
Consider the following email:
I just came across the article about your neighbor. After reading this I could only think of one thing. Hopefully your number runs you over with his four wheeler and wraps you up in the Trump banner.
You are a pompous ass liberal degenerate and are exactly right in making one fact very clear. Yes, patriotic Americans hate elitist pos people like you. But what you got wrong is that we do not care what race you happen to call yourself. You are not betraying whites, you are betraying the country, the founders and those that have died for this land.
You, Mr. Greiner, are the scum of the earth and a part of the reason that there will be a civil war in this country in your life time.
Your neighbor would kick the liberal snowflake crap out of you as well.
If this email were a one-time thing, I would simply laugh it off. In reality, however, this has been a pattern I have observed throughout my life as a political activist, dating back to my time in college. Rather than debating the issues, many Conservatives resort to bullying and intimidation.
I am happy to debate policy and even my values with people of different perspectives. I enjoy reading commentary that presents an opposing view. In fact, every morning, I read both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I frequently watch both Fox News and MSNBC. As I wrote above, I have many thoughtful conservative friends.
But the choice to attack me personally without any provocation other than my effort to extend the American dream to all Americans seems to indicate an unwillingness or an abject inability to debate the issues themselves. To me, such attacks indicate the weakness of their counterarguments.
Instead of debating my position, they attack me personally. Okay.
I’m a big boy. I can handle it. But these recurring attacks bring three thoughts to mind:
- Personal attacks contradict the public narrative many Conservatives present, one in which they argue that they are the victims of bullying from “pompous ass liberal degenerate[s].”
- Second, this approach seems to have become institutionalized within the Republican party establishment.
- Finally, this approach is designed to manipulate Liberals of good faith, and I am calling on all of us to no longer fall prey to this manipulation.
The self-pitying crocodile tears have been on full display throughout the recent impeachment proceedings. For example, consider the president’s continuous refrains of complaints in his Twitter feed about how “unfair” the media has been to him.
Then you have the president’s son in his book incorrectly citing a satirical op-ed to justify his argument that “countless times on college campuses I’ve had scared conservative students come up to me to say thank you for making them feel normal and welcome in their school. It is that bad and worse.”
Poor, poor billionaire president and his family.
This self-pity echoes the whining of billionaires who feel that they are being demonized by Americans who have seen the billionaires profit while everyone else struggles. As Leon Cooperman, a billionaire former Goldman Sachs executive argued, “What is wrong with billionaires?”
Poor, poor billionaires.
But when they feel threatened by calls for change, these personal attacks are the first tactic they turn to. Alyssa Milano has had lots of experience with such personal attacks, tweeting “[i]f you’re more upset by me stating my opinion about impeachment than you are with the GOP for covering up Trump bribing Ukraine for personal gain, then you’re part of the problem.” God forbid a woman express her opinion, and especially one who does not agree with the powers that be.
This tactic, though, is actually more insidious than one would think at first glance. I remember in college, as I became more and more aggressive in my efforts to resist the bullying of Republicans, many liberal friends said that I was becoming part of the problem. Liberals, of course, want to believe the best of others, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Our basic philosophy demands that we respect the dignity of all humans, even Republicans. Unfortunately, the result is that we treat the personal attacks and bullying as legitimate expressions of political argument.
Personal attacks and bullying are never legitimate expressions.
As Liberals, we can no longer be taken in by such self-serving negative politics. We need to call foul. If you want to discuss policy with me, even passionately, have at it. Personal attacks and bullying in a desperate effort to protect an immoral status quo that oppresses large groups of Americans are unacceptable. Liberals and the media need to treat such rhetoric as what they really are: a desperate attempt by a fading majority to maintain the privileged position they have unjustifiably enjoyed for so long.