Photo by Michael Vadon
One expects that during an election campaign promises will be made and statements uttered that challenge one’s patience and stretch the bounds of credulity. During the current election primaries one candidate in particular has made a number of statements that have upset a lot of people. One statement in particular has a lot of people angry.
Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that Muslims be prevented from entering the United States was the straw which for many broke the back of the proverbial camel. He has been called “unhinged”, a “fascist demagogue,” “reprehensible” and a “madman.”
But Donald Trump is no madman. Early in this campaign Mr. Trump shrewdly realized that his aggressive campaign style was to his political advantage. Mr. Trump—making his first tilt at elected public office—has achieved what his political opponents can only wish they had achieved. We’re talking about him. A lot.
But it should be kept in mind that in calling for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, Donald Trump has merely expressed an opinion, one shared by a significant slice of the electorate. He has done nothing illegal, even though tens of thousands of people have signed a petition to have him banned from the United Kingdom. He has simply expressed an opinion while campaigning for votes.
Which is not to say Mr. Trump has acted appropriately. Ultimately the electorate will decide precisely how acceptable his remarks have been. But the wave of disgust the Donald has engendered was not for a law passed, a crime committed or a threat made. It was for the expression of an opinion, spoken on a campaign trail, moments after 14 innocent people were murdered by terrorists, during a time when Americans are feeling especially vulnerable.
British boxer Tyson Fury experienced a similar reaction to comments he made following his recent shock victory over the seemingly invincible Russian heavyweight, Wladimir Klitchko. Fury—the descendant of Irish travelers—has made no secret of his views on the role of women and has expressed views on homosexuals that many have found offensive. Fury claims the backlash against his view on gays stems from “some quote that I quoted out of the Bible,” meaning that—from his point of view—he is being condemned simply for verbalizing his Christian faith. [1. Mr. Fury has since offered an apology for some of his remarks.]
A self-professed born-again Christian, Mr. Fury is often referred to by many in Britain as a “chav”, or what Americans might call a “redneck.” He has expressed opinions one might call intolerant, ignorant or offensive (or a combination thereof) depending on one’s viewpoint. However, a generation (or less) ago, Tyson Fury’s opinions would have raised the ire of few. The possibility exists that Fury is less a hate monger, and more a slow learner.
Freedom of expression is a delicate thing, as is freedom itself. The freedom you enjoy allowing you to learn to fly a plane carries with the expectation that you will not use that freedom to fly an aircraft into the side of a skyscraper. It is expected that one’s freedom to own a gun will be accompanied by a respect for life. And in the vast majority of cases the aforementioned freedoms are appropriately respected. However, in the cases in which they are not, disaster is the frequent result, the excruciating pain of which is felt by society as a whole in a multiplicity of ways.
The reaction to the opinions uttered by Donald Trump and Tyson Fury raise the question not only of appropriate expression of opinion, but also of appropriate expression of reaction. Take the case of the 30-year-old PR executive who in December of 2014 tweeted an off-hand (and unintentionally off-color) joke as she boarded a flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg. By the time she landed in South Africa the Twittersphere had hemorrhaged and she had been digitally hung, drawn and quartered. Her life was ruined. [2. For a time and a season.]
People often react harshly to the opinions of others. While still a mere Twitter neophyte [3. I’m still far from a seasoned Twitter vet, and maintain a personal Twitter page only because certain young adults in our office told me I had to. What can you do?], I tweeted in the wake of a tragedy that had occurred something along the lines of, “It’s easy to preach when something like this has happened!” For reasons I have never been made aware of, several young men tweeted their outrage, one of them suggesting I was “giddy” (with excitement) in the wake of the tragedy. I was aghast. Giddy?
It’s probable I should have simply deleted my comments and moved on, but I decided instead to engage the self-appointed guardians of online expression. I can’t remember what I wrote, but what I thought was, “If you’d said that to my face when I wasn’t a Christian I’d have broken your jaw.” But of course the comments weren’t made to my face. They never are. Even many Christians don’t confront others the way we used to back in the pre-internet day. Twitter is HGH for 90-pound cyber-weaklings who hide behind their keyboards. In my naiveté it stung that someone who was essentially a ministerial colleague would publicly attack me and throw me under the bus without making the slightest effort to understand what I was actually saying. Giddy? #Givemeabreak
Where we find ourselves today is at the intersection of intolerance and intolerance. Mr. Fury freely admits, “I’m not very educated.” He makes sexist comments—“A women’s place is…”— and like many others, disagrees with the legalizing of homosexuality, and suddenly he is the antichrist. Meanwhile, movie director Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying: “What if a kid goes to school after seeing Kill Bill and starts slicing up other kids? You know, I’ll take that chance!” and is considered a genius. Donald Trump suggests Muslims be banned from traveling to the United States—a proposal which in practical terms would be all but impossible to implement—and the internet hyperventilates, while misogynistic hip-hop molds the minds of the youthful masses, pornography is being force-fed to our children, revenge porn is legal in more than half of the not-entirely-United States, and truly draconian minimum sentencing laws have condemned thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives in prison for offenses which—when taken in context—frequently struggle to rise above trivial.
Society has REAL problems, but Donald Trump and Tyson Fury aren’t among them. They’re simply two men who are profoundly good at what they do and who likely care less than you do about what people think of them and their opinions. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Not one person has yet voted for Donald Trump to be leader of the free world, and there’s a good chance Fury won’t even win his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, PhD. As Michael White wrote in The Guardian, “There comes a point when being vocally intolerant of intolerance oversteps the mark; it risks sounding like virtuous grandstanding or even intolerance in its own right. There’s a balance to be struck and wavering voters to be won over.”
“There’s a balance to be struck.” Responsibility should be exercised on both sides of the equation. Donald Trump revels in winding up the easily offended, while in Tyson Fury’s world his views might even be viewed as moderate. Both men are keenly aware of the deep offense caused by their remarks, but are erudite enough to realize it isn’t in their best interests to take a backward step. [4. I take it you have seen Donald Trump’s poll numbers.]
We all have in our midst people who disagree with us. Do we want them silenced? And if so, would the society we create as a result be an improvement on the one we currently have?
I’ve met people whose family members disappeared because their views didn’t square with the views of “society.” A woman told me of the death of her pastor husband, thrown by police from the roof of a building. The report into his death stated he had alcohol in his system when he died, in spite of the fact the man didn’t drink. I have held in my hands Christian books that were produced by stealth typists who worked in short shifts hidden beneath sound-dampening blankets. They labored in the knowledge that should the clickety-clak of their typewriter be detected by informers, their reward would have been to join the long procession to the labor camps where millions perished.
A careful reading of the Bible reveals that before the return of Jesus certain believers will be persecuted not for their crimes but their opinions. The mark of the beast will be forced on all who fail to fall in line behind the majority view. I was incredulous when Christians in one ‘free’ Asian country told me churches had to receive authorization in order to have a church gathering in a public place. I was less surprised when believers in a former communist country recalled the days of living under similar conditions before the iron curtain came down. Yes, those who disagree with statements publicly made have a right to be heard. But no greater right than those who are currently caught in their crosshairs.
I spoke with a man this past weekend who told me his grandmother chose to separate from the church of her childhood in the 1930s when her local priest could not answer her questions about the Bible Sabbath. In 1943 a neighbor—suspicious about the woman’s Sabbath observance—reported her to the authorities, who summarily transported her to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which at the time was home to thousands of Sabbath-keepers. Like most of them, she died there. The final words she spoke to her daughters were words of faith and hope. “Be strong, and continue to stand for Jesus.”
As a society we’re either going to learn to live with each other’s viewpoint and move forward accordingly, or we’re going to end up embroiled in a constant barrage of intolerance. Tweetmageddon. My fear is that we’re going to become so adept at shame-shaming that when the troubles forecast in Scripture begin to come to pass, we’ll be pre-programmed to pile on without restraint, your right to believe as you please be damned.
And we’ll long for the good old days, when in a free world Donald Trump made inflammatory comments and Tyson Fury was bemused by the visceral reaction his chav upbringing couldn’t help but elicit.
As distasteful as some opinions might be, these are the good old days. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.
And gone they’ll be. Before we know it.