The per­ils of play­ing to the mob

The Taos News - - FAVOR Y CONTRA - By Daniel A. Brown Daniel A. Brown is an artist, writer and for­mer pub­lic school teacher liv­ing in Arroyo Seco.

From the looks of things, Don­ald Trump’s ral­lies are get­ting cra­zier by the day.

True, they were pretty aw­ful to be­gin with dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, when his mock­ing of a dis­abled reporter, in­sult­ing dec­o­rated com­bat veter­ans, such as Sen. John McCain, and threat­en­ing to ar­rest Hi­lary Clin­ton, were all met by wild cheers of approval. It took me a while to re­al­ize that Trump, like all dan­ger­ous dem­a­gogues, has the abil­ity to turn or­di­nary, rel­a­tively de­cent in­di­vid­u­als into an ugly mob.

I don’t doubt for a minute that were these same in­di­vid­u­als to come across a dis­abled person, their first emo­tion would be sym­pa­thy, or per­haps em­pa­thy, know­ing that they knew a friend or a fam­ily mem­ber in the same con­di­tion. Like­wise, to in­sult a mil­i­tary veteran would be un­think­able for those who con­sider them­selves pa­tri­otic Amer­i­cans and many of whom, no doubt, are veter­ans them­selves.

In re­cent months, how­ever, Trump has been stir­ring up his sup­port­ers by la­bel­ing the free press as an “En­emy of the Peo­ple,” an evil ac­cu­sa­tion used by ev­ery mur­der­ous tyrant over the past two cen­turies. Re­porters at his ral­lies have been phys­i­cally threat­ened, and lately a bizarre group of con­spir­acy lu­natics known as “QAnon” has been show­ing up in greater num­bers. Their ac­cu­sa­tions are so de­mented that even con­ser­va­tive main­stream Repub­li­cans are call­ing for them to be sup­pressed lest they em­bar­rass the GOP.

But “QAnon” is the Franken­stein monster of Don­ald Trump and Repub­li­can politi­cians, the lat­ter of which have stood by like craven cow­ards as their leader ram­pages all over the Con­sti­tu­tion and be­trays our demo­cratic process to Vladimir Putin. For years, Trump has been play­ing to the alt-right zealots, from his first es­pousal of the “birther” move­ment to the patho­log­i­cal lies that are now the frame­work of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Even Ge­orge Or­well never could have imag­ined a Don­ald Trump in a so-called free so­ci­ety.

I thought about Trump’s hate ral­lies after view­ing the new doc­u­men­tary, “Won’t You Be My Neigh­bor,” about Fred Rogers of chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion fame. In truth, I never watched his show and dis­missed him as some em­bar­rass­ing lightweight. That view evap­o­rated as the film ended and tears ran down my eyes as well as those of oth­ers in at­ten­dance. Mr. Rogers was the “anti-Trump”: a kind, de­cent, soft-spo­ken man who could be called the “Child Whis­perer” for his in­tu­itive un­der­stand­ing of chil­dren and his life­long de­fense of them.

A scene at the end of the movie (spoiler alert) com­pletely un­rav­eled me. It takes place at Rogers’ funeral in 2003. Across from the church are a gag­gle of folks from the West­boro Bap­tist Church, the “God Hates Fags” crowd, protest­ing Rogers’ be­lated sup­port for gay rights. Among those hold­ing the hor­rid scripted signs are sev­eral young chil­dren.

When asked what he thought Rogers’ re­ac­tion would have been to this demon­stra­tion, one of his friends be­lieves that his heart would have gone out to the kids. These young­sters looked “ex­hausted and de­pleted,” with lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the vi­cious word­ings on the plac­ards they were forced to carry.

After I left the theater, I re­flected on the chil­dren who are taken to Trump’s ral­lies and ex­posed to the de­lib­er­ate and care­fully or­ches­trated venom that flows from our pres­i­dent’s lips. Will their minds be poi­soned by what they see and hear? How will their val­ues be formed as adults? Will they be con­di­tioned to be­lieve that de­bas­ing other hu­man be­ings is a valid life path?

I’m not talk­ing about be­ing ex­posed to ba­sic con­ser­va­tive val­ues, some of which I share. I’m more con­cerned with a tone that hon­ors cru­elty, humiliation and the tram­pling of hu­man rights to en­hance an un­quench­able, power-mad ego.

Mob en­ergy is easy to fall into, and I’ve seen vari­a­tions of it in many cir­cles, in­clud­ing those that stand up for peace, so­cial jus­tice and spir­i­tu­al­ity. For­tu­nately, these groups don’t usu­ally re­sort to vi­o­lence or even threats of vi­o­lence. Some so­cial sci­en­tists be­lieve that the at­trac­tion to mob par­tic­i­pa­tion stems from a de­sire to be­long to some­thing big­ger and hope­fully bet­ter than the in­di­vid­ual, es­pe­cially if that in­di­vid­ual is fac­ing tough times as we all do.

At some point, Don­ald Trump might visit New Mex­ico and try to spin his ma­lig­nant web among our friends and neigh­bors. I hope we are bet­ter than that. Tra­di­tion­ally, New Mex­i­cans are a tough, self-re­liant bunch, and there is no rea­son why we should be swayed by what is, essen­tially, a pa­thetic lit­tle man with a big mouth.

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