Years ago, I looked out the window and saw my 12-year-old chasing her 6-year-old sister and swinging a baseball bat at her while she rode away on her bike. I saw that they were both laughing which clued me in to the fact that they were playing, but obviously, it was a pretty alarming scene. So I called the 12-year-old over to tell her to stop and demand to know what the hell she thought she was doing.
She came over and assured me that they were just playing and she was being very careful not to actually hit her sister or her bike. She explained that she had worked out the timing of her swings so that she could make this fake baseball bat attack look realistic without running the risk of actually hitting her. Being a tweenager, the possibility of error or accident hardly existed in her mind, of course. So far as she was concerned, there was nothing to worry about because she was actually being very careful as she staged his faux “I’m going to beat my sister with a baseball bat attack”.
Rather than focusing on the safety issue, I pointed out something rather obvious to her: if she is deliberately creating the false impression that she is trying to beat his sister with a baseball bat, how does she suppose anyone who sees them will react? Will they say, “hey, look at that kid with amazing timing and gross motor skills playing harmlessly with that little girl”? Or will they say, “oh my gosh, it looks like that kid’s trying to kill that little girl with a baseball bat!”
I could see a little light bulb going off in her head. I pointed out that her father, who has PTSD from growing up in a violent home where people actually had been hit with baseball bats from time to time, would have had an automatic, unthinking and extreme reaction to the sight of his kid swinging at baseball bat at her sister. Which was unlikely to turn out well for any of us. More lightbulbs.
I pointed out to her that being safe is important, of course, but it’s not the only issue for her to concern herself with. She needed to be aware of how she appeared to people who may not even know her. You can’t expect people to see someone engaged in behavior which has every appearance of being dangerous, aggressive and violent and not react as if that person was dangerous, aggressive and violent. In fact, it would be irresponsible for someone who witnessed an adolescent kid swinging a baseball bat at a 6 year old to assume the best about the situation or wait to evaluate what’s going on before responding. It was her responsibility, I explained, not just to be safe, but also not to engage in behaviors which will cause alarm and panic in people who witness them.
Obviously, this issue hadn’t been on her radar, but as I explained it to her, she caught on because even a tweenager can understand this pretty simple basic idea. Don’t create the impression that you are dangerous or people will respond to you as if you are dangerous and when they do, it will be your error, not theirs.
Unfortunately, it seems that many Trump supporters are no more aware of this concept than my kid was prior to our conversation. They believe that the onus is on Trump’s critics to give him a chance and view those of us who are responding to Trump as if he is dangerous as paranoid and overreacting. They think it’s ridiculous that we won’t just wait and see what happens before jumping to the conclusion that Trump is dangerous. They are certain that Trump isn’t dangerous so, like my son who knew that he wasn’t actually going to hit my daughter or her bike with a baseball bat, it seems not to have occurred to them that this isn’t the only thing that matters about the situation.
There’s a reason the bible says to avoid the appearances of all kinds of evil. People aren’t required to wait for definitive proof to respond to the appearance of evil. If you aren’t dangerous and evil, it shouldn’t be that hard to take some responsibility for not creating the impression that you are dangerous and evil. Unfortunately, Trump seems to be going out of his way to create the appearance of all kinds of evil while his supporters act incredulous that anyone would think the man is actually dangerous.
But of course, in the real world, if you’re not racist, you don’t choose the leader of a flagrantly racist white nationalist movement to be your closest adviser and you don’t appoint a man known for his racism and opposition to civil rights to run the department charged with enforcing civil rights. If you’re not a tyrant in the making, you don’t continually threaten to sue and shut down the press when their reporting doesn’t please you. If you’re not a wealthy leach looking to enrich himself, you don’t refuse to release your tax records or take appropriate measures to eliminate conflicts of interest. If you are ethical, you don’t refuse to cooperate with the ethics oversight or threaten the person in charge of ethics oversight with investigation if he criticizes you. If you’re not a conman you don’t deny saying things you literally just said and lie continually.
I could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, but I think you get the point. Even if Trump really and truly is a good guy who wants to do right by the country, the fact remains that at every step of the way, Trump has been behaving exactly the way a dangerous, racist, unethical, despot rising to power behaves. It is not the responsibility of the public to withhold judgment when they witness something which appears dangerous. It is the responsibility of Trump to avoid creating the impression that he is dangerous. And it is both wrong and ridiculous for Trump supporters to continue to insist otherwise. Just because they are fools doesn’t mean the rest of us are obliged to follow suit.