I doubt that any member of the American public would deny that this election season has been quite bizarre.
From a personal standpoint, recent weeks remind me of an episode of “The Twilight Zone” entitled “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”
In this episode, residents of a pleasant suburban neighborhood begin to experience strange, disturbing happenings. Trapped on Maple Street, the neighbors begin to investigate. But as tension escalates and no answers are found, the neighbors begin to grow fearful and suspicious of each other. Old scores are brought up. Prejudices are revealed. Tempers flare. The episode concludes in a chaotic massacre as the neighbors riot against each other.
Narrator Rod Serling closes with these words: “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.”
This epilogue is poignant at any time. Now, it’s chilling in its familiarity.
Mr. Donald Trump’s campaign has turned America into Maple Street. There, his supporters stand at the ready, prepared to accuse and attack anyone that they suspect might be responsible for the confusion and violence that too often shakes the world.
The culture of fear that is fostered by Trump has demonstrated itself in a number of ways, including an army of supporters that declare allegiance to his hate-mongering propaganda.
I’ve seen it personally on social media as Facebook connections proclaim that some races are inherently superior to others, or that Muslims should be destroyed, or that all men secretly boast about sexual assault. And we’ve seen it on a larger, more frightening scale in public alliances with hate groups and even outbursts of violence.
At the core of Trump’s brand is a strategy that preys on the fright of a disheartened public. Trump, fueled by ignorance and bigotry, communicates a message of paranoia. This message says that immigrants and refugees bring crime and terror. It says that we should be untrusting of news outlets. It says that the election will probably be rigged. It says that America isn’t great anymore.
Trump’s thoughtless search for a scapegoat has resulted in a paranoid, sideways-glancing band of followers. In a world with a tragic tendency toward disaster, Trump drives his supporters to glance frantically around for someone to blame. Could it be the liberal media? Calls for stricter gun control? Black Lives Matter? Immigrants? Syrian refugees?
Compounding the problem is the fact that some members of the electorate who oppose Mr. Trump — myself included — have an unfortunate habit of expressing disdain with an unnecessary degree of forcefulness.
Always outspoken, I have consistently found myself poised to do battle against acquaintances who defend Trump. And while I will never, ever apologize for taking a stand against Trump, I am keenly aware of the fact that my dialogue is too often driven by emotion.
I do not for a minute mean to suggest that we should not be enraged by Trump, his stances and his actions. I’m angry. I’m appalled. And in an effort to avoid complacency, I’ll continue to express my outrage. But this anger should be expressed civilly.
We must not stoop to Trump’s level of blustering rhetoric, lest he bring out the monster in all of us, too.