Donald Trump Redefines Hate Speech
Teaching or “My Life as a Dog”
I’ve been an English teacher off and on for well over a decade. Despite my forays into other professions, I always come back to teaching despite my disdain for it. Why? It is the only vocation I have proven to be “exceptional” at. I’m not just good, I’m better than almost everybody on every level.
That said, I make mistakes every single day I teach, and I’m never satisfied that I’ve found the perfect system or that I’m without fault. That is why I am so good. Show me any teacher claiming to have it all figured out, and I’ll show you a teacher that is obsolete.
And I wouldn’t hate this job but for outside forces. I love my students. I never tire of finding ways to communicate with them. They always have so much to teach me. As to their misbehavior, I am virtually unflappable. A student can never do anything to make me hate them. It is the student’s lot in life to try things, to rebel. I can think of nothing more disturbing than a class of perfectly behaved students. Show me a room of perfectly behaved human beings, and I’ll show you what death looks like.
And what is teaching if not showing students the limits of things, where they can stretch and where they might be best to follow the path? We don’t get anywhere with absolute conformity, and though a student’s reaction from time to time may cause some level of disappointment, students are just being students. It’s expected, and when overboard, usually easily corrected.
What is Really Wrong with Education?
And then there’s the education system, its governance, the Nation’s governance. This is what makes me hate teaching so much. Clueless higher-ups feeding nonsensical ideas of how students learn to an ignorant public. And perhaps most disturbing of all, the way this culture reduces its teachers to spineless, squirming, jelly-like creatures whose sole purpose is not the benefit of students but self-preservation. And then society has the gall to make fun of what it has molded in its own image.
But I get by. I succeed anyway. Every time I hear some new idiocy I tuck my chin, grumble, then lift my head and say, “Rise above it.” Or I go to a common Monty Python line taken from The Knights of the Round Table: “Adopt, adapt, and improve.” And though I am often overcome with frustration, I can always see a way out.
That is until President Trump changed reality.
Skills in Persuasion and Rudiments of Defining Hate Speech
Some of the most important skills that educators facilitate are skills in persuasion. This isn’t true only of English teachers but history teachers, speech teachers, psychology teachers, etc. There aren’t many things in life that skills in persuasion won’t help you with.
And when it comes to teaching these skills, I always tell my students to pick a topic that is not overly broad, has at least two valid stances, and that doesn’t incorporate hate speech. I tell them that my leanings are usually liberal, but that regardless of their belief systems, I grade their essays by the quality of their argument with one caveat: I will not grade a stance that crosses over into “Hate Speech.” Then I give examples of things that are and are not hate speech.
For example, it is not hate speech to want to protect the English language by making it legally the official language of the U.S. Though I don’t agree we should have such a law, it is a valid argument in that it is defendable from many angles. Such an argument does become hate speech, however, when it deviates from immigrants knowing English is the official language to other underlying ideals like, “I don’t want them here because they’re different.” Or, “I want to make it illegal for them to come here if they can’t speak English.” Or, “I don’t want them here because their words sound funny.” Or, “Their skin is different than mine. I’m afraid they’ll be violent.” Or, “Their religion isn’t like mine.”
But what if that doesn’t make it hate speech anymore? What if Donald Trump has changed the status quo, and it is now ok to be racist, sexist, prejudice, or just plain ignorant?
What’s Wrong with a Muslim Registry? Everything!
Of all the things that are wrong with Donald Trump being President, the implications of open racism, sexism, and just general prejudice is what I have struggled with the most. What on earth am I talking about?
Let’s start with a textbook definition of hate speech. The American Bar Association neatly defines hate speech as language that “offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” (1)
Now let’s run through the policies that allowed Donald Trump to garner enough support to win the Electoral College.
Despite the recent denial of ever making such a statement, Donald Trump is on record several times as advocating a registry for Muslims, in some instances suggesting disturbing Muslims at worship in order to “sign ‘these people’ up.” (2) Well, that knocks out the first three things on the list: “threatens [and] insults groups, based on race, color, religion, [and] national origin.”
You don’t agree? Let’s analyze the concept of a Muslim registry. Islam is a religion. The vast majority of its adherents are of color and from specific nations. Above it going against the very foundations of our democracy to make a list of people based on religion and beyond the dehumanizing nature of doing such a thing, it endangers the lives of people who have this faith.
As an example, let’s compare the logistics of a proposed Muslim registry to another guffaw in recent U.S. history, the Japanese Internment Camps of World War II. Yet this is so much worse. At least with the Japanese Internment Camps the U.S. Government took on the responsibility of protecting this group from irate U.S. citizens. Under Trump’s plan Muslims would be validated as a threat to U.S. citizens by the Government and then left to fend for themselves amongst the general public.
Trump is to Women as Salt is to Slugs
By now we’re all familiar with the lewd Trump tape from 2005 in which Donald Trump details his entitlement to sexually harass women because he is wealthy, and though that is damning of him and an electoral system that would see him elected to our Nation’s highest office, at least it was said off the record, to a reporter nonetheless, but off the record. He had to apologize for it, regardless of how hollow that apology was. (3) I say this because at least if it was off the record and apologized for, we don’t have our President supporting this instance of hate speech on an official capacity.
But that makes the statements he made during an official ABC interview in 1994 all the more disturbing. In this bizarre interview, among the many deplorable affirmations Trump makes are the similarities of women and buildings, that women don’t belong in business, and the expectation that his wife be done up like a model when he gets home and have dinner on the table or else he has the right to be verbally abuse her. (4)
If You Ain’t Like Me, Go Hang from a Tree
And that knocks out most our list of things that constitute hate speech. But what about the disabled? Surely a person electable by the U.S. Electoral College would not make fun of the handicapped, not in this modern era?
Serge Kovaleski, a reporter “who suffers from a congenital joint condition,” pointed out the utter fallacy of a statement made by Trump. Trump was trying to substantiate the absurd urban legend that New York Muslims stood in groups numbering in the thousands cheering as the Twin Towers fail. Trump even reminisced that he personally overheard their triumphant merriment.
When it was explained to him that no such revelry was ever credibly established, Trump declared that Serge Kovaleski had detailed the event in an article for the Washington Post. Kovaleski, not wanting his good name to be soiled, pointed out that the event was never substantiated by anybody.
Trump, like the grade school bully seeing he is intellectually bested, decided his only face-saving course of action was to humiliate Kovaleski by physically mimicking his disability in front of hundreds at a rally. (5)
And this isn’t by any means everything or even most. It’s just a snippet of some of the disgusting low-points of our President’s entirely base existence.
The True Definition of Hate Speech
Though hate speech has a textbook definition, in real world terms, it isn’t defined by textbooks at all. What is and is not hate speech is ultimately defined by society. This has always been true. For example, a student writing a persuasive essay touting the positive effects of a segregated society would be thought to be making a perfectly logical argument if it were 1950. Even a paper detailing the moral wrongness of a mother pursuing a career would be greeted with much fanfare in such an era.
And let’s look to a more modern example. We are on the precipice of finally as a Nation validating gay, lesbian, and transgender unions. Even in Bible Belt states the majority of citizens are starting to see how preposterous the idea is that we can change sexual predilections. Barring major setbacks, in just the matter of a few years the support of any agenda to exclude homosexuals will be labeled as hate speech. In comparison, if you go back a few decades, homosexuality was an offense punishable by incarceration.
Do you think Donald Trump has Altered the Definition of Hate Speech?
The Effect of Being Trumped
The point is when the official elected to the highest office in the land openly supports views that have long been established as hate speech, embodies it, revels in it, officially endorses it, the effect is palpable. As a result, I’m just lost right now. What am I supposed to tell my students? One of the reasons I’m such a good teacher is that I adhere to a code. A big part of that code is that I won’t prejudice my assessment of student work with my own moral concepts of right and wrong. That doesn’t mean I have to put up with just any viewpoint, though. Society dictates that certain beliefs are out of place in academia.
What’s out of place now? The Electoral College just appointed an openly prejudice women-hater that doesn’t balk at publicly making fun of the disabled if they stand in the way of his pride. And that’s the big thing here: these weren’t missteps. These aren’t ignorances hanging back in the shadows. These are official stances of the President of the United States. With the lewd 2005 tape Trump got caught being himself. With the rest of this stuff he didn’t get caught. This is the person Donald Trump has chosen to be seen as publicly, and even though we didn’t actually elect him, it still reflects on the rest of us that this is the sort of lifestyle and the sort of thinking we support.
If a student comes up and says they want to write a paper about the merit of verbally abusing women or shooting immigrants who sneak over the border or doing away with cripples because they are different, what am I to say? It’s all publicly fair game now.
The way I see it, if I continue to teach, it is either break my ethics code or condone hate. With these being my only two options, the only way to keep my integrity is to walk away until the world gets sane again.
“Debating the ‘Mighty Constitutional Opposites’: Debating Hate Speech”
“What Trump Has Said About a Muslim Registry”
“Trump recorded having extremely lewd conversation about women in 2005”
“Donald Trump compares women to buildings, swears he’s not a chauvinist during sexist 1994 interview”
“Donald Trump Criticized for Mocking Disabled Reporter”