Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Local columnist Chuck Roots offered a submission to the Bulletin titled “Agreeing to disagree”. I enjoyed the first part of the column, although his dig at “the Democrats of today” as supposedly having “embraced socialism over a democratic republic”, did give me pause. Use of stereotyping and generalization seems incongruous in a column that is purportedly about learning a positive life lesson how “the best of friends can vehemently disagree and not have it adversely affect their friendship”. Roots went on to explain how his world views began to diverge from his parents’ perspectives, but the love of family overcame any “heated debates”. Readers can infer from Roots’ examples that mutual respect cemented important bonds and friendships.
This part of his column was touching and uplifting, especially in our current politically divisive climate.
However, the last part of his writing undercut the positive message I thought he was trying to convey. He shifted from personal bonds and an acceptance, through love and friendship, of each other’s political or cultural differences, to one-sided observations that were not only stacked, but also contained inaccuracies. His focus narrowed to only those opposed to the Trump administration. He characterized protest marchers as “carrying signs and placards spewing the vilest and most vulgar of words” and protest speakers who “were impossibly mendacious, revealing a hatred for anyone who did not agree with them that bordered on mental derangement”. Unfortunately, those following President Trump’s tweeted insults against Senators Graham and McCain, former Attorney General Yates, the media, the Central Intelligence agency, and Congressman Schumer, among others, know that Roots’ last description more accurately depicts Trump, himself.
Having relatives who attended the Portland Women’s March and the Sacramento Women’s March, I take issue with Roots’ interpretation of these events. The Portland mother and daughter duo who marched in the pouring rain carried a sign reading “Women are watching”. This is hardly “spewing the vilest and most vulgar of words”. At the Sacramento march, one of my sons and his girlfriend had a sign supporting a free press. Signage there did include the occasional irreverent placard such as “Lincoln told the truth, Nixon lied, and Trump can’t tell the difference.” According to them, speakers at the Sacramento rally were inspiring and energizing. The march’s atmosphere, overall, was positive (no violence) and there was heart-felt fellowship among those gathered. While there were, most likely, some crude signs or zealous speakers at some of the rallies and marches attended by vast numbers across the country, there were also encouraging voices, co-operation, righteous indignation, and the joy of finding a purpose and place in a movement. Roots ignored all of that, which prevents readers from fully grasping the scope and meaning of these marches. Instead, he unfairly pigeonholes them. The success of “agreeing to disagree” partially rests on trying to understand what the other side is thinking and feeling, even if you don’t agree with that perspective. Using emotionally loaded words with negative connotations like “spewing”, “vilest”, and “vulgar” does not serve to further understanding. Ironically, those words could justifiably be used to describe Trump’s “Access Hollywood” behavior.
Roots’ additional instances of the teacher with the squirt gun and the four black assailants each contained inaccurate information. In the latter case, the victim is not “mentally retarded”, he has schizophrenia and while the assailants shouted “F- white people” and “F-Trump”, the victim’s supposed support of Trump wasn’t stated in accounts of the story. In the former case, it is unclear and unconfirmed (at this writing) if students were actually present in the classroom at the time. Context and facts are important. But what is more disturbing to me is Roots’ willingness to extrapolate these extreme examples into a generalized condemnation of all those who oppose Trump (“These are not isolated incidents”.), while ignoring any instances of pro-Trump misbehavior. It is as unfair to characterize the anti-Trump camp as purveyors of “hatred and violence” as it would be to claim that Alt-Right or Neo-Nazi supporters of Trump reflect the values of the bulk of his base. In a column ostensibly about getting along with each other, despite disagreements, Roots’ underlying message is far different and troubling.
Roots ended his column with a plea to “love your neighbor as yourself”, quoting Jesus. He stated that Jesus means we should love even those who disagree with us. Roots challenged readers to ask themselves, “Am I willing to live God’s way?” But is he? It is not enough, even for a pastor, to just “talk the talk”. His actions ought to convey his stated convictions. In a column preaching about neighborly love, acceptance, and “agreeing to disagree”, he has filled it with extreme examples that only divide, focusing on the faults of only one side and describing the anti-Trump movement in derogatory terms. Overheated language does not reflect true respect and mutual respect is a key component in any attempt at acceptance or tolerance. Being a Christian is sometimes hard. One of the toughest requirements is to “love thy enemy” or “turn the other cheek”. Turning others who think differently from you into the enemy is not the way to truly illustrate or champion the worthy goal of “agreeing to disagree”.