We’re seeing lots of “concern trolling” among pundits and Trump supporters on TV and social media about protestors using naughty words and breaking windows and leaving rubbish behind at their rallies and marches. Donald Trump promised to deport millions of immigrants — splitting up from their families if necessary—to remove health care, to ban 1 billion from the U.S., to extend torture beyond waterboarding, and to kill the innocent wives and children of terrorists. To mention just a handful of his Constitutionally dubious policies. But Trump fans worry about trash pickup.
Similarly, I protested with some 150,000+ fellow New Yorkers yesterday (estimates of up to 400,000) and there were no smashed windows or burning cars or fights to my knowledge. Many critics of the protestors use this tactic of pointing out the minuscule number of people (far less than 1 percent) who do something stupid or violent simply as a way of changing the subject from the legitimate issues those protestors are highlighting. It’s a basic, time-worn propaganda technique. It’s deflection. And I’m sure the new government thanks them for their service in using it.
After all, they’re employing the same rhetorical tricks.
Of course, I have no problem with people highlighting stupid stuff: Those who protest do the same. But let’s also recognize that people who consistently try to reduce the protests to those stupid actions do so as a way of ignoring what is being protested. As happened with Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, that’s happening all over the place right now.
We can continue to stress that we’re against these acts of stupidity until we’re blue in the face. The real intent is to avoid the actually important issues. Maybe we should just get in the habit of saying, “Yes, I condemn the stupidity. Now, can we return to the actual issues the 99.99 percent of us were focused on?”
The same deflection applies with criticism of profanity. I’m not about to criticize protestors’ use of naughty words because their use of the language often simply highlights or alludes to language used by Trump himself. And Trump supporters don’t get to ignore the issues of towering importance millions of protestors highlight just because some of them use naughty words.
And some are offended by pussycat ear hats? Pink pussycat ear hats. Those knit hats are a charming response to our new president’s scabrous vulgarity. If their presence offends, please remember they’re coyly referencing his remarks. Specifically, his bragging about sexual assault. And as passionate students of language and free speech, I’m sure we all understand that words themselves are not immoral; it’s the motivation they’re used with which can be crass, callous or demeaning.
These complaints about language and pink knit hats, however, are also examples of deflection. And they’re often simply examples of the oppressors taking pleasure in telling the oppressed how they can protest their oppression.
This piece first also appears on Medium.com.
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