Words Have Power

As an American ex-pat living and working in Berlin, I was deeply disturbed when I awoke this morning to read both about last night’s tragic incident at a local Berlin Christmas market and to hear the extremely troubling response by the U.S. president-elect.

At the time of this writing, German authorities continue to be extremely careful not to jump to judgment that this was a terrorist attack. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said “I don’t want to use the word ‘attack’ yet at the moment, although a lot points to it. There is a psychological effect in the whole country of the choice of words here, and we want to be very, very cautious and operate close to the actual investigation results, not with speculation.”

He’s right…words have power.

The response of the U.S. president-elect, on the other hand, was alarmingly filled with assumptions and fear-mongering linking the incident to “Islamist terrorists” before anyone had identified responsibility. He went on to say “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in the communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”

The difference between the statements of the two officials is striking. One is clearly an attempt to stick to the facts and to keep people calm. The other appears to be totally unconcerned with facts and only interested in using the incident to incite and to further his own fear-based agenda.

This is directly out of the Bannon/Breitbart/Goebbels playbook, and strikingly similar to Hitler’s response to the Reichstag fire here in Berlin just two months after he was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933. (It is widely believed that it was that fire that solidified Hitler’s hold on the country.)

There is nothing calming, nothing supportive in the words of the U.S. president-elect… only knee-jerk alarm and condemnation.

Whether or not it becomes clear that this tragedy was, in some way, related to terrorism, we must not ever condone the kind of knee-jerk fear-mongering based on assumption evidenced by the U.S. president-elect.

Words have power, and our democracy depends upon us using facts and reason when we react to the challenges around us.

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