I have to admit something right from the top. I have grown so accustomed to Social Media confrontations that devolve into weird shouting matches, that I find myself surprised when the same thing happens in real life. Being sandwiched between the latest Trump Tweet barrage, and “news” that Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are at war again should be enough to make me immune to surprises and mind-explosions on a daily basis (yes…having news servers for radio stations as part of my business has horrible side effects). But, every once in a while…you bump into the “real thing” in “real life,” and it is so jarring that you find yourself cleaning gray matter from your favorite shirt for weeks, as a result.
I had one of these experiences at a casual 45th High School reunion recently.
And yes…I admit, that this is risky stuff…actually “outing” someone in public for their views. But, I can assure you…anyone sitting around this guy for more than a few minutes realized that he had no problem whatsoever, “outing himself” gleefully, and self-righteously, so as to leave no question as to his stance on the basics of common human decency.
I’m not going to name him here…although I almost feel it should be done, just as a warning to anyone else who runs across him in other social settings. But, I will say that I was so taken aback by the pompous, hateful, wind-baggery, that it left me gut-punched, breathless, and without the fortitude and decency to say the right thing at the time. Instead, after a quick “quip”…I turned away…shaking my head, only later coming up with ten “GREAT things I should have said.”
I know. We all do that. But I guess I hoped I would be bolder, and braver, and more indignant.
It’s the way most of us respond these days, in a world where someone who shows such complete disregard for decency, while defending his actions as being “picked upon by the politically correct,” that we realize that “unhinged” and “alt-right” often come together with “concealed carry permit” or “assault rifle in the gun rack.”
I have no idea if this guy has weapons or not. But, he had no issue, “shooting his mouth off,” unprovoked, and completely out of context with the conversation (which was mostly about the golf tournament in which we had all participated), blasting forth with a well-rehearsed, and ignorantly uninspired torrent of “jokes” about Jews. Yep…Jews…the “Also-Ran” on the list of people that the KKK and Neo Nazis ascribe to every ill in the world, after the “minority of choice” that fits their latest rant or rally.
After the first one (all of them had to do with the stereotypical “cheap Jew”…so clever) everyone did that kind of “groan/chuckle” that goes with the “did you just say that???” kind of a response. After three more jokes in rapid succession, almost everyone was turning away, or “going to get something to drink” or simply wincing, and shrinking backward.
When he saw this…he immediately went into “defense mode,” by telling all of us that while his mother was a school principal, she was prone to telling Jewish jokes, and that was “just how he was raised,” and that we all need to “get over it because it’s how we grew up.”
Holyfreakinshirt…So, I’m going to guess that “evolving” and “improving” aren’t going to be part of the dialogue for this social troglodyte. Apparently, we have learned nothing, except generational bigotry, and we should all be satisfied when we are brought to witness with how little things have changed in 50 years?
This took place exactly one week after Charlottesville. One week. I am guessing that he felt emboldened by watching his fellow “Alt-Right” buddies on TV, in Nazi gear, and waving the stars and bars, cloaking themselves in the First Amendment, while abusing the Second Amendment with blatant brandishing of weapons of all sorts, in attempts to generate fear. They are terrorists…fomenting fear to the soft underbelly of those who find their actions inconceivable…the very description of the word, “terror.”
And that is our weakness…
The “We” and “Us” that I am talking about when it comes to weakness, are the real majority of good-hearted, rational, consensus seeking Americans who do not believe in extremism and violence from EITHER side (yes…that means you too, Antifa).
It is often our civility that is our most vulnerable weakness when confronting the hardcore bigots that still remain (and seem to be coming out of places least expected). We are shocked…even after seeing our own President support them…when someone we know turns out to be a zealot, blinded by hatred and ignorance, to such a degree that they feel emboldened to the point of acting out in a social setting without fear of reprisal, or perhaps in hopes of instigating a fight.
I guess I want to ask them all the same basic question… “What are you so angry about???”
This person has had a very basic, privileged, middle-class upbringing. He benefited from high school and college sports. He was a “patriot” who was part of the clean-up after 9/11. And, perhaps that’s where the breakdown began for him. I’ve heard third hand (which is never the best place for first hand information) that he is often quoted as saying, “They’re flying planes into our buildings!” Who? The Jews? The illegal Mexicans? Who has provoked you to the point of outward hatred for anyone but folks “like you?”
The best retort I could muster at the time was, “Let me guess…Alex Jones is on your top ten play list for news…right?”
“Who is Alex Jones?” he snarled back. “I don’t even know who that guy is!”
Boom…another of my biases knocked out from under me. I just assumed that every Neanderthal, knuckle-dragging, racist, conspiracy freak, knew and followed Alex Jones.
I stand corrected.
As someone who is not afraid to make my opinions known on Social Media, or blogging…or in person if you “want to go there,” I was pleasantly surprised to have conversations with others with whom I have had disagreements of one sort or another in the past. We were there, after all, to be civil, and have some fun. We all seemed to take some sense of pride in the fact that we COULD have disagreements, and still remain friends, while seeking some sort of middle ground on which we can find consensus.
There are loads of ways we can disagree, when we are all wrapped in the “team flags” of partisan politics and religion. But, those are just nuanced differences when compared to overt racism, sexism, Antisemitism, and xenophobia. There just can’t be any room for someone who hates…based on race, religion or creed. Period.
When it comes to politics, I am apolitical at this point…I detest both parties equally. I claim no single “ism” or religion, choosing instead to find the common threads in many, as opposed to defending one, while marginalizing others. But, I do detest ignorance. It’s lazy…and counterproductive to change and evolution.
The only saving grace that I could come up with…is that to my knowledge, this person does not have kids…and his form of generational hatred may end with him. One can only hope.
Next time (and I fear there is always going to be a next time these days) that I run into another version of this hate-filled moron…I will not wince and turn away. I will simply ask him the question that seems to stymie all extremists… “What happened in your life to fill you with so much ignorance and hatred?”
This guy blamed it on his Mom. I suspect he suffers from PTSD from being at “Ground Zero.” Neither excuse gives him a pass. But, I was a coward to let the opportunity for a “teaching/learning” experience slip by. It won’t happen again.