Yesterday I posted a link to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech on Facebook.
You know, her impassioned plea for basic human decency in publc discourse.
The speech that referred to how “…the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter – someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.”
The one that concluded, “When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”
In response to my post, a self-confessed conservative groused, “…says a member of the powerful Hollywood elite whom much of America no longer trusts.”
Okay, maybe it’s because I’m the brother of an intellectually disabled woman, but I was irritated. I mean, even if you’re a Trump supporter surely you can’t think the public humiliation of a person’s disability is acceptable. Ever.
So I bit back.
Don’t shoot the messenger, dude. Even if you don’t like Ms Streep, you’ve gotta agree with her stand.
No, my Facebook friend replied, “…it’s hypocritical for Streep to say this when she publicly supports the biggest murderer of disabled babies in America (Planned Parenthood).”
Several others weighed in on the discussion, pretty much making the point that on the topic being discussed (the public mockery of the powerless), Streep was right.
And then something interesting happened. My unhappy Facebook correspondent admitted that he had several relatives with disabilities, including one with Down Syndrome, and his heart would go out to them if they were the object of someone’s mockery.
Did you get that?
He has disabled relatives. His heart goes out to them. But when he hears Meryl Streep criticize Mr Trump for mocking a disabled man, his first reaction is to attack Ms Streep.
What’s with that?
Can you see what’s happening? We are all so blindly and resolutely stuck in our conservative-liberal, right-left, red-blue corners that when a conservative hears a liberal say something he agrees with his first impulse is to undermine her.
When this was pointed out to him, he demurred, “I didn’t reject Streep’s comments – just felt it was a bit rich coming from her. Perhaps I was a bit reactionary.”
Surely, this is a perfect case study in what’s wrong with public discourse today. We don’t engage in a contest of ideas. We attack personalities. We attack each other.
An influential Christian leader responded to Ms Streep’s speech by tweeting, “It would be great if Hollywood celebrities would lecture us on politics more, [said] no one, ever.”
But Ms Streep’s speech wasn’t as much a lecture on politics as a plea for human decency. She was being rejected, not for her message, but for her status as a Hollywood celebrity.
Of course, Mr Trump laughed it off as coming from “liberal movie people”, only reinforcing my point.
I’ve seen it again and again on social media. Recently someone shared a quote from one of my books on Facebook only to get a comment like this, “Sounds good, but he preaches a social gospel.”
Aside from what a “social gospel” is and whether I preach it, the commenter actually liked the quote itself but was bound to reject it because it was written by me.
We simply can’t hear each other. We’ve already rejected the messenger, so the message is immaterial.
When a man with disabled relatives hears a rousing defense of disabled people and rejects it because it was presented by a liberal or directed at Donald Trump, we can be pretty sure that meaningful public discourse is stone cold motherless dead.
POSTSCRIPT: The commentator on the original Facebook discussion has contacted me to clarify some points he made. It was not his intent to reject the content of Meryl Streep’s speech and admitted that his rushed and poorly written reply was interpreted as saying her speech was not justified rather than intending to say that Donald Trump’s mocking of disabled people was not justified. He also agrees that public discourse is at a low point, and desires more generous and civil discussion especially if it challenges our preconceptions, assumptions and biases