Monday, June 12, 2017

Who Might Be Listening?

I was at the new bookstore in town today and I happened to be wearing my 'I'm with her' Tshirt with the picture of the Earth on it. The guy who had been helping me find a book for my friend looked at my shirt as I made some vague allusion to the Trump administration. I don't even remember what I said.

"I, uh, agree with you there," he whispered as he gestured vaguely at my shirt. He looked around the store. "But some people here might not be inclined that way."

And we whispered a brief conversation. It wasn't what we said, it was the method with which we said it. He leaned in and nodded his head in agreement. I leaned in and listened to his opinion. We both looked around multiple times as if afraid of something.

Oh, I get it. This man did not want to drive away business with his political views. Either he was an employee who could have been fired or he was a co-owner with even more at stake. I understand that.

But this hasn't been the first time my opinion has been hushed in public.

I've been informed that I shouldn't give my opinion at Boy Scout meetings. At a meeting a couple weeks ago, another man leaned in toward me and interrupted me, "We shouldn't probably talk about politics here where people have varied opinions." I was well aware that this man agreed with my opinions. I found myself looking with him around the room for people who just might disagree with me. I found myself whispering the end of my sentence. "We shouldn't talk about politics here," he repeated.

Why not?

Couldn't Scouts benefit from a vigorous debate about the function of our government? What should a government do? What should be their reach into peoples' lives? How should leaders best represent their constituents? What limitations should be put on a President? What should happen if a foreign country exerts control over our government?

Those are all very important questions. Open debate is good, right?

But I get it. We wouldn't want anyone with differing opinions to feel like they didn't belong in the Troop. So, I've gotten quieter at Scout meetings, not silent, but quieter. And people keep shushing me and looking around the room to see who may have overheard us talking.

The other day, I was at lunch with a couple of friends, friends whose political beliefs align with mine.

"No politics at lunch here," one of them announced. "I can't handle it." Then she looked around as if someone might be listening to us. Who would care?

Okay, so maybe she spent the last four months binge-watching the news like the rest of us had, but why couldn't we talk?

And it happened at the dog park. A man I'd talked to a number of times looked closely at my shirt, the 'I'm with her' Earth shirt.

"I wrote an editorial that everyone should shut up about a democratically elected President and get on with their lives. I signed it 'a Bernie Sanders supporter.'"

"But what about interference in the election?" I asked. He glared at me. It was just a question.

"There's no proof of that," he said and he stomped off across the field as if I'd said his dog was mean and should be put down.

"And Obama had people assassinated," another man said. "What about how illegal that was? There's nothing in the Geneva convention about assassinating people."

"Osama bin Laden?"

"Damn straight. Abuse of power. " 

I wasn't really prepared to discuss the legal implications of the past presidency. To be honest, I didn't know it was illegal for a leader to die when we were at war with him and his agency. I hadn't paid that much attention to the minutiae of the last presidency. During the last presidency, the executive branch mostly operated the way I expected the executive branch to behave. There was that government shut-down created by Congress and a tendency for our burgeoning economy to benefit only the rich, but the rest was pretty good.

All right. I liked President Obama quite a lot. I admit it. I thought he fought to represent the people. I thought he was fair and extraordinarily diplomatic considering people had created an effigy of him hanging from a rope and called his wife an ape. I felt he was even-handed with unbalanced leaders. I felt he accomplished a lot with an obstructionist Congress. Yes, I liked the Obama Presidency quite a lot.

"Completely illegal," the man said.

He glared at me and spat. I shut up. I was momentarily speechless. Why wasn't I allowed to discuss current events within our government that concerned me?

There's a common theme here. It makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable. In daily life, we're not supposed to say anything negative about the Trump administration in public? We can't complain? We can't express our opinions? We have to shut the fuck up? Is that it?

That's not how a free and democratic society works. I'm beginning to wonder what kind of society I live in. It feels more dangerous than it ever did. We have to whisper dissent? We have to look to see who's listening? Am I the only one this is happening to out there?

Thank you for listening, jules


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