I’m old enough to remember an era when those on the Right who had disagreements responded with tools such as reason, discussion, and persuasion. On occasion debates offered in good faith would descend into name-calling, but this was the exception and not the rule. Today, far too many bypass the toolkit and go straight to name-calling. When that doesn’t work, they descend to threats and intimidation.
I had such an encounter recently and—while it caused me no actual harm and pales in comparison to what some conservatives endure—I thought it might be instructive to give the reader a glimpse into the void that is contemporary politics.
What began as a brief exchange on Twitter between myself and David—a fellow Tulsan Republican who I’ve known personally for years—ended in this individual contacting my employer in an ill-fated attempt to intimidate me into silence. All of my previous encounters with David, both in person and online, had been civil; though it was evident he did not care for my reluctance to embrace Donald Trump. Evidently, the most recent exchange was the tipping point that convinced him to abandon the pretense of civility and debate and opt instead for personal attacks.
Before I go any further, I want to stress that I have many friends and loved ones who consider themselves to be Trump supporters and would gladly vote for him again. And we get along just fine. We may disagree, but we know how to disagree without torpedoing the relationship. Nothing shared below is intended as an indictment of Trumplicans in general. My focus is on those within that group that choose to attack people in a misguided sense of patriotism and seem allergic to competing ideas or civil debate.
The saga began with this brief exchange on Twitter:
Some Thoughts on the Twitter Exchange
What prompted this brief exchange was David responding to my glib comment suggesting being photographed in the nude may disqualify Melania Trump from being the “classiest first lady our country has ever had”. For the record, I have no animosity towards Melania. But I take issue with those who purport to be Christian leaders saying inept and uncouth things publicly as it may do damage to the reputation of Christianity in the culture. And Franklin Graham (the son of the late Reverend Billy Graham) claiming Melania is the classiest first lady ever betrays not only his lack of good tastes, but the latest chapter in his history of hypocrisy (as this article here shows, Graham’s views on whether a politician’s private sins are a public matter seems largely dependent on whether the individual in question has a “D” or an “R” by their name).
David’s opening response in the exchange is perplexing. His attempts at attacking my character were so off base that I actually didn’t realize he was insinuating I had done anything immoral until I reread the tweets a few days later (which is why my response didn’t address his accusations). Let me address his two personal attacks:
1. “Your relationship with a female boss”
I literally have no idea what relationship he’s referring to. My immediate manager is female and the State Auditor is female, but I don’t know where he’d get the notion there was anything untoward going on. My best guess is he just made up an accusation in hopes something would stick.
2. “The photo of a model”
His second attack—that I used a photo of a model to pretend I had a girlfriend—is at least factual. But it reveals more about the depletion of David’s sense of humor than it does about my character. Over a decade ago I created a Facebook account of a girl I named “Natalie”. I used a picture I found online, made up the demographic info, and was “in a relationship” status with her on Facebook. About a month later—on April Fool’s Day—I announced that the whole thing was a joke. Here is the picture I used:
I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if this is a blight on my judgment or character.
Dissatisfied with his opening volley, David decided to move the one-sided affair out of cyberspace and into the workspace.
Contacting My Employer
David's next move was to call my employer, asking for clarification on our social media policies before taking this public (presumably by writing about the incident in the blog he runs, though he was not specific). David followed up the phone call with an email which—thankfully—is public record as I work for a state agency. Here’s the email:
I’m not trying to belabor the post needlessly, but there are several more accusations here that I feel compelled to address. First, I would encourage anyone to follow me on Twitter to judge for themselves whether I am in the habit of “insulting” people. The notion I was insulting all “Evangelical” Christians is curious since I consider myself to be an Evangelical. If a Christian leader is engaged in false teachings or allegiance to a political cult, I do not consider it unchristian to decry their errors—a practice found in almost every book of the New Testament.
I’m not clear how my supposed “hubris” has stunned David as I’ve never claimed to represent the GOP. He is correct the only position I held in the party was treasurer for the Republican party of Tulsa County but—again—the idea I’ve held myself out there as some sort of mouthpiece for the GOP is a figment of his imagination. If anything, Saving Elephants has made it abundantly clear it represents the views of conservatives who feel estranged from the party and find themselves on the outside looking in.
I’m also very unclear how he made the determination I “miserably FAILED” at this voluntary position. My decision to leave was made when I felt I could no longer be actively involved with a party who chose Donald Trump to represent their values and advance their interests. The party Chair who appointed me had not asked me to leave, and both of the subsequent Chairs asked if I would be interested in coming back. As a CPA with over a decade’s experience in the profession, the idea I couldn’t handle the bookkeeping for the local county party is laughable.
I have the utmost respect for my employer and, not wishing to involve them any further, I will refrain from showing their response. I’ll simply say it was brief, polite, professional, and more or less said that it was our “policy” to recognize that employees had the right to free speech in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.
What Kind of a Party Do We Want?
While few go as far as David in tyring to silence speech they do not want to hear, I’ll say again that there are an alarming number of Republicans who are sympathetic to this approach. This is not an isolated case of a few loose cannons, but a growing epidemic. I think it’s time we Republicans took a hard look at the situation and asked if this is the direction we’re comfortable with the party taking.
I have made it clear that I am—at best—Trump-skeptical. I did not vote for him in 2016 and I do not believe, in the long run, he’s good for the party, let alone the nation. I recognize that that puts me in the minority within the party. And, for that reason, I’m eager to discuss why I feel this way. What’s curious is how many of the majority seem terrified of conversation. Why? What are they afraid might happen in a civil, fair exchange of ideas?
And ideas are what matters—or at least, it’s what use to matter. The question before us then is what kind of a party do we want to be when it comes to handling disagreements within the party? Do we want to be the kind of party that seeks to debate and reason—even if it gets heated—in an effort to grow the coalition and strengthen the movement? Or do we want to be the kind of party that lies and intimidates and shouts down voices that don’t toe the party line?
Do we want to return to the pre-Trump era where evaluating the behavior of our elected officials was not only tolerated, but encouraged? Or do we want to become the Right’s version of social justice warriors threatening speakers they deem noxious, such as Ben Shapiro speaking at Berkley? Both parties are radicalizing, and this is not some far flung apocolytic vision of the future but the most likely outcome if those who choose ideas over unquestioning fealty do nothing. How will you choose?