There’s something about a grown man calling you a bitch that just sticks with you.
In the last issue of the Post, I wrote a column about the ecological impacts of the president’s proposed border wall, and waiting for me when we returned to the office after the holidays was an email from a Hamilton resident. It follows unedited:
Subject: build the wall
Ill make this short you ignorant bitch. Theres a reason you work for a free paper.I have never looked at this paper before. Made the mistake of looking at it today. Wont make that mistake again.From now on right in the trash .
BUILD THE WALL
Other readers have previously heralded my writing as “youthful, immature fake news blabber.” One man sent me an email that included the phrase “you can buy me lunch.” But I’ve never been on the receiving end of something like this. Honestly, it was shocking to open that email.
Women in journalism, of course, have heard and seen much worse—and much more often—for decades. I wrote about this in my first column for the Post two years ago. They’re insulted daily on Twitter. They’re harassed in public. They’ve been bullied out of locker rooms by professional athletes and other media members. Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman said that, early on in her career at WFAN, male listeners would send her condoms, death threats, and sexist questions that implied she’d gotten her job based on something other than her merit—“Who did you sleep with to get here?” That sort of thing.
Dealing with aggressive feedback has become, unfortunately, part of the job for all journalists. (My colleague, Rob Anthes, wrote about this in his column last month.) That’s why, at the end of the day, I wasn’t surprised to see that email in my inbox, especially based on the content of my column. At this point in time, it’s pretty much expected when delving into anything even remotely political.
Politics has almost become a spectator sport—cheering and jeering and horrible insults. It’s the civic manifestation of every cell phone video of fans behaving badly. This was abundantly clear when the March for Life, the long-running anti-abortion demonstration, happened during the same weekend of the Indigenous Peoples March, an international rally in support of indigenous people, in Washington last month.
The image of a white teen boy wearing a bright red “Make America Great Again” ball cap, backed by dozens of his Catholic school peers on a field trip, smirking at an older Native American activist was inescapable. The students, on a school trip with Covington Catholic High School, an all-boys school in Kentucky, shouted and mocked Nathan Phillips as he sang. Chaperones did not intervene. Large groups of male teens at the March for Life were also filmed shouting things like “It’s not rape if you enjoy it” and harassing women.
The footage and photos were plastered all over the news, in print, on social media. And in each and every picture and video were crowds of young people in that same red hat.
Sometimes it feels like there is a hyper-aggressive mob mentality that comes with such ardent support of a politician. Those hats seem to turn people into ruthless fans rooting for their favorite team. They treat politics like a sport because, to them, it is. It’s something fun to watch or keep up with a couple of times a week, tallying wins and losses and shouting at the referees when something doesn’t go their way.
Our current political atmosphere turns events like the March for Life into pep rallies or Super Bowl send-offs. The teenagers’ visit to Washington, for example, was like a trip to their favorite team’s stadium, right down to taunting the opposition. The groups of young men in attendance don’t gain or lose anything if abortion is made illegal or unobtainable. Their bodies are not the ones on the line (but that is a discussion for another day). They’re just there to watch, to cheer on their squad, and maybe trigger some libs in the process. They root because there is nothing at stake for them except bragging rights. There are absolutely no tangible benefits or downsides to this fight for them.
They treat politics and the government like a sport because they can. Politics are a game because the harmful policies enacted by this administration don’t affect them. They won’t be separated from their children at the country’s border or forced to give birth to a baby that can’t survive outside of the womb. They will never be “randomly” selected for secondary security screening at an airport, and they will never experience oppression because of their race, sexual orientation or religion.
Then, of course, there is the president. Donald Trump’s reaction to all of this ranges from perceived apathy to full-on goading, and that only exacerbates the issue. As long as the president treats his term as a game, so will his supporters. He tosses out insults fast and loose without thinking or caring about the person on the receiving end. And that emboldens others to do the same.
Caring about other people, considering someone else’s feelings—these behaviors are not signs of weakness. They are basic human values. I think, as a whole, we tend to forget this sometimes.
Politics is not a spectator sport. There is more at stake than points or a championship title. People’s lives are being impacted every single day. For some, it can literally be a matter of life or death. It’s time to start treating it like real life.