I was fortunate to have three grandmothers who (it appeared to me) thought I walked on water. One of my grandmothers, Rose, had over 26 grandchildren, and yet when I was with her, she made me feel as though I was her only grandchild. Rose set a great example; I don’t recall her ever saying a bad word about anyone. I was not a dramatic child, but I was known to use words with emphatic flair. I remember at the age of 5 flippantly saying that I “hated” something or someone, and Rose’s response was, “Oh Tammi, hate is a strong word. There is no need to use that word.” Having not learned the lesson immediately, in my teen years, my mother provided advice when I again used the word “hate.” “You can never truly love if you have hate in your heart.”
Following the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis, social media platforms issued new rules for expressed desires for the president’s death. On Twitter, users are banned from voicing the desire for the president’s death. Facebook allows the expression but forbids “tagging” the president with the comment (perhaps his family can still be “tagged” with the death wish). Passionate dislike for one or more politicians isn’t new. But having suffered significant loss of loved ones following an extended illness, I cannot imagine wishing death upon an elected official not personally known to most of us. When President John Kennedy was murdered, the public did not cheer his death. Likewise, I don’t recall the American public celebrating the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. I do remember a collective American gasp, shock, and overwhelming condemnation for callous acts of violence against elected officials. My how the times have changed.
Wishing a president or any other elected official death represents a new low in our public discourse. The ease at which death wishes roll off the tongue or post to social media reflects stunningly poor judgment and immaturity. Exasperation with presidential policy is understandable, but the unnecessary extremist responses are not. Our kids are watching. We cannot expect our children to exercise discretion, impulse control, and good judgment when adults behave without a modicum of decency. Passionate dislike can be a motivator for good – for peaceful protests, community involvement, and positive action to create a better world. But similar to my mother’s advice, our society cannot advance to its greatest potential where hate exists and is so freely expressed. Changes in public policy are born at the ballot box, not by careless commentary revealing our worst attributes. Constructive criticism is fair game; cruelty is not. And while we all value freedom of speech, those without impulse control may be wise not to use it so irresponsibly.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.
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