A couple of weeks ago I did some precinct walking for the Democratic Party in Encinitas in the hopes of moving some of my neighbors to vote. No one answered the door at the first two of the 134 doors I approached.
At the third, a gentleman opened the door, listened to me for about 10 seconds, and said, “Get out of here.”
There is much discussion these days regarding civility or the lack thereof between people in American society. To me, his response to my outreach was a minor act of incivility, if somewhat surprising. He could simply have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I would have appreciated it if he had said, “Look, I probably disagree with everything that is important to you, but I respect the fact that you care enough to knock on my door. Now, get out of here.”
Perhaps more than at any time in my elongating lifespan, it is evident that words matter. The President of the United States is both a human being, and an embodiment of the nation.
In times of difficulty and controversy and strife, the President is expected to enunciate those precepts of liberal democracy that are most likely to remind us that we are members of this nation and of a human family that finds the best in itself when doing best by others: our will to liberty, justice, and equality for all; a belief in using our resources for the common good; an expectation that government will provide for honesty and transparency in its workings, and that accountability exists including respect for a free press; a recognition that, as a nation largely populated by slaves and immigrants and refugees, America’s genesis is a reflection both of the tremendous hopes of many, and of the horrific exigencies that brought many here against their will or in flight from terror and want.
America is a complicated place, and one that demands investment on the part of its citizens if it is to realize the best in itself.
Now, we have a President who uses toxic words to play politics for his own benefit. In the interest of rallying his base, the President has condemned the press, denigrated immigrants, equated white supremacists and anti-racist protesters, disrespected both individual women and women generally, and lied as a matter, it seems, of principle.
With two new racially motivated mass shootings to mourn in the last week, one aimed at African Americans, the other at Jews, the President’s words of condolence and in favor of tolerance are insulting. The number of white supremacist rallies in the U.S. in the last two and a half years already exceeds those in the 10 years prior to the President’s election.
This is not a coincidence.
Words matter. The destructiveness of the President’s words have already hurt individuals, families, communities, and whole classes of people.
Most of us have no voice, no soapbox, comparable to that of the President. But we do have the right to speak, and one of the vehicles for that speech is our vote. I believe that my hopes for realizing an America that hews more closely to the precepts we identify with this nation are in significant jeopardy.
Democracy is not much different than teeth: ignore it, treat it as a given or as someone else’s responsibility or problem, and it is likely to go away. We make and remake this nation every day by virtue of our choices, our actions or inactions. At the end of the day, know this: words matter; votes matter.
You and I may not agree on much, but I hope we agree on the importance of caring enough to exercise our voices on November 6th.
Joshua Lazerson, Encinitas