When I began my career, I embodied the perfect trifecta of a promising teacher: tenacious enthusiasm, blind ambition, and bunches and bunches of naivety. That’s what youth affords us: complete oblivion of glass ceilings.
Before first-hand experience could taint my fresh face, a fellow English teacher came to me with an incredible idea for a collaborative project. Beth, who remains one of the most innovative and inspirational educators I know, laid out her idea for the RIGHTS Project. At the heart of RIGHTS lay a hefty goal for anyone, let alone 15 and 16-year-olds: by recognizing individual and global humanity, we would work toward creating a more tolerant society.
Humanity (for a)
Pretty bad ass, no?
To introduce the project, students watched Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story:”
We then researched seven categories of past examples of victimization, we stumbled upon current examples, like organizations that deny atrocities like the Holocaust actually happened, and advocates that call for the eradication of entire religious or ethnic groups. Our findings opened a new dialogue in the classroom and exposed students to the harsh truth of why some continue to encourage hate. I had quoted Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Sometimes a Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another,” in an attempt to explain what it means to capitalize on fear en masse by zeroing in on collective ideals. I impressed upon my students how our shared history affects our future, and stressed the importance of kindness and tolerance.
Which is exactly why Donald Trump has no business being the next President of the United States, or even of my kid’s PTO.
…our shared history affects our future…
Years from now, Google searches for “human rights violations” will be hits of pictures and articles about Donald Trump. Think that’s an exaggeration? Look at the way he repeatedly yells his contempt for Muslims, Mexicans, and powerful women from his money-colored mountain tops, refueling wars we thought were behind us. To those who tout “he’s not afraid to say what the rest of us are thinking” as a trait of a successful President, I implore you: look within yourselves, why are you so full of hate? What about his complete disregard of human rights screams leadership to you? I understand the hype, just look at the way people foam at the mouth in the comments section of any online journal, happy as pigs in poo to jump on the bitter bus. Trump fuels that fire with his incendiary remarks, and fire good. But at the heart of his campaign,Trump doesn’t respect our country or our people; he’s taking advantage of our fear and anger and turning into his gain.
This isn’t a new tactic! It’s politic’s trademark move. In Act I of The Crucible, Arthur Miller sums up the way Trump has pinned our shared frustrations on targeted scapegoats:
“The times, to their eyes, must have been out of joint, and to the common folk must have seemed as insoluble and complicated as do ours today. It is not hard to see how easily many could have been led to believe that the time of confusion had been brought upon them by deep and darkling forces. …social disorder in any age breeds such mystical suspicions, and when, as in Salem, wonders are brought forth from below the social surface, it is too much to expect people to hold back very long from laying on the victims with all the force of their frustrations.”
Powerful works of literature have historically elucidated what many of us have been talking about for months: Trump is capitalizing on the masses’ disdain for Washington and fear of rapid change by laying blame on every target he can find.
As a hot-headed gal, I readily admit when I’m overwhelmed, my initial reaction is almost always anger. It’s just easier; anger doesn’t make me vulnerable the way sorrow does, or call for composure the way empathy does. George Orwell understood anger at its very core, which is why he chose hate as a means to encourage productivity in 1984. The Two Minute Hate daily ritual redirected the characters’ discontentment with life and gave them new motivation propelled by blaming others for their hardships. Trump has admitted he hasn’t focused on policy since the inception of his campaign because he hasn’t needed to. He knew, like Orwell, that an angry man behind a microphone goes a long way.
Our inaugural RIGHTS Project was ten years ago, yet I remember my high school sophomores’ faces like it was yesterday; they were faces that said we get it. There was a mutual understanding of our shared responsibility as human beings. That memory used to fill me with such personal pride and professional fulfillment, now it just scares the bejeezus outta me. Every time Donald Trump spews hate from his duck lips, our country witnesses the rebirth of victimization. In looking at the seven categories of our project, I realized all the ways Mr. Trump has pulled down his China imported pants and taken a huge dump on basic human rights…
Race: When the KKK says voting against Trump would be “treason to your heritage” and Trump’s response is “Meh,” one has to wonder where he stands on race issues. Unless, of course, he takes to Twitter to clarify or to blast our current president. Trump sure does love him some Twitter. I imagine if he weren’t limited to 140 characters, his racist ideology would go something like this: Dear President Obama, as you are a Black man, I expect you to get the others in line. Why is Baltimore still a mess? Is it because you’re half white that they only half obey you? I thought you people stuck together? You’re fired. I’m incredible, King Trump.
Gender: From blasting Rosie O’Donnell to his grossly offensive insult about Arianna Huffington’s divorce, to touting his wife’s (wives’) beauty with a rare mention of her heart or intellect, I think it’s pretty clear the only time Trump stands behind a woman is when he’s trying to get a good look at her ass.
Religion: The man elicited an insult from the Pope! And when Trump didn’t appreciate what the Papal laid down, he fired back calling him a disgrace. Regardless if you’re a fellow Catholic, we can agree Trump’s complete lack of respect and belief he is above reproach is not only indecent, but dangerous. What happens when he pisses off Putin?
Sexuality: He opposes and would possibly overturn support for same-sex marriage, but apparently it’s totally cool and Christian to marry (a trophy wife), divorce, marry (another trophy wife), divorce, marry (a third trophy wife). Rinse, repeat because that’s what traditional marriage is all about.
Ethnicity: Nobody builds walls better than The Donald. I bet they’re fantastic walls built by fantastic people who are just fantastic. Ask my friend Meredith what she and her Mexican family think about his walls.
Politics: The British Parliament has already considered banning an incumbent Trump so there’s that. And did you catch any of the Republican debates?! When he wasn’t slinging insults at Jeb Bush or his mother, Trump set his sights on President Obama, maintaining our POTUS is a Muslim. Just when you thought the horse couldn’t be any deader…
Health/Disabilities: Shot down, captured, and tortured. No, Mr. Trump, I’m not describing an uncivilized overnighter at Best Western; I’m referring to what happened to Senator McCain as a POW. I know you prefer war heroes who aren’t captured, but some of us prefer Presidents who aren’t ungrateful idiots spewing hateful slander under assumed impunity.
If you can overlook the danger that is his insults to our trade partners, repeated and unapologetic alienation of our supposed allies, and the continued dishonest propaganda we have worked so hard to overcome, then by all means, vote for Trump. But I can’t. As an educator who believes experience is the greatest teacher, I hope and pray for forward movement without backpedaling to a time where human lives meant so little. I can’t vote for Trump because I stood in front of my students and vouched for rights and tolerance as our saving grace. Trump is the antithesis of grace. And be warned: if the pen is mightier than the sword, then words are war. History doesn’t have to repeat itself, and I’ll be damned if I’m putting a Bible in the hand of Donald Trump.
To access more information about the RIGHTS Project, see below: