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Politics getting ugly? Control your words, anger, feelings toward those with whom you disagree — Effie Caldarola

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There was a Trump rally held in my old hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, recently. I’ve read the news reports, but the thing I keep recalling is the picture someone posted of a crude, scatological message scrawled in a women’s restroom at the Alaska Airlines Center where the event was held.

The former president was in the state to endorse certain candidates and disparage others. Like these kinds of rallies everywhere, there were long lines, plenty of Trump-sponsored merchandise and people who arrived at 5 in the morning to stand in line.

Once, when I was living back in Nebraska, a very red state, President Obama came to town, and members of my family and I got tickets, which were supposedly limited to the facility’s capacity.

So we didn’t arrive hours in advance. Nevertheless, we had to do the long stand-in-line thing as people snaked toward the door and through metal detectors. It was hot and crowded outside, and a few counterprotesters hung around with signs. I finally, grudgingly, gave in to nature’s call and made my way to one of the gnarly portable potties I had hoped to avoid.

Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column “For the Journey.” (CNS photo)

However, I am happy to report I saw no scatological messages in my little plastic restroom that day.

I’ve never been to a Trump rally, but I imagine them to have a different feel than that Obama speech, which was not a campaign event. Many people in the Obama crowd were there simply because they wanted to see a president — you know, something you can tell your grandkids. And this was in the “before time” — before politics descended to today’s nasty kind of malevolence.

Also, this was Omaha, where even the football fans have a reputation for being bountifully courteous to visiting teams. They didn’t nickname this heavily Republican state “Nebraska nice” for nothing. So, aside from those mellow counterprotesters and their anti-Obama signs, you couldn’t tell a Republican from a Democrat.

But back to the Anchorage restroom. The message appeared to be written in permanent marker. Surprisingly, the words were spelled correctly.

Unfortunately, I can’t repeat the message here, because my editor wouldn’t approve it, and a Catholic publication wouldn’t print it. But the 18 words began, “If you voted for Joe Biden, you can’t …” and continued to include not just one obscenity, but two, in its remaining 10 words. One of the obscenities described our current president.

I’ve thought about the woman who did that in a public restroom — defacing property, insulting others’ political beliefs, describing the president in obscene terms. Why?

But when I dig deeper, I know what I really need to consider is my own response. I have no control over her, but I have control over me. I have control over how I describe politicians in whom I am disappointed — there are so many these days. I have control over my words, my anger, my feelings toward those with whom I disagree.

You may say, but it’s not just one side who does these things, and of course, you are right. The coarsening of our public discourse only grows deeper, as one outrage provokes the next. No matter our political convictions, we need to guard our thoughts and our tongues.

If I had been in the restroom with the woman with the marker, I hope I would have engaged her, in a friendly, calm way. I hope I would have expressed my disapproval, not of her political convictions, but of her behavior.

And I hope I wouldn’t have gone home with black marker all over my face, because in today’s America, you never know.