Violence on the Campaign Trail

by Mel White

Primary candidates from both political parties are acting like unruly children on a school playground.  Any teacher who saw her students behaving as these presidential hopefuls are behaving would cancel the recess, send the children back to class and in the lesson help them understand the consequences of their behavior.

Though Ted, John, Hilary and Bernie are also contributing to the spirit of violence in the way they talk to and about each other,  Donald is the chief bully on the playground.  He warns us that there might be violence at the Republican Convention.  He doesn’t understand that violence already permeates his campaign.

Violence isn’t just simply a sucker punch in the arena or a scuffle at the barricades.  There is violence in the way he thinks about his opponents. There is violence in what he says about them.  And there is violence in what he does to defeat them.

Violence of the heart: Democracy requires different opinions.  Our nation is made stronger when we debate our differences with courtesy and respect.  But when the debate becomes personal, when we stoop to accusing and condemning each other, when we begin to feel hatred towards certain candidates and those who support them, all too quickly those violent feelings lead to violent words and even violent actions.

Violence of the tongue: Disagreements can be heated, opposite ideas may be strongly held but the current debates have become shouting matches with candidates trying to drown out each other.  Supporters follow their example.  The media plays and replays each violent encounter.  Before long everyone is shouting and no one is being heard.  When communications break down violence may seem the only option left to us.
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Violence of the fist: Rabbi Abraham Heschel warns us that “Words have power. Speech does not fade.  What begins as a word ends as a deed.”  Donald may “hope that there won’t be violence” while in fact he is inciting violence even as he condemns it.  Without realizing it the loud voices and angry words spoken by Ted, John, Hilary and Bernie are also inflammatory and risk stirring up the physical violence they detest.

We call on the candidates to apologize to each other and to the nation for the escalation of their unconscionable behavior, to quit attacking each other personally, to stay with the issues, to be presidential and to show by their example that political campaigns need not lead to violence (of heart, tongue or fist).

However, if the candidates are unable to back away from their current conduct, then we must be the change we hoped they’d be.

We call on all Americans to refuse to play the candidate’s game, to limit our personal discussions and debates to the important issues, to show courtesy and respect to those who disagree with us, and to turn away from violent thoughts, words or actions that will invariably have tragic consequences for us all.

These children on our primary playground don’t seem to understand that there is something much more important going on here than winning primaries and recruiting delegates.  If this bloody battle for the White House continues there will be no winner when the ballots are counted and our 45th President sworn in.