Let’s talk about respect.
Yesterday morning I was working on a meme. You know, those bitingly clever things that have taken over your Facebook feed, attract readers like flies and generate all-important Shares. I thought to post my meme right here on The Shinbone Star because, hell, I like lots of readers, too. The meme was about Stephen Bannon, the 45th president’s right-hand man, and a guy many are labeling a white nationalist, polite code for being a Nazi.
I had a great time making my meme, laughing gleefully to myself despite my amateurish Photoshop fumblings. It featured a couple of infamous Nazis from Adolf Hitler’s heyday, along with Bannon’s image, and of course some pithy words to tie it all together. I’ll admit it, I had fun.
I’m not ruling out future memes at The Shinbone Star, but I’ve decided that mine won’t be seen here. Why? I’m a writer, not an artist, and I guess I’m also a little conflicted over the notion of respect. Why conflicted? It’s Dan Rather’s fault!
Rather is one of the deans of journalism. He’s been on the shelf for a while, but was recently spurred back to prominence by the travesties of Trump’s White House, and perhaps in no small measure, by Bannon.
I saw this 9-minute video of Rather’s interview on The Tonight Show. It made me unsure of myself, made me think. Why? Because it’s Dan Rather:
At about the 2:10 minute mark in the video, Rather begins to speak about Bannon’s call for journalists to shut up, and that journalists’ response should be, “With respect, sir, no.”
Contrast that with my first post here at The Shinbone Star, which closed with two words for Bannon and Trump: “Fuck you!” I said.
Very, very disrespectful.
With two responses — mine and Rather’s — so glaringly different, surely one must be right and the other wrong. I’m certain Dan Rather is correct because, well, he’s Dan Rather, but why then am I still asking myself what respect I really owe these people?
Let’s start with Bannon. Here’s a guy who rose to power as the head of Breitbart, a media outlet that promotes extremist right-wing ideology and outright white supremacy. Bannon has even drawn the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the nonprofit group that for more than 40 years has monitored hate groups in America, and which last week sent e-mails across the country urging people to call the Senate Committee on Homeland Security to object to Bannon being named to the National Security Council — a Nazi with no foreign policy experience advising the president on a possible first-strike nuclear launch. Anybody got a problem with that?
But Dan Rather says I should respect Bannon, treat him with the deference due his position.
Then how about Bannon’s boss, Trump? Here’s a guy who fueled the racist birther movement against President Barack Obama and is trying to build a wall on our southern border, thus demonizing Mexicans and making pretty much everyone with brown skin (including some of my own relatives) a suspect in their own country. Trump is also promoting a religion-based immigration policy that restricts Muslims while granting preferential treatment to Christians. There’s plenty more, but you catch my drift.
Probably Dan Rather thinks I should respect Trump, too. He is, after all, the president.
But what about those Republican senators and congressmen — those few with a conscience — who stand idly by, wringing their hands with more concern for their own political hides than for doing the right thing? Yes, the right thing, like defending American ideals and standing up to a racist, misogynistic president who, with every stroke of his pen, every phone call, every vicious tweet, alienates longtime allies and turns this great nation into a mockery of what the Founding Fathers intended. Must I respect them, too?
And what of those people who voted for Trump or, through benign neglect of their responsibility as members of an informed electorate, foisted this abomination upon us? Should I respect them for blithely looking the other way and allowing a man into the Oval Office who was never just pulling our leg when he ranted during the campaign about all the despicable things he would do?
Please advise me, Dan.
I’m quite aware that Dan Rather is Dan Rather and I am not, and I’m also sure he’s correct in his opinion that in order to heal this country’s wounds, we must first respect one another, listen to one another and find common ground. But as hard as I look, I see no common ground, not with Trump, not with Bannon, not with any of the people who support the horrors those two men espouse. For the life of me, I see nothing in any of them that deserves my respect.
There are a thousand examples of things I do respect, but the one I keep coming back to is the respect I feel for those men who were butchered on the beaches at Normandy, or blown to bits during the Siege of Bastogne. That those men died unknowing of the horrors their comrades would later find — the gruesome machinery of the Final Solution — does nothing to mitigate the respect I feel. It is the brutal and ironic disregard for their sacrifice and forgetting those lessons from history that causes me to wage my own small battle.
A Nazi in the Oval Office advising the president. For that, there is no respect.
I’ve been ruminating at Dan Rather’s expense, but I mean him no dishonor. He is a great man, a journalistic leader, and his words are thought-provoking, beautiful, even uplifting. Perhaps in this case, respect and disrespect are both right answers. In the aftermath of World War II, captured Nazis were tried at Nuremberg and they were afforded military courtesy and, perhaps, even a modicum of respect.
Then they were left swinging from a gibbet.
Yes, that’s blatant sensationalism, and I’ll be first to acknowledge that we’re a long way from extermination camps in this country, or anything approximating the horrors faced by that generation. But talk of walls and the demonization of Islam has an eerily familiar ring, and if America’s new leader takes us down a morally unjust path, I pray that men and women of conscience in Congress and the courts will somehow turn the tide.
But if fate decrees that we become a nation that legally sanctions persecution and death over race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, then may one aspect of history repeat in full measure — Nuremberg, with fair and respectful trials, followed by the thundering crash of the trap door.
For such hateful crimes against our country and the world, it’s the type of ending I could truly respect.