A Disconnect: Words and Ideas
Words are powerful. It is what we do with words, how we utilize them and the mindset and tone we invoke when using them which truly dictates whether they are used for good or ill. Politicians, apart from being good legislators, should be good orators. History has proven that a well worded and delivered speech can change the world for the better.
At a fundraiser last week former Vice President Joe Biden was cited saying, “At least there was some civility. We got things done,” in speaking about working with segregationists. This incited huge criticism from many presidential hopefuls and the American public. Senator Kamala Harris, who is also running for the democratic nomination replied stating, “If those men had their way, I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate right now…” Senator Cory Booker also urged Biden to apologize for his comments for their racist nature.
Don't get me wrong. I appreciate genuine passion for a cause, whether liberal or conservative. People should be enthusiastic, especially in an age where it seems that political apathy and disillusion has reached its zenith. Yet, it is essential that politicians do not misuse language despite any good intentions behind the misuse, intentional or unintentional, as language is a powerful tool.
The disconnect seems to stem, among other things, from their desire to be different and change the system for what they see as good.
The latest controversy of New York Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has been her comments over the conditions within holding facilities for illegal immigrants close to the southern border of the United States. This latest lack of public relations awareness came on an Instagram Live session, a popular forum for Ocasio-Cortez to discuss her views with her admirers and constituents. CNN reported that she said, “A presidency that creates concentration camps is fascist, and it's very difficult to say that, because it is very difficult to accept the fact that that is how bad things have gotten, but that is how bad things have gotten."
For one, I think the conditions of the holding facilities on the southern border should be improved considerably. It is a disgrace and stain upon the American conscience that these immigrants, while illegal, are not being treated with basic human dignity while they are waiting for their deportation or immigration hearing. BBC reported that "In July 2017, US District Judge Dolly Gee found the Trump administration had breached the 1997 Flores agreement by not providing migrant children with appropriate food or hygienic supplies, housing them in cold facilities without beds.” It continues, “The agreement states that immigrant children cannot be held for more than 20 days and must be provided with food, water, emergency medical care and toilets.”
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, it should be common decency to agree that migrant children should be treated with respect and dignity while being held in holding facilities. There is no legitimate reason that a firm, but fair immigration policy shouldn't at least be humane.
On the other hand, it is reasonable that Ocasio-Cortez's comments would cause offense. Concentration camps and a phrase like "Never Again" is something which is ill-advised especially considering the current heightened awareness of Jewish issues after an increase in anti-Semitic sentiments and attacks within the United States and globally.
In a way, it reminds me of Representative Ilhan Abdullahi Omar’s comments after 9/11. Her sentiments were technically correct, as she shed light on the fact that after the September 11 Attacks life for American Muslims became considerably harder and their civil liberties did become under threat in the US. Omar said in a speech to CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) that "some people did something”, in reference to the attacks themselves. This prompted outrage. The New York Post had a front page with her comment superimposed on an image of the September 11 Attacks.
Now, Do I think the hate she got from her comment was warranted? Yes and no. Any death threats or threats of violence against her person post-comment were absolutely wrong and I would condemn any threats of the kind aforementioned on any politician or public figure. However, I can see why people were so outraged by the flippancy and disregard for the memory of 9/11 which could be interpreted by that comment alone out of context.
In the future, all candidates and Members of Congress and I include the Former Vice President in this too should be aware of how their actions and words affect not only public image, but also the opinions of their constituents. To want change or have genuine passion is admirable, however, when that passion leads to gaffes which offend citizens, it is not healthy for a democracy.
To ignore the history of the United States when being an American citizen and running for the highest office in the land is clumsy at best and at worst demeaning to those who suffered. It is only fair and correct that the politicians of all generations come to terms with the history of the United States, good or bad, and realize that the usage of certain words and phrase without context or thought is harmful.