In my previous column, I noted how the changes in our country since President Trump's election had not only caused me to ponder my son's safety at college and be momentarily uneasy about my own safety at a civil rights rally, but managed to creep into everyday activities: walking in the woods, driving my car, riding the subway, even going to bed. While writing about those examples, though, I recalled others. . . ones that led me to better understand President Trump's supporters.
As I mentioned, I learned not to check the news in the evening after I watched the video of James Fields driving into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing one person and critically injuring many others. However, it's impossible to unwatch a murder. Not long after seeing that footage (which was looped over and over), I was attending a march myself when I heard a car suddenly revving its engine as I crossed a street, and I tensed up for a moment - a reaction I don't normally have.
On the other hand, I also had an unusual reaction to suddenly encountering the many police officers assembled at the start of the route. I knew perfectly well that they would be needed to direct traffic for tens of thousands of marchers, but for that first second what flashed into my mind was another news report of violence against protesters. It graphically detailed how St. Louis police had reportedly responded after some of the protesters against the latest shooting of an unarmed black man by police turned ugly: surrounding the area, ordering everyone to leave but deliberately blocking them from following those orders, then beating them before arresting them for not leaving. (The report indicated that that tactic is common enough across the country to have been given a nickname, "kettling.") Many of the injured were not even protesters: an undercover police officer was bloodied, and a photographer for a media outlet was knocked unconscious. At least one person was still in pain several days later from an injury they got while in custody and needed medical treatment. Because I'd happened to read all of that just before leaving home, I found abruptly being in the midst of all those officers unsettling for a moment.
A third example made the news just days after the 2016 election: A woman, Margot Gester, was hiking with her small child and happened to meet Hillary Clinton doing the same. She naturally took a group photo and posted that on Facebook. . . and then got death threats. Other news stories also related how posting a message critical of the President on your social media could invite hatred and threats of violence. I had been just about to join Facebook, and all of those stories around that time, when feelings were boiling over, made me question whether I really wanted to post anything myself. I decided to hold off doing so until I was more comfortable sharing my thoughts and personal information.
Finally, when I first decided that I needed to stick my neck out and speak up about what I saw happening in our country, I intended to use "Anonymuse" as my pen name. After all, I told myself, even famous writers such as Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain") had often done that. I obviously didn't stick to that plan. . . but the reason for my original decision was actually because I took President Trump's words seriously. Hundreds of times, he called the press "the enemy of the American people" or attacked them or particular news outlets or reporters in other ways. . . and death threats began inundating those same outlets and reporters. For example, phone calls to the Boston Globe echoed President Trump's words: its employees were enemies of the people for criticizing the President and publishing fake news. One call stated that they would be shot in the head at 4 PM. Although that and many others turned out to be only chilling threats, some were not, such as when a bomb was discovered in the CNN building during the series of threats received there. A few years ago, it never would have even occurred to me to write under a pseudonym, but one of my coworkers suggested it. . . and after all of those news reports combined with the President's constant incitement of hatred for journalists, I couldn't help thinking about my own safety. And I'm clearly not alone: OpEdNews has had to make a strongly worded plea to its contributors to be brave and resist such pseudonyms.
Of course, you'll say that I was overreacting, again and again: For example, I didn't actually need to worry about someone running me over or police beating me unconscious because I was protesting. Actually, that's exactly my point: Even though I knew that perfectly well, I had those momentary reactions because watching for danger is a survival instinct. Because of our subconscious, we can't help taking note of possible threats for at least a moment. . . and doing so makes us anxious and agitated.
It's easy to see President Trump's supporters being triggered many times every day by his dire warnings - and thinking back on my own experiences, I can now understand why they seem to be getting more and more hyped up even when there's little actual threat to them: those same instinctive reactions. And as noted in my next column, those reactions have another important effect too. . .