Fresh Ideas: Words matter

Donald Trump, Republican presidential candidate and so much more, has dominated the news and the debates in recent weeks with his verbal sputum. His controversial and offensive remarks about Mexican immigrants revealed how unsuited he’s to be the leader of the free world. In case you missed it, he said, “(Mexicans) are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” That he could say and repeatedly defend those remarks to the continued cheering of supporters is scary.

When I heard his remarks on immigration and some of his other verbal bombast, I realized: this is how it starts. A charismatic (to some) larger than life egomaniac (even among presidential candidates) taps into an undercurrent of discontent and gives voice and legitimacy to prejudice and ignorance. “I play to people’s fantasies ... It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion,” said Trump in his 1987 memoir, as cited by the New Yorker magazine in its profile of Trump.

The New Yorker article characterized Trump’s followers as “the fearful and the frustrated,” some of whom are extremist right-wing groups. Just 12 days after Trump announced his candidacy in June, he was endorsed by the Daily Stormer, a popular neo-Nazi news site, according to the New Yorker. By August, Trump released his first position paper, on immigration, of course, advocating mass-scale deportation of the undocumented, confiscating money immigrants try to send out of the country, and denying citizenship to children born in the U.S. That’s in addition to the 2,000-mile wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Today’s migration of refugees from war-torn Syria is reminiscent of newsreels from World War II. It’s easier than I thought to envision a non-politician using unconventional means to demonize some and dominate the rest.

In contrast, tolerance and freedom are celebrated next week at public libraries and bookstores throughout America during Banned Book Week. The Carson City library will hold freedom to read events beginning Sept. 27. Books are usually banned by school boards or libraries in response to parental concerns. Consider the frequently banned or challenged classics: The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, and even Gone with the Wind. The books that made last year’s banned or challenged list include Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, as well as books that talk about sex, drugs, race, alcohol, bullying — the real life challenges of growing up in today’s world.

New to our library this year is the Virtual Read-Out, “bringing together the community in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” Participants will read aloud passages from banned or challenged books. On Sept. 29, local author Ellen Hopkins will read from her challenged bestsellers.

Words can be used for oppression or for freedom. Words are powerful. Words matter.

Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.


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