I’m on vacation.
Last week I wrote blog posts and a CNN essay arguing that the urge to characterize Donald Trump as “crazy” relies on stigma around mental illness. I was extremely shocked by the venom in the responses. I never expect to persuade everyone, but if I move the needle a bit and push people to think about the consequences of their language, I’m generally happy.
Instead, I experienced the most surprisingly aggressive set of attacks in email and on Twitter of my writing career. I was repeatedly called a “retard” by people who, in theory, are on my side in many issues. I’m now pretty gunshy about discussing this further and trust my would-be interlocutors, even people who want to engage in polite conversation understand and respect that.
I expect to be yelled at when I write about guns or abortion rights, but in an essay essentially calling for people to think hard about the stigmatizing effect of the language they use, I never expected so much aggression. Score one for the horribleness of online discourse.
There are lots of people who want to argue with me in good faith. Here, for example, is a thread from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, outlining an argument that we need a way to talk about Trump that doesn’t stigmatize others, but still expresses his failings in appropriate terms.
@Lollardfish Been thinking a lot about this. Much cultural confusion over axes of “sane/crazy” and “mentally ill/not mentally ill.” 1/10
— P Nielsen Hayden (@pnh) August 5, 2016
I have to say I am not convinced. I don’t believe we need new words or to apply words like “insane” to argue that the candidate has no self-control, is a liar, is violent, etc. I think we can just say – has no self-control, is a liar, is violent. What does it matter if the conduct comes from neurochemistry versus life-long learned inclination? As writer Arthur Chu noted to me – Trump’s behaved like this his whole life. He’s been rewarded handsomely for it. In Trump’s world, his behavior is entirely rational.
But if I haven’t convinced you, then so be it. Thank you for reading. I appreciate any time you’ve spent thinking about these language issues, even if you’ve rejected my conclusion.
Hopefully you feel the same way about my disagreement with your counter argument.
Meanwhile, the APA has reminded its professionals of the Goldwater Rule.
Please stop yelling at me. I’m on vacation.