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Gerald Elias: An effort to make peace drew online words of hate

First Published      Last Updated Jul 15 2017 03:03 pm

As an author, my goals are to entertain, enlighten, educate, engage and, at times, to challenge. One thing I try never to do is to incite hate.

We traditionally tend to think of authors as professionals who make a living by writing books or plays. But these days, anyone who writes a blog, email, text, Tweet, Facebook post, customer review or online commentary is in fact an author, an author whose oeuvre is as indelible and permanent as the authors of "To Kill a Mockingbird" or "Mein Kampf."

On June 21, The Salt Lake Tribune published a letter to the editor written by Dave Folland, a retired pediatrician who volunteers his time and energy to Citizens Climate Lobby, a politically nonpartisan grassroots organization with the goal of creating the political will to pass climate change legislation in Congress.




CCL recently presented Rep. Mia Love an award for being an active member of the House Climate Solutions Caucus, one of the few truly functioning bipartisan bodies in Congress. Indeed, to become a member, a Democrat and Republican must join simultaneously. To date there are 21 from each party, working constructively, side by side, on their climate agenda. Dave's letter was an endorsement of the award bestowed upon Love.

I appreciate Love's courage for going against her party's grain and speaking forthrightly about the challenges of climate change, and hope she goes further. For a Republican politician in Utah to take even that level of a public position requires a degree of courage rarely demonstrated by our other elected representatives.

I disagree with Love on many other issues, but that's my prerogative. And hers. That disagreement, however, in no way condones the kind of repugnant invective hurled at her and Dave in the online comments by my ideological comrades. Among the less vile exchanges were these two:

"The Doc must be wrangling for federal funds or a job … Come on, Doc, what's your angle?… her 'climate' award is nothing but a phony pat on her back by a bunch of pathetic lap dogs."

And:

"The minute she walks into the Oval Office and tells Donald Trump that he's a horses a** for his climate denial dementia, I will be glad to send her a thank you note," followed by a grossly worded suggestion (since deleted by The Tribune) that President Trump would only ask Love to perform an oral sex act, while another said the president would assume she had come to empty the wastebaskets.

And these are the people with whom I probably agree on the issue of climate change. Think about those who disagree and read vitriol like this. Actually, I did see a bumper sticker today: Liberals Suck.

Is there really any surprise that a deeply troubled James Hodgkinson went on a rampage at the practice for the congressional baseball game and shot Rep. Steve Scalise? The real wonder is that this doesn't happen every day, though in the future I fear it will.

It appears Americans, on both the right and left, have learned nothing from that shooting about the connection between hateful speech and violent action. Yes, there was a 24-hour ceasefire with much hand wringing. Now, after the obligatory platitudes we're back to our daily routine of character assassination.

If we want to encourage Love to do more to craft meaningful climate legislation, rather than insult and condemn with revolting language, why not say, "Thanks for taking a step in the right direction?" Is there harm in that? Is that not macho enough to impress your friends? Would it not be better to try to heal wounds, to be the adult in the room, to be the first to say "enough," to painstakingly attempt to forge consensus, instead of burning everyone with whom we disagree at the stake? Is it not possible to turn a ceasefire into a truce into a lasting peace?

Democrats and Republicans are today's reincarnation of the Montagues and Capulets. Do we want America's offspring, democracy and liberty, to share the same fate as theirs?

It is our choice whether to allow civil blood to make civil hands unclean, but we don't have to be Shakespeare to say it civilly.

Gerald Elias is an author and musician living in Salt Lake City, and is a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby.

 

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