As a journalism student, something I’m learning to do is ask questions. Not just any questions — open-ended, thought-provoking, hard hitting questions. In line with this, and coupled with my affinity for self-reflection, I often find myself pondering over questions that I’ve asked myself. Last week, I posed a random, though difficult, question to myself: What would I do if I was stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump?
My first instinct was that I wouldn’t feel safe in that situation, in a confined space with a man who doesn’t seem to respect the rights of anyone who doesn’t agree with him. Then, for some reason, I thought of throwing cold spaghetti at him (though this wasn’t an entirely arbitrary thought — on her podcast Not Too Deep, Grace Helbig asks her guests who they would most like to throw cold spaghetti at, so it’s a topic that I’ve already given some thought to).
I’m Canadian, so Trump’s policies don’t directly impact me (although his policies on things like free trade and the economy do impact me as a Canadian). But his policies are reflective of some people’s attitudes, and these attitudes and policies are already having an extremely negative impact on other people’s lives. So, in short, I think I could make a pretty convincing case for throwing cold spaghetti at Trump.
However, I could also make a convincing case not to do this. Although these situations are markedly different, thinking about what I would do if I ever encountered Donald Trump made me think of what Malala Yousafzai said she would do if she ever encountered a member of the Taliban, after they shot her for advocating for girl’s rights to education.
“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ Then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.’”
– Malala Yousafzai on the Jon Stewart show
Again, I know that these two situations — mine, purely theoretical, Malala’s, a frightening reality — are completely different. But the truth that Malala shared in that interview can be applied to the situation I am imagining. Because she is right. If, in this hypothetical situation, I yelled abrasively at Donald Trump, or ruthlessly insulted him, I would be no better than he is. And, as angry as he makes me, I would not want to stoop to his level. I would rather take Michelle Obama’s advice: “When they go low, we go high.”
I think again, though, that it is important to consider that I’m Canadian, and I’m privileged in that many of Trump’s policies don’t affect me (due to my race, for example). It may be easier for me to say that I wouldn’t stoop to his level, because my life hasn’t been turned upside down by his presidency. If any Americans who have been negatively impacted by Trump wanted to throw cold spaghetti on him, I wouldn’t stop them. I can only speak for myself when I say that I wouldn’t want to stoop to his level, and maybe my privilege plays a role in that.
Moving on from what I would do in this situation, though, another question is what I would say. What words could possibly reach a man who frequently rejects the truth? Clearly, some words get through to him — there is evidence showing instances where Trump has copied tweet material from cable TV shows. I’m inclined to believe in the positive power of words, as someone who hopes to make a career out of writing them. But so many words have been shed trying to convince Trump that he is not making good decisions (to put it lightly), and I’m not sure those words have been successful. What has been successful are the American courts, as demonstrated by the response to his travel ban, when the courts acted as checks on Trump’s power. And the lawyers didn’t even have to endure an elevator ride with Trump.
But what would I say? I would tell Trump that there are real people being negatively impacted by his policies. I would tell him that not all Muslims are terrorists, that, in fact, people from the countries he has included in his travel ban have not killed anyone in terrorist attacks in America. I would tell him that women are not objects, that we are fundamentally equal to men and deserve to be treated as such. I would tell him that his focus on “America first” should include the American people — including women, people of colour, Muslims, immigrants. Everyone. I would tell him that the fourth estate is critical to American democracy. And, finally, I would tell him that the way his policies are currently lining up, he is not making America great “again” — and that I’m not fake news for saying that.
Having said, or written, all of this, I’m curious. What would you do or say if you were stuck in an elevator with Donald Trump? Comment below and let me know or, if you feel so inclined, write your own post on the subject and link it back to me.