To Write About Trump, or Not?

“You write about Donald Trump a lot,” my friend told me. I paused, thought about the the homepage of my blog, which I knew featured several posts about Trump. Then I thought about the drafted articles saved on my laptop—many of which are about Trump—and I nodded.

“You’re right,” I said. “But is a lot too much?”

Speaking of drafts, I have one called “To talk about Trump, or to not talk about Trump?” So let’s talk about talking about Trump (confused yet?).

A few weeks ago, Toronto Star’s Washington correspondent, Daniel Dale, came to speak at my journalism school. Dale fact-checked Trump throughout the election, and continued to fact-check him after he took office in January. He is, in other words, no stranger to writing about Trump. During his speech, he said, “Pretty much anything with Trump in the headline gets a ton of readers.” I nodded my head and laughed, because it’s true. As a news-consumer, I am quick to click on articles about Trump. And, lately, the articles I have written about Trump have outperformed non-Trump articles.

This, I think, is exactly the way Trump wants things to be. The adage “All press is good press” seems to embody Trump. Even in the days before he entered politics (the good old days, if I do say so myself) Trump faced negative news cycles. Still, they always seemed to work in his favour—more people watching The Apprentice, for example. I imagine the inside of Trump’s head is a chaotic place. The word “ratings” probably still bounces around a fair bit in his mind. After all, Trump did brag about the viewing statistics for his Inauguration. The presidency is like a reality TV show to him. Negative news about Trump is still good press to him.

So maybe we shouldn’t feed this. In January, I thought it would be cool to go a week without reading Trump-related news and then write an article about the experience. I imagine it would have been a bliss-filled week. I have to complete a weekly news quiz for my journalism class, though, so ignoring Trump-related news unfortunately isn’t an option for me (and, besides, another like-minded journalist ended up doing this experiment and writing about it). I have also considered what would happen if, for one day, news organizations just stopped talking about Trump and American politics. The problem is that, speaking of ratings, theirs would likely plummet. But a Trump-free news cycle would be so refreshing; and I think that’s what my friend was hinting at when she said I write about him a lot.

To say that a Trump-free news cycle would be refreshing, though, is an indication of my privilege. Unfortunately, many people can’t ignore Trump. To them, he isn’t just an incessant topic on CNN. He’s the reason they’re fearful to go outside, the reason their community is facing increasing hate crimes. Trump’s executive orders, policies, and actions affect real people—not just in America, but around the world. If you are privileged enough that they do not have a directly negative impact on you, then I believe you have a responsibility to speak up for those who are affected.

Beyond the fact that, as Dale said, posts about Trump are popular, this is one of the reasons why I refuse to stay silent about Trump. I want to think critically and write carefully about him, and I want to spark conversations and critical thinking for my readers. Maybe I am preaching to the choir—I have no evidence that any of my posts have, for example, made a Trump supporter change their mind about him. But if I’ve made one person think about him differently, or think about his policies and the people affected, then I think I’ve done my job as a blogger and as a journalist.

As I read and write about Trump, I am cognizant of the fact that so many other people are also writing about him. I am just one of the many voices, shouting Trump’s name into the void. Except it’s not really like that, because it’s not a void. I consider myself fortunate to be in a position where people read my blog, consider my words, and sometimes add their own perspective. I am not, by any means, a “definitive voice” on Trump or American politics. But writing about Trump challenges me, and it matters to me.

I know I write about Trump a lot. Maybe it is too much. Maybe we all write about Trump too much—because it is, after all, giving him the attention that he seems to crave. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that our words matter, because the impact Trump has matters. I am going to keep writing about Trump, the people he is impacting, and the ways we can help them. And if you are also a blogger, writer, or journalist, I would encourage you to do the same.


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The Role of Allies in the Fight for Equity

It is said that fiction imitates reality, and this week I read a book that affirmed that statement. The book in question is called Poles Apart by Terry Fallis. Without going into too much detail, the story follows Everett Kane, a young male, who is a freelance journalist. Everett is passionate about feminism, and starts a blog to share his views with the world. He stays anonymous because – and I quote – “If we’re ever going to achieve real equality, women have to lead the movement, and be seen to lead the movement, as they always have…” As a “relatively privileged youngish white man”, Everett doesn’t want to be seen as a leader in the feminist movement. You’ll have to read the book to see how that works out for him.

I thought Everett’s decision was an interesting one. Fiction imitates reality; in our society, many people believe it is important for members of a marginalized community to be the ones leading the fight for equality. In a 2013 article for Bustle author Madhuri Sathish outlines “how to actually be an ally to [people] of colour”. Among her many excellent points is this one: it is important to “amplify the narratives of people of colour”. White people aren’t the ones being discriminated against, or killed because of their skin colour, so, while they can certainly support movements for racial equality, their voices aren’t the most important ones in that conversation. Amplifying the voices of the marginalized, rather than adding new, perhaps unnecessary, voices to a discussion is one way to ensure the people who need to be heard are in fact heard.

This concept isn’t just important for issues of race: it is important to all issues of inequity. Katie Tait writes on OPIA that “while [allies] are a crucial part of gaining the equality that [members of the LGBT+ community] deserve, a lot of them don’t understand that their activism is actually silencing [members of the community.] They mostly have good intentions but a lot of them tend to make their voices more important and talk over the voices of actual LGBT+ members.”

This is where it becomes important to acknowledge privilege. Madhuri Sathish writes that it is important not only to consider privilege, but what that privilege would look like if it was toned down a bit if equality was achieved. But what is privilege, exactly? To give it a short definition, I would borrow two  phrases from Peggy McIntosh: privilege is an “unfair advantage”, and an “unearned entitlement”. McIntosh wrote “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, which is essentially a list of things that she, as a white person, can do because of her privilege.

“When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. / Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin colour to not work against the appearance of my financial reliability. / I am never asked to speak for all people of my race. / If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.” (Selected sections from her list)

Though some things on this list may seem small, the list overall is pretty powerful. It is a snapshot of white privilege; the things white people are able to do or be sure of simply because of the colour of their skin and the beliefs associated with it. Similar lists could be made for any kind of privilege that exists. In Poles Apart, Everett Kane has acknowledged his privilege as a white male. While this privilege shouldn’t prevent him from supporting feminism, he feels like it prevents him from adding his voice to the conversation. And perhaps it does. But throughout the novel, he demonstrates a powerful belief in the feminist movement, which could inspire more people – men included – to join the movement. This could be seen as amplifying the existing voices of the feminist movement because he is adding a new, supportive perspective.

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Adding new opinions to a conversation isn’t always a good thing, though. Recently, YouTuber Tyler Oakley posted the above image on Twitter. In the conversation about women’s rights and bodies, men’s voices should be less important because they are not the people directly affected by the decisions made. Unfortunately, we see quite often that some men (certain politicians, not to name any names) shout over women with regards to these issues. I think the age-old adage applies here: if you don’t have anything nice, or supportive, to say, then don’t say it. If you’re not going to be an ally to a movement, don’t discourage progress. And if you are going to be an ally, then do so by using your voice to support and amplify the voices of those impacted by the movement. 

Should allies add their voices to movements they’re not directly involved in? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

The Deal on Debates

Most students get excited when they see “work period” or “movie” written on the board upon entering class. I get excited when I see the word “debate”. In my classes we don’t follow a formal debate procedure, like a debate team would, so some could argue (pun intended) that our debates are just organized arguments. Still, I think they’re a great way to think critically, learn how to share your own opinions, and learn from the views of others.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from debates is that if you want to be successful, you need to keep an open mind. The topics I debate in my classes in school are debate topics for a reason: they don’t have a clear answer. Often, we have to move to one side of the room if we agree with a topic, and the other side if we disagree; it’s not uncommon for the room to be evenly split in half, or with a large group of students hovering in the “I don’t know” middle ground. Because the issues are so complicated, when I’m arguing my beliefs I always try to take into account the viewpoints of the people on the other side. Not only do I learn more from doing this but it strengthens my argument, since it shows that I am not ignorant of the opposing opinions.

Keeping an open mind doesn’t mean I agree with the other side, though. A few weeks ago, my law class was having a debate about whether or not affirmative action programs should be mandatory. Someone said something that was the exact opposite of what I was arguing, and I had mentally crafted my response. Before I began speaking, I took a deep breath and said, “I understand what you’re saying, but, respectfully, I disagree entirely.” This statement earned me some laughs from my classmates, but I think it also framed my response as one coming from a place of understanding and willingness for genuine debate and learning, instead of simply being rude and discounting the other person’s opinion.

Although I love being in debates, I don’t always love witnessing them. Ask anyone in my family, and they’ll tell you that I often become frustrated while watching political debates on the news. Candidates rarely directly answer the question they’re asked. They start out on a little detour, and then commit themselves to taking the scenic route – and by the end of it, they’re talking about the second amendment when the question was about Obamacare. Plus, there are some certain candidates – I trust you’ll know who I’m referring to – who don’t share my views on open-mindedness and the value of polite responses.

There’s a simple concept, one I try hard to follow when I debate in school, that some politicians haven’t grasped yet. It’s this: you never know who is in the room with you. Because of this, you need to be careful with what you say. I do this by imagining that the people who are affected by what I am talking about are in the room with me. For example, if I’m debating about socioeconomic statuses, I imagine there’s someone who struggles socioeconomically in the room (there very well might be – you’d be surprised what you can’t tell about someone by looking at them). If I’m arguing about immigration, I imagine there’s someone who is an immigrant in the room. Obviously, I don’t try to censor myself; but a moderate amount of caution when speaking about sensitive topics goes a long way (something some political candidates have learned the hard way).

Another valuable thing to keep in mind when debating, even informally among friends, is the idea of privilege and the personal bias that stems from it. When my law class was debating about affirmative action programs, we zeroed in on affirmative action for First Nations peoples. I could speak for a while on my opinion about that – but ultimately, my opinion isn’t the most important one to listen to. I haven’t faced the barriers they have, or had the experiences they have had. I’m not in a position to assert my opinion as the ultimate truth; because I have a bias in that I’m Caucasian. I probably wouldn’t need an affirmative action program to ensure I am hired somewhere. And this is something I need to acknowledge, if only to myself, when I debate; because without recognizing privilege, issues – especially those concerning equity – can become very muddy, very quickly.

Debates, especially those without a formal structure, can quickly spiral out of control. Despite best efforts, it is all too easy to offend someone. While that old saying promises that only sticks and stones can break bones, and that words can’t really hurt someone, I’d beg to differ: words can be devastatingly offensive, even if the speaker didn’t intend them to be that way. So when you’re talking to your friends, or debating in class or another setting, try to keep an open mind. Be polite; imagine the people affected by the issue you’re talking about are listening to you speak; and recognize the privileges you have. By doing these things, you maximize your potential for a productive debate – and you separate yourself from that fake-tan-obsessed politician who, seemingly, has yet to learn the value of a little consideration.