In the course of his speech on Saturday to CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) — in front of his avid supporters in the room, as well as to all listening across the country — President Donald Trump said, “Right now we have people in Congress that hate our country. And you know that, and we can name every one of them if we want. They hate our country.”

How is a statement like this allowed to go unchallenged? Perhaps the answer is that in the mind-boggling number of outrageous statements the president makes, we’ve become numb to the rhetoric of divisiveness, creating not only a divided Congress, but pitting citizen against citizen. I would suggest that we not remain numb to this particular rhetoric. I would like to know whom Trump is referring to and why.

If he is not challenged to answer, I’m left to my own conclusions that the “haters” are either those who oppose his policy agenda or those who are on committees investigating his behavior. Or perhaps the president wants to equate all Democratic members of Congress and, on a larger scale those who voted for them, as hating our country, for whatever reason. Possibly because of his claim they’re all socialists out to destroy America as we know it.

Regardless of his motivation, the statement cuts deep into the heart of our democracy — a democracy built upon the ideal of civil discourse as a means to find solutions to problems, one that depends on the rule of law to hold folks accountable for their actions, and most certainly on the belief that Americans, no matter their political leaning, love this country and want what is best for its citizens.

The president has used similar language in tweets. Did he not once wish “Happy New Year” to all, even the “haters and losers?” Did he not portray kneeling NFL players as unpatriotic, hating the American flag? His statement at CPAC rises to a new level. To me, it cannot be characterized as wild or outlandish, as TV pundits and some journalists like to do. I think his statement is terrifying. At best, it leads us nowhere. It splits friendships, neighbors and family members. At its most horrific, it leaves open the potential for violence against those portrayed as hating our country.

I do not support a majority of this president’s policies. I do not believe my elected officials support many of his policies. This does not, in any way, imply that they nor I hate our country. To suggest that to me, personally, is deeply insulting as the daughter of a man who served during World War II, the wife of a man who served during Vietnam, and the mother of a son currently serving in Kuwait. I also believe congressional committees are doing their job in investigating the behaviors of this president or any elected or appointed official. I lived through Watergate, Iran-contra, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, Benghazi, and, yes, Hillary’s e-mails, to cite a few. They all needed investigation. However, whatever my political leanings or beliefs may be, I do not perceive those who would disagree with me as hating our country.

That includes all of Trump’s supporters, in and out of Congress, and the president himself. I do not question their patriotism. Two journalists, Ravi Iyer and Jonathan Haidt, writing for the Wall Street Journal shortly before the election of 2016, said this: “Civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency.” I would add to that quote that, in a political context, patriotism and love of country should not be used as a point of disparagement. So, yes, the president needs to be held accountable for this latest statement. It’s simply wrong.

 

Diane Aegler, of Burnsville, is a retired teacher.