PITTSFIELD >> There is a conversation that has been bouncing around on the inside of my skull, and it is a conversation of fear.
I've had political signs on my various lawns during election seasons or other events. This election year I have been afraid to post any sign supporting the political candidate of my choice, and it's obvious why. The Republican candidate for president has been encouraging malicious behavior, aligning himself with the Germany of the 1930s and 1940s.
As a Jew, a minority group, and an assertive woman (hopefully no longer a minority group), my instinctive response to this is fear — fear for myself, for my culture, and for my country. These reactionary politicians have endorsed bigotry, unwarranted hatred, and violence.
This welcoming of neo-Nazis represents a denial of the foundations of our country. We have worked hard to remain centered on those foundations, on the work of defining and redefining civilized behavior. It's not easy, as we slip and slide our way to being more a humane species, because we can see that every new population that arrives in our land brings change — changing language, customs, diet, attitudes, and changes to our economy. We have to work hard to overcome slavery, nativism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Feminism; bigotry in all forms in the process.
It is not in our nature to accept change easily, but it is in the nature of the deepest and most evolved concepts of what our country is and can be, to accept and absorb the changes each immigrant population brings. After all, we are strangers in our own land, a country built on the backs of everyone who had the courage to immigrate to our shores. The Republican candidates and their followers negate every effort to make progress towards becoming more civilized.
With this in mind, I was confronted by two events amidst the Republican rabble-rousing virulence, events related by their expression of anger. The first was several weeks ago, when, on a quiet weekend in our neighborhood. A neighbor was shooting a rifle. The noise became so disturbing, and for such a long period of time, that I finally called the police and spoke with the dispatcher.
His response, instead of immediately saying that he would send an officer to check it out, was to begin a dispute with me about my neighbor's right to own a gun. His reaction was, "He has a right to fire a gun as long as he has a permit and it's on his own land. You cannot deny him his Second Amendment right to own a gun," etc. I explained that I wasn't disputing his rights, only the noise which was disturbing the peace of the neighborhood. He again began to argue about constitutional rights, at which point I realized this was not an appropriate response to my request for assistance, asked him to send a cruiser, and ended the conversation.
The misinterpretation of the Second Amendment — by the NRA, by gun owners, and its encouragement by the Republican candidates — gave this dispatcher permission to violate his job description, to step out of line to argue with me on a topic unrelated to the reason I had called for help. After I got off the phone, it occurred to me that this was a symptom of what is so frightening about the Republican candidate's rhetoric.
The dispatcher's responsibility is to help protect the people of our town, but he felt justified in voicing his own political viewpoint, ignoring his job, and violating my trust. When the police officer arrived at my house, after I described the dispatcher's response, he agreed that it was inappropriate, at the least.
Knowing that the dispatcher, who feels his perceived right to own and use guns is being threatened, lives in my town, generates the fear I wrote of above. Since he exists, might there be there others with similar attitudes inflamed in the current bellicose climate advanced by the Republican candidates?
The second more recent event represents a greater personal threat. Because of it, I feel vulnerable posting political signs on my lawn, writing this commentary, or by simply being who I am and, perhaps, by acknowledging who my ancestors were, Jews who walked from Poland and Germany to the ships that brought them to a welcoming America.
This second event was the vandalizing of a lawn sign with a repugnant swastika. It was painted on a sign which read, "Love trumps hate." The message of the sign was a clever protest against the message of the Republican campaign. It is, of course, true — love does trump hate every time! The true message of the swastika was "Hate and fear win!"
Though we are protected by the right to free expression, the Nazi who added that symbol violated that right, and intentionally created a heightened level of fear. This was not an example of freedom of expression; not a simple act of vandalism. It was an attempt to trigger fear for one's safety, an act of terrorism.
There is no constitutional right to threaten another's welfare, but it is the MO of neo-Nazis to threaten selected segments of our population. Our system of justice does not permit this kind of threat.
Yet, here is a local individual who hopes to re-generate the ideas of a cabal of insanity from the Germany of almost a century ago, emboldened by the open toxicity of the Republican candidate for president. This act of terror threatens me personally; my family, my home, our county, and our country. Poison is poison, and it has trickled down in an ever-increasing flood from a national campaign.
So, yes, I am afraid to post political signs or to put bumper stickers on my car this year. I am afraid of the theme of violence that is running through the national Republican speeches, and now it has shown its grisly, ugly, grim face here.
Linda Kaye-Moses is an occasional Eagle contributor.