When Does Appeasement Embolden?

When does appeasement embolden? Anyone who has raised children knows that point exists. Children, as an appropriate task of development, challenge their parents, test limits, and push against the rules. At different ages, different rules are challenged at different levels of intensity, but the challenges happen and those kids are looking for the reassurance that comes from boundaries being in place. A parental strategy of allowing any behavior to pass unchecked is no strategy at all. In fact, it is actually detrimental to the children’s well being. Presumably, with appropriately imperfect parental guidance, children develop the ability to self regulate. They become the adults who have very few, if any, interactions with law enforcement beyond traffic enforcement. Clearly, however, development to the level of self regulation isn’t a given.

We have been encouraged to appease even the most radical Trump supporters. Honesty compels me to confess that I have not been able to do that. People I used to be connected with on social media who insisted on pressing their irrational pro-Trump beliefs have been blocked. To say the least, I didn’t find the cognitive dissonance created by the barrage of lies and conspiracy theories to be edifying. On January 6th, we saw the results of a policy of appeasement played out in Washington D.C.. Despite that, we hear people, including President-elect Biden, advocating a continued policy of appeasement. You cannot fix a problem with the same sort of thinking that created it.

It’s important to emphasize that I am not advocating violence in response to violence. That is a strategy that is doomed to fail no matter where it is tried. What I am advocating is non-violent non-appeasement. There is no reason that any of us should listen to an irrational person blither on about their beliefs. We don’t need to confront them, in fact confrontation isn’t effective with an irrational person. What does work is setting firm boundaries. We need to tell people in our lives who try to engage us on this level that we need them to stop, and if they don’t then we need to terminate the conversation and, if necessary, the relationship. There is nothing wrong about refusing to entertain content that is irrational or upsetting. Those of us with children need to set an example of appropriate boundaries for them, perhaps explaining that Uncle Joe isn’t thinking very clearly right now. We don’t have to denigrate a person to establish effective boundaries.

Politicians adopt positions that are consistent with the goals they hope to achieve. A healthy politician (and I suspect they do exist, in the wild if not in captivity) may set boundaries in their personal lives more tightly than they would in their political lives. Tp that point, I can’t imagine Donald Trump will be receiving many dinner invitations from Congressmen or Congresswomen on either side of the aisle after January 20th. We need to remember, however, that appeasement isn’t an effective strategy for unity. At best it causes the likes of radicalized Trump supporters to go underground, waiting for their next opportunity to emerge and wreak havoc. If we are serious about unity, we will need to engage the process of reconciliation, as was done so effectively in South Africa. People across the political spectrum need the opportunity to be heard. None of us would find all of their grievances reasonable or even realistic, but people deserve to be heard – in the right way and in the right forum. Needless to say, trying to carry out a coup is neither the right method nor the right forum.

Picking and Choosing

The truth is that most of us pick and choose the things we feel are important, never stopping to look at the sum total of what garners our support or checking those things for consistency. Consider that people become really energized over the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which they feel (rightly or not) guarantees them the right to own firearms. Generally speaking, people are aware of and favor the Fifth Amendment. The rest of the Amendments we are perhaps minimally aware of or want to see applied very selectively. The same people who hold these positions consider themselves patriotic, but are they really?

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We regularly hear people prattle on about free speech and their rights to a very distorted version of free exercise of religion, but we hardly ever hear much about freedom of the press – among Trumpian Republicans, especially. Instead, we hear a lot about “fake news,” a classic example of Freudian projection if ever there was one. We have seen reporters exiled from press briefings and the rhetoric of the administration lead to death threats toward reporters. We hear about a desire to restrict the press, and the outgoing administration in Washington did everything it could to damage news sources that are at least minimally credible while promoting those that served its propaganda aims.

Here is a principle to consider: the public availability of more information is always better. That’s not to say any of us should or could consume every bit of news that is offered. It is to say that anyone who wants to limit the number of outlets available to the public is trying to manipulate that same public and doesn’t have its best interests in mind. In a time of rising fascism around the world, we would do well to keep the importance of a free press in the front of our minds!