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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stepping over the line

A famous comedian is in the news for holding up an effigy head of D. Trump covered in blood. For this she is being castigated not only by Trumpets but also by many moderates. And she deserves to be.

A commentator is in hot water for using the term ‘house n----r’ during an interview. He deserves all the blistering he gets.

We – and the ‘we’ to which I refer is all of us who are horrified at the current presidency and the insane comet tail of unpleasantness that follows – need to be better than this. Michelle was right: let them go low; we need to continue to go high.

The comedian should have known better. Her career has been made on the edge, barely skirting the boundaries of good taste and fair play in order to get a laugh. I understand that and I get that good satire is necessarily edgy. But if I have to explain here why what she did was over the line, then perhaps we’re no better than Billy Bush.  

I would hope we can agree that the gleeful display of severed heads is the province of terrorists. Beyond that, while the orangutan in the Oval should be able to take his lumps, and richly deserves them, can’t we agree that there are certain lines we don’t cross?  The comedian, missing the message as former supporters and employers back away from her, tearfully attempts to portray herself as the victim. She is not.

The commentator, hearing negative reaction from his live audience made a quick aside identifying it as a joke. And when the reactions heated up over the next hours, he issued a week apology for ‘using that word.’ I agree with the folks who are calling for his firing. Your time’s up, goodbye.

There are lines we don’t cross if we want to be who we claim to be. Holding up the head was not merely a bad choice in an unguarded moment. It took time to plan and prepare for that shot. Time to think about what that imagery would conjure. Time to say, ‘No, that’s not us.’ Apparently, no one in her camp had the good sense to stop and think.

And for a professional talker to use the n-word on air, even in the flow of repartee, is equally unforgivable. Did he think that his position as a national television commentator makes him immune to the constraints we would apply in a local school board meeting?

These two people – and others we could mention but these are the two in the news just now – are intelligent people. They are both professional communicators who cannot claim they don’t understand context, semantic burden, emotional weight, restraint.

In both cases, they deserve all the vilification we can muster. Because they both knew where the line was, and they chose to step across it. Because in a war for the soul of America, they gave our worst enemies some very ugly ammunition.

Lesson for today: If you stand on the edge, better be sure of your footing. 

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