The Trump Effect. So I recently gave a ride to a guy from my neighborhood. He is an older man who I know superficially, and he needed a lift in my direction, so I agreed to help him out. (I'm often without a car, so I appreciated his need.) When he got in the car, we started chatting – how long have you been living here, where are you from originally, like that. Turns out he is from Texas, and I excitedly told him that I was in Houston not long ago where I spent three weeks visiting a dear friend, thinking that would be a connecting tidbit. But then, when he asked me where I was from, and I said, “New York”, he responded with a kind of grimacing little grunt. “New Yorkers are okay – except for one thing,” he said sardonically, looking straight at me. “You are all liberals.”
And there it was, I thought, another random guy willing to verbally attack me, in my space, even as I’m doing him a favor. Another mini-Donald Trump replacing common decency with obnoxiousness, a reminder that we are now in a post-Trump world where insulting the person next to you is fine and expected. Verbal aggression, thanks to Donald, is the new normal.
Lots of people have been experiencing moments like these, interactions with trump-like folks who make our personal space unsafe. With this guy in the car, in an instant, my entire life and person was reduced to one generalized caricature: New York Liberal. My work, my family, my relationships, the complexities of my ideas or actions – none of this existed any more. All I became was this stereotype, and it was used as an insult. (Actually, I personally do not consider “liberal” an insult or even a significant identifier – I don’t introduce myself at cocktail parties saying, “Hey, I’m Elana, and I’m a Liberal”; and if I had to choose the One Thing You Should Know About Me, that wouldn’t be it. – but the word is used as a slur by those who do, and it is that intention that is hateful.) Even though the label he put on me is not who I really am, the L-word, like so many other pieces of language that are casually thrown about, was intended to flatten me and blur my entire person by ignoring all the other aspects of my being. I was no longer a friend, a mother, a writer, an activist, a professional, a neighbor, or even a driver willing to do an act of kindness. I was just a thing that some guy decided I was based solely on information about where I was born.
Score one for meaningless stereotypes and zero for genuine human connection. The Trump Effect.
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Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is an award-winning author, and leading Jewish feminist thinker, educator and activist. The former the Executive Director of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Elana writes and speaks all around the world about gender issues in Jewish life, in education and in Israel.