Unfair Questions: Why aren’t you me?

Though I have admitted that being outraged is perfectly normal and understandable, I’ve also mentioned before that it is dangerous to our political discourse to actively encourage a perpetual cycle of outrage in the way that our media outlets often do.

Recently, I’ve noticed an increasing number of pieces using a particular strategy to generate outrage in their audience.  The strategy is this: report that a person has failed to do [insert behavior you feel strongly about], fail to consider the myriad legitimate and illegitimate reasons the person might have had for not doing [insert behavior you feel strongly about], and let the reader assume the worst.

For example, this story about how Mike Pence didn’t issue a public statement about a triple homicide in his state.  The article mentioned multiple examples of Pence officially responding to several terrorist attacks across the country, which isn’t relevant because there isn’t any evidence that this was a terrorist attack.  The article also mentions one example of Manchester University students killed in a car accident in the same general part of the state as the murders.

This might seem like the example that demonstrates that Mike Pence is a bad man who doesn’t care about dark-skinned immigrants getting killed.  The problem with that narrative is that the Manchester University students who died, the ones whom Pence gave condolences for, were also dark-skinned immigrants.  We can’t exactly conclude this is about them being immigrants or dark-skinned now, can we?  At least not in light of the facts, at any rate.

The author even admits that there doesn’t seem to be evidence of a hate crime here. “While police have said they have “no reason to believe this was any type of hate crime, or focused because of their religion or their nationality whatsoever,” Islamophobia hate crimes have been spiking in the United States. Pence, following the Paris attacks, called for a halt to Syrian refugees entering the United States.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Israel feels confident in connecting the murders to Islamophobia and the Syrian refugee crisis. It’s about the same level of reasoning that the “Barack Obama is totally a Muslim guys!” crowd does, which is to say terrible reasoning.

But this isn’t about the facts or even about reason; it’s about letting people infer that the subject of the article doesn’t have strong feelings about things that are important to them.  “Person X hasn’t expressed strong feelings which mirror my own. How dare they!” is usually the gist of these sorts of articles.

And these articles are not just from the progressive side.  Recently, there were a number of articles pointing out that President Obama had not attended Nancy Reagan’s funeral as if that were some indication of a great character failing on his part.  It’s not, of course.  It’s not even common for Presidents to attend the funerals of former First Ladies.  Even if the President had not already been committed to giving a speech at SXSW, there’s no reason to think much of his decision to attend to other matters.

I may not have voted for President Obama (or Mike Pence), and I don’t particularly like his policies (or those of Mike Pence), but I will not be calling them scumbags or Islamophobes or whatever other names they are called by the people outraged by their actions.  I have no idea if I would do the same thing were I in their shoes, for one.  And for two, even if I did know that I would act differently in their circumstances, I simply cannot reasonably expect everyone to be like me.

Not everyone is going to share my priorities.   Not everyone is going to feel passionate about the same things I’m passionate about, even if they agree with me that truth and justice are of the highest importance.  Not everyone is going to have the same insecurities I do and respond with the same negative emotions to the same things.

It would be incredibly silly for me to ask anyone: “Why aren’t you me?”  But that’s essentially what these outrage pieces are asking, and it’s a deeply unfair question to ask anyone.

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