Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) has a really great heart, and I was impressed this week to read about his efforts to reach across the aisle and try to actually make a difference. I also think that what he’s proposing is dangerous for a lot of voters.
Religion News reported on Raskin’s comments, in which he shared his belief that repairing the damage done to the nation can’t be done without an understanding of cult mentality. He’s not asking anyone to make an effort he’s not willing to first take on himself — he says he’s talked to cult deprogramming experts, and is following their advice to try to engage with colleagues like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who simply isn’t going to be swayed by rational discussion or facts.
Their advice to him, and his to the audience member who asked what actions the rest of us can take, was “as warm and affectionate and as personable as you can,” and try to remind individuals of pre-cult life, while maintaining facts and sticking to the truth. He said that people should make an effort to befriend those they disagree with, something he says his son told Sunday School students.
It’s good advice, where applicable and up to a point, but I believe we have a bad habit of telling victims to befriend their bullies, and I think we really have to exercise caution about suggesting that dangerous people would be less dangerous if potential victims take the risk of putting themselves in those individuals’ orbit. I don’t think Raskin means that anyone should put themselves in danger, but the line of thinking could easily be amplified to that point, and we need to be cautious of doing so.
Raskin, for example, can probably safely be super nice to Greene. He can speak kindly to her on the House floor, stop by her office with a friendly word, share his personal supply of coffee creamer when he hears she’s run out. No problem.
Would we give the same advice to a neighbor of Greene’s, back in Georgia, who happens to be transgender, or, let’s say, have traits that she associates with “antifa?”
Even before being elected, she was making vague threats, complete with rifle-brandishing, about what would happen to any ‘antifa’ she caught in her district.
I wouldn’t feel safe telling people of certain groups — LGBTQ in particular, but also undocumented immigrants, or Jewish people, or anyone who openly advocates for Black Lives Matter, just to name a few — that they should befriend, be kind to, or even be near Greene, or people who share her ideology.
I wouldn’t tell mothers of transgender children they should go talk nicely to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Texas Governor Greg Abbot, or anyone who shares their views — these are literally people who are working to endanger the children in question. Why would we advise anyone to keep them close?
I love that Raskin wants to reach out and make the effort to make dangerous people less dangerous. I hope that those of us who can get through to someone — a relative, a friend we knew before they became radicalized, maybe a co-worker — safely, will make the effort to do so.
But when we’re talking about people who want to sic child services on families for merely having a trans kid, people who want to rip away the support systems that could make the difference in that child surviving to adulthood, people who want to have adults charged with abuse for accepting kids as they are, I don’t want to tell transgender people and their families that they should be nice to these dangerous people.
When we’re talking about people whose rhetoric — space lasers, masks being equivalent to yellow stars — inspires hate crimes and attacks on houses of worship, I don’t want to tell Jewish people, oh, you’ve got to go be friendly.
If we’re talking about people who think that the greatest oppression in America is being socially (not legally) forbidden to use the n-word, I’m not telling any POC that they should knock on that person’s front door and bring a housewarming gift.
Women don’t have an obligation to coddle men who’d rather they die than have an abortion.
Cult deprogramming is probably a necessity if we’re ever going to move forward from the nightmare of Trumpism, I agree, but I believe we’ve got to do it with caution, and we cannot expect anyone to serve as a deprogrammer at the cost of their own safety and well-being.
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com