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Gladstone resident says 'hatred isn't political ... Let's have patriotic conversations.'

The past few months have been interesting as national politics have taken local stages through "flag waves" and school board meetings. Ben Hildner

It's hard to stay neutral — the issues at stake seem to be critical — do you love our country or not? Is racism being taught in schools? Should workplace safety take priority over medical freedom?

They're legit questions, and important ones to ask. I'm glad we're talking about them. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are the least likely to bring relevant information to the table, and I include myself in that.

So I've devised a game to help me decide how to respond appropriately and know when to engage. See, it seems like the loudest voices (yes, I include myself, in full transparency) are identifying themselves as either patriots, victims or trolls. And that identity is important for a few reasons.

First, it's hard to be more than one of those things. Americans aren't weak victims. The two wars we have lost — Vietnam and Afghanistan — did not make us victims. Patriots aren't bullies either; I don't admire Americans who have kicked others when they were down or started fights unnecessarily. I don't think "the other side" does either.

Yet these identities keep getting called in, tangled up with American flags and talk of the Constitution. The fact is, it's hard to simultaneously be a patriot and a victim, a patriot and a troll, or a victim and a troll. It's like rock, paper, scissors. One of the three has to out.

So here's what I propose: if someone's being a patriot, hear them out. You'll know they're being a patriot because they are curious about other perspectives, they don't call you names, and they don't wilt at the slightest indication that there might be other ways of seeing things (think bald eagles).

Have a meaningful, difficult conversation about racism, freedom, history, economic policy. … Enjoy it, because you can't do that in most of the world. That's patriotic!

If someone's being a troll, name it and disengage. No learning is going to take place. The more upset you get, the more the trolling achieves its purpose. It's also divisive, and I believe gets at the heart of what's actually wrong with the country right now.

However, if someone's being a victim, let's clear something up: White people aren't victims of racism. Discomfort in schools? Sorry, People of color lead the score there. Economic opportunity? Yeah, that's a hard nope. Men aren't victims of feminism. Jeff Bezos isn't a victim of socialism.

And as we saw in 2017's Matal v. Tam SCOTUS decision, hate speech may be constitutionally protected, but it's still wrong. If they're using hate speech, they're not a victim, but they are a troll. Hatred isn't political. Either way, they're no patriot.

Let's just let that be clear. Let's have patriotic conversations. Be like an eagle: don't be a jerk, but don't wilt either.

Ben Hildner is a Gladstone resident.


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