I want power. I desire social status. I covet money and possessions. I jones for my continued privilege, and I fear losing it.
What shall I do?
“Witch.” “Tranny.” “Commie.” “Feminazi.” “Fag.” “Social experiment.”
In The Crucible, as multiple student essays have informed me this week, people used accusations of witchcraft to deflect blame, gain social status, and augment their own power. It was less about belief in actual witchcraft than using this social stigma to put others down. By accusing vulnerable people of crimes, the accusers cemented their own power.
They’re right; they got it. It’s satisfying when students are able to analyze power dynamics, reveal hidden motivations, and make connections to historical problems.
It’s devastating that they then inform me that “we learn about this so that it never happens again.”
This opens the conversation to talk about what’s happening today, to explain the term “witch hunt” as used in the media. My students asked: are the accusations against Bill Cosby or Donald Trump witch hunts? I answered: the term can also be used to deflect guilt from oneself, to claim special status as a persecuted, innocent, wrongly accused “witch.” It doesn’t mean that the person is innocent, or guilty– it means they are claiming their treatment is unfair.
I thought I did well with that charged moment, today. Then I read the news. When Donald Trump proposes a ban on transgender people serving in the military, even if his Twitter-impulse proposal never comes close to being enacted, it is a harmful statement. It’s targeting and scapegoating people who are marginalized and whose social position is precarious because of a history of discrimination and prejudice. I won’t use the word vulnerable, as I did above– there’s a toughness here that I don’t dare touch.
What’s more, it’s a desperate move. Military service members and veterans are pretty universally respected by Americans. They’re lauded as heroes, they’re portrayed in uniforms of sacrificial nobility. Trump’s chosen wrongly– they’ll fight back.