Most Vineyarders voted for Clinton, which means that many of us are feeling resigned, sad, or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Since the election, I have seen people crying in Cronig’s, and not just because of the price of avocados. One of the things I cherish most about the Vineyard community is that we come together in times of pain, loss, or crisis, and that’s why I was truly upset when I drove by a huge Trump banner the other day. I know and accept that people have a right to express themselves, and I value that freedom, but this type of expression on this Island feels taunting and hostile. Is it too much to ask our friends and neighbors who support Trump to show a little sensitivity? Let’s do what we do best on this Island and be there for each other.
First, and above all: Thank you for submitting a question that is going to get me into trouble no matter what I write. People like you keep me on my toes. Now I have to figure out how to explain that acknowledging somebody’s First Amendment rights does not obligate them to refrain from practicing their First Amendment rights.
As I said last week: No matter which side of the aisle you are on, don’t behave in a manner that you would not accept from the other side of the aisle. If you don’t intuitively understand why not, pick up a dictionary or (if you’re reading this online) go to Google, look up “irony” and “hypocrisy,” and realize your behavior belongs where the two intersect. If Clinton had won and you were rightfully and righteously jubilant, and kept your “I’m With Her” banners up on your lawn, how would you feel about your neighborhood Trump supporters not just disliking it, but accusing you of being “taunting and hostile” and expecting you to take them down? I’m not saying the two sides are of equivalent moral virtue. I’m saying that you yourself should operate with moral virtue, no matter what.
If you don’t like that approach, why are you writing in to an ethics column? If you wanted to hear a different kind of answer, you should have written to a different kind of column. (If we’ve learned nothing else over the past year, surely it’s that most people only listen to the kind of answer they know ahead of time will confirm their bias. So actually, if this doesn’t confirm your bias, thank you for listening anyhow. For the record, I would confirm your bias if I met you on the street, but this is not the space for that.)
A campaign banner is a passive and everyday expression of freedom of speech, and you are in a cushioning, supportive bubble of people who share your dislike of what it represents. If you feel taunted by that banner, my friend, you need to toughen up a little, or you will not survive the next four years.
The moment that xenophobia, racism, misogyny, or any kind of Trump-inspired bullying takes place on the Vineyard, the above answer is null and void. You’re right that this is a tight community where people come together. Mutual respect and tolerance are incredibly important — they’re important everywhere, but especially in a small community and especially when that small community is literally insular. That trumps everything else. (Boy, do we need an alternative to that verb for the next four years, or possibly for eternity). Taunting and hostility are NOT OK. Neither is suppressing freedom of speech. While it’s often tricky (especially these days) to establish a balance between the two, a campaign banner — even if it’s tacky — doesn’t even come close to pushing the envelope.
I hope for all our sakes that you never have to experience a more acrimonious display of free speech.
Except at annual town meeting, of course. Then all bets are off.
That’s my take.
Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse and is the author of “I, Iago.” Her combined knowledge of both this Island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to OnIsland@mvtimes.com.