Kathy Griffin, comedian and TV host on CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve show with Anderson Cooper, apologized this week for participating in a video and photoshoot by Tyler Shields depicting her holding a bloody, severed Donald Trump head.
Trump supporters and fellow resistors alike disapproved of Griffin’s message. Many support Griffin’s photos, though, on the grounds that she has a right to free speech, that the image is harmless art, or that it’s not a problem because Trump and conservatives showed no similar outrage when right-wing protesters espoused similar violent representations of Barack Obama. Some reference Trump opening the White House doors to Ted Nugent, who voiced physical threats towards Obama in 2012.
As a politically aware, left-leaning person who has written before on why Trump has no place in the White House, I don’t support Griffin’s actions. You shouldn’t either.
Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Trump’s major Democratic opponent who he verbally attacked many times during the 2016 election, concedes that Griffin’s actions were in poor taste: she tweeted, "This is vile and wrong. It is never funny to joke about killing a president." The top reply to her tweet, though, is an attempt to justify it as “not wrong” because it is an artistic representation of feelings — which it is, but an expression of beliefs becomes much more than simply that when publicized by such a prominent public figure. The whole world has seen it — including the Secret Service, who may launch an investigation — and Donald J. Trump, Jr., whose social media posts show how he and his followers are using this event to generalize the entire left as thinking this is acceptable. "It takes a real man to pick on an 11 year old," he tweeted, mentioning Barron, Donald Trump's son, who reportedly was very disturbed by the images. "Yet another low from the left, but they will rationalize this away with their usual excuses."
Notice how even the son of Donald Trump can admit in his Instagram post that the hateful depictions of Obama were “WRONG” and understand that they are not comparable to the actions of celebrities Griffin and Shields. (He does try to pretend that there is no “bs” on the right, however, though it’s pretty clear that “bs” knows no political boundaries.) How is this a noble act of resistance when all it has done is further negatively characterize the left?
Mike Flacy, contributing editor for Digital Trends, directly mocks Trump in his tweet. He uses the same language Trump did when justifying Nugent’s verbal threats against Obama to make a point about Griffin’s images, implying that they are acceptable because Trump accepted something so horrible as Nugent’s words. If it wasn’t okay for Trump to condone Nugent, it isn’t okay for us to condone Griffin. How is this a noble act of resistance when all it has done is draw parallels between other despicable acts by Trump and his party?
Sources close to the Trump family claim that Barron, Donald Trump’s 11-year-old son, saw the image and panicked, thinking it was actually his father. While this evoked sympathy for the child among some, others took the opportunity to attack him as if he is responsible for his father, or even say it didn’t happen. Others compared his shock to that of Sasha and Malia, daughters of Barack Obama, upon seeing gruesomely threatening effigies of their father being burned or lynched, saying it’s acceptable for Barron — a child — to be upset because Sasha and Malia were. If it wasn’t okay for Sasha and Malia to see their father grossly victimized, it isn’t okay for Barron to suffer the same. How is this a noble act of resistance when all it has done is make us appear bloodthirsty and obsessed with payback?
Yes, the pictures targeting Obama are undeniably disgusting, racist, wrong, inflammatory, and ultimately indefensible. They convey violence, hate, and intolerance — words many on the left have adopted to characterize the entire right as a result of acts like these above. So to Kathy Griffin and anyone who thinks what she did was a brave act of defiance or even a harmless joke: why do you, my fellow liberals, condemn these acts when the right does them, but then turn around and do them yourself as a sign of resistance?
That is legitimizing these attacks against Obama and his family. By doing or condoning the same thing Nugent and other right-leaning protesters did, you are relenting and condoning the treatment the Obamas received — either that, or establishing a dangerous double standard. You are only fueling the right’s drive to undermine us and our movement. You are adhering to the negative representation that many on the right side of the political spectrum want to create for us.
Left-leaning media source CNN fired Griffin, calling the video and photos “disgusting and offensive,” and Squatty Potty, a company for which she was set to do an advertisement, canceled the commercial. In their statement, they reported being “shocked and disappointed” and said that they “acted swiftly and decisively to demonstrate our commitment to a culture of decency, civility, and tolerance.”
Liberals exploded, citing that she has a right to free speech and shouldn’t be silenced. Are they correct that Kathy Griffin, like every other American, has a right to speak her mind? Absolutely, and that should never be compromised. So why is it a good move for CNN to fire her and for Squatty Potty to cancel the commercial she was set to appear in?
Because we’re not trying to “get even.” Siding with her and defending the photoshoot is siding with and defending the exact opposite of what the resistance should stand for. While there was no physical harm or likely any threat at all to Trump, supporting Griffin is normalizing violent depictions of political figures with different beliefs.
I recognize that many people in the U.S., myself included, feel threatened on some level by the Trump administration and their ideas — people of color, people who identify with marginalized genders, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, Muslims, the poor, mentally or physically disabled folks, college students, kids in public schools, basically anyone who isn’t a straight, wealthy, white man — but Griffin’s display, whether or not it accurately reflects the sentiments some have towards him, is only providing him and his supporters with more to use against us and devalue our fight for equality and against Trump.
Do I think Trump is unqualified, hateful, and bigoted? Yes, without question. Do I sympathize with him for what Griffin did? Not much. However, I also recognize that responding to his hateful rhetoric with an ISIS-style mock decapitation is hypocritical and will not advance our movement, but work against us as we continue to advocate for what’s right.
Our resistance is not about payback. It’s not about getting even. It’s about equality and fighting against an oppressor. Feeding into that oppressor’s expectation is the last thing we need to do.