In My Own Words: Mixed-up priorities and the cultural war

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

My mornings are usually pretty hectic, but if I time it just right, I can catch the top stories on the TV news. Those tell me what the broadcasters think are the most important stories of the day. During one recent morning, the three lead stories were 1) Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet, 2) fears that a dam might break in North Carolina and 3) a study suggesting that the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico of 64 people was underestimated by more than 4,000 people.
Notice anything wrong with that order? I know that celebrities grab people’s interest, but the two remaining stories deal with life and death, something far more important than yet another celebrity making a fool of themselves on Twitter. Yet, the continuing saga of Rosanne’s tweet is still making news while information about the flooding in North Carolina, which caused the evacuation of 2,000 people and the recount of deaths in Puerto Rico is now buried at the bottom of most newscasts and newspapers.
Something is wrong with our priorities. I realize that the conflict about Rosanne’s tweet and the canceling of her show on ABC are part of the current cultural war occurring in the United States. However, we make a mistake if we focus on what celebrities say rather than on what’s happening in our state legislatures, Congress and the White House. Just because a TV or movie star, an athlete or best-selling author’s name is well known doesn’t mean they’re experts on anything outside their particular area of expertise.
I also don’t understand why people feel the need to share their every thought on Twitter. At least on Facebook, you have the option of limiting the number of people who see what you post, but Twitter is open to everyone, unless a person is specifically blocked. Why did Rosanne feel the need to share her thoughts about Valerie Jarrett, an advisor to former President Barack Obama? Why would anyone in 2018 think it is OK to compare anyone – black or white – to an ape?
If you post something on Twitter, you’re opening yourself to comments from the general public (unless you make your account private, which few people do.) If you didn’t want people to comment, then why post it? If you’re hoping that no one will make negative comments or criticize you, then anyone who is a public figure (politicians, the children of politicians, actors, athletes, singers, artists, etc.) should either stop posting or grow a thicker skin.
Sometimes an innocuous tweet causes a fuss – for example, Ivanka Trump’s recent photo of herself with one of her children. It is a lovely photo of a parent and child. However, people felt she was tone deaf to post that photo the same week that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services admitted that the agency lost track of nearly 1,500 children, and her father’s administration was removing children of undocumented immigrants from their parents. If Ivanka was just Trump’s daughter, the criticism might not have appeared, but the administration calls her one of his advisors. If she hadn’t felt the need to share that photo on Twitter – if she had just shown it to friends and family – no one would have said a word.
See how easy it is to get distracted from writing or talking about the real problems we face? It’s fun to write about the cultural war, but doing so doesn’t help the people in North Carolina, nor does it restore electrical power in Puerto Rico, which as a territory of the United States is our responsibility. We need to get our priorities in order ASAP.