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Debbie Dingell: How to Stand Up to Trump

“Rot in hell.”

Those words were part of Donald Trump’s Christmas Day message, spewed at his political enemies. The next day, when I was asked during a CNN interview about the increased violence in this country, I responded honestly that I thought the former president’s message was wrong and divisive. I’m not afraid to say what I think, even when that means there may be unpleasant repercussions and threats from the former president and his supporters. A lot of us may face this type of conflict in the year ahead. I am particularly familiar with this, as Mr. Trump has targeted me in the past in ways that have been very difficult.

I was married to a great and wise man with whom I shared an incredible love for decades. I miss John every day. On the day that he died, in 2019, he dictated an op-ed to me that would be titled “My Last Words for America.” He observed, “In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.” Months after his death, when I voted for the first articles of impeachment against President Trump, he launched into a brutal attack saying that John was “looking up” at me (implying he was in hell). That’s the Trump way — the cruelty is the point, yet that awareness doesn’t make it any less painful. We’re human. He knows that, and he thrives on it.

I am not seeking a fight with Mr. Trump. It’s not easy to tangle with him, especially after that experience involving John. But I do know that hateful rhetoric cannot be ignored or become normalized. We have to stand up to bullies in this country, and we have to call out indignities. My bluntness about “rot in hell” being unacceptable was my unfiltered reaction and I stand by it. In my view, the only way you can deal with bullies is to consistently call out their inexcusable behavior and stand in defense of those they choose to target. Trust me, I know it can wear you down — but we can’t grow tired, and we must push back on the hatred when we see it, calling it out, using language everyone understands and in ways that prevent it from seeping into our everyday lives and routines.

Being in Mr. Trump’s tunnel of hate is not enjoyable. Frankly, it’s often frightening. Like many of my colleagues, I have received hostile calls, antagonistic mail and death threats, and I have had people outside my home with weapons. And it reflects the vitriol, bullying, rage and threats we are witnessing across the country today — from our exchanges on social media to dialogue with each other and with those in our workplaces, schools, gathering places, families and communities. It’s a real danger to our democracy and our safety.

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