ABOUT TOXIC TACTICS
by Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman,
creator of the Toxic Tactics blog
THE STORY BEHIND TOXIC TACTICS
This blog has been a long time in the making -- three years, actually. It germinated with an article that I wrote in Everyday Feminism about the tactics of emotional abuse that Trump used against Hillary Clinton in the presidential debate in September 2016 . The article, which I wrote in an energized flurry within hours of the debate, garnered 345,000 FB shares within two days -- the most viral article I have ever written till this day, and the second most-read article on their site that year. I knew then that I was onto something, and I kept observing and writing about it in various other places.
However, after the election, this writing process got a bit messed up. After all, I had been writing this under the assumption that many people had at the time, which was that Hillary Clinton was going to win the election. With the Trump victory, it became clear that all these toxic tactics which we thought were just a marginal culture in American politics were going to be emboldened. And in fact, in a recent article in the New York Times about the impact of Trump on his followers, one man says in these exact words, that since Trump was elected, he has been "emboldened" in his ideas, views, and expressions.
This has had a devastating impact on many people -- in America and around the world. I am not referring here to his political views, which deserve their own analysis. I'm talking about a particular style of discourse which takes its cues from tactics of emotional and verbal abuse. It is the legitimization of abuse en masse.
I have spent the past three years regrouping from this radical shift in our culture of discourse. It has affected me personally as well as politically, in a million everyday interactions, in barriers that have emerged with people who perhaps I once thought of as friends. And I know I'm not alone. This is hard. During much of this time, I tried to write more systematically, I set up a FB group, but for the most part, I had trouble finding my footing.
But we need to get back to it and carve a path back to civilization and civility. I believe that no matter where the political arena is headed in 2020 or in 2024, we are facing a long and difficult process of recovery from the cultural impact of the Trump years. It is the Trump Slump, the destruction of social and rhetorical norms that helped maintain at least the veneer of civil society. We have to relearn what it means to speak with kindness, to recognize and eliminate violent discourse, and to treat all human beings as human beings. It may take an entire generation.
I recently decided that it's time for be to start doing a better job of writing what I know. I decided to open this blog and help share the tools that I have been building up over the past three years. I think we all need it.
This blog will hopefully contribute to the process of taking back our culture. By naming the toxic tactics, we are able to at least point to the weapons of emotional and verbal violence among us, and say, "No." We'll start with that.
Who am I?
There are three aspects to my biography that I think are relevant to my interest in starting this blog. (You can read more about me in my regular blog -- www.jewfem.com).. This is what they are:
(1) Anthropology. I am a trained anthropologist/sociologist with experience researching and analyzing language. In my dissertation and in the three books on gender in society that followed, I used narrative analysis to explore the connections between language and social processes. This is one of my core skills, and it has been on overdrive since 2016.
(2) Democrats Abroad-Israel. I am the Vice Chair for Media and Policy for Democrats Abroad-Israel, a job I was voted into after the 2016 American elections. The truth is, since moving to Israel from New York in 1993, I had never been actively involved in American politics (though I still pay taxes!). I was an observer and a blogger about gender in politics and society. But I never really got directly involved, or even voted in American elections until then. My involvement stemmed from the feeling that we are living in unusual times, and that this radical shift will be affecting everyone. As such, I took on the position of Media person in order to help protect civil society and the values of humanity and compassion. I have spent a lot of time in the past three years debating Trump supporters on Israeli television and radio, as well as in private forums. You can see a few of my appearances here . This is how I cut my teeth formulating responses to toxic tactics. It's not easy. But we need these skills if we are ever going to take back our culture.
(3) Emotional abuse. Here is the part of my story that you won't see on my bio or on LinkedIn. I spent many years as the recipient of emotional and verbal abuse in some of my core family relationships (not my husband, thankfully, which anyone who has met him would know....) Certainly I have done a lot of research and writing on sexual abuse and emotional abuse. And one of my first organizational activities as an adult was as co-chair of Mavoi Satum, an organization that helps abused women get divorced. (We didn't think, when we started the organization, that we were dealing with emotional abuse. We thought that it was all about agunot, chained women. But we quickly realized that the act of refusing to release one's spouse from an unwanted marriage is in fact emotional abuse. So that is how I became an expert in the subject.) So many people I have worked with know that I have a lot of knowledge about emotional abuse and emotional-sexual abuse. But the truth is that I spent so many years on that topic because it hit close to home. Perhaps one day I will write more about this. For now, suffice it to say, many of the toxic tactics I write about I have also experienced first hand. And as anyone who has been a victim of emotional abuse will tell you, the Trump years are a massive trigger. Massive. So I'm here to put that into words. To give it a name.
Write to me!
Is this interesting to you? Do you have something you want to share with me? I really want to hear! You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @jewfem, or on FB, at Talking Back to Trump. And Be a #Lioness