Trust me. I write columns three or four times each week. One word out of context, one poorly worded phrase or one sloppy sentence can ruin a 900-word column.
I remember one column that I thought was a funny retort against a new public policy. Instead, it was offensive to people who had already been victimized.
The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority had decided to put concrete median barriers along Interstate 44 between Chickasha and Oklahoma City. The move was in response to several dangerous crashes where vehicles had crossed the median for head-on collisions. I didn't have a problem with the idea of trying to stop those accidents, but I did take issue with the method they chose and the price tag for it.
I latched onto a phrase they used to support the expenditure. "You can't put a price on saving a life."
My column basically mocked that idea.
I made an argument that one fatality and a few critical injuries wasn't worth more than $25 million. Can you imagine being one of those victims reading a column where someone said something that callous?
It was worse than that. I hypothesized that since there is no price tag on human life, we should try to prevent future drownings at Chickasha Lake by filling it with lime jello. I even said the fish and turtles would be like the chunks of pear in the jello.
It wasn't funny. It wasn't clever. I was a young editor when I wrote it, but I was old enough to know better.
As bad as that was, however, I have never intentionally pushed a conspiracy theory that inspired a crazy person to shoot up a synagogue. I have never said a word to embolden white supremacists to make them feel confident enough to shoot and kill black people at a grocery store. I have never spent years demonizing people until another crazy person tried to send bombs to maim or kill those targets.
If you strike a match near a candle, it's a good idea. If you strike a match near a gas pump, you have to expect an explosion.
In the past two years, too many politicians from the President down have been lighting matches. Now is not the time to act surprised that we are seeing the effects.
The President called himself a Nationalist last week at a rally. That isn't fake news or a CNN commentator saying it. President Donald Trump told a cheering crowd that he is a nationalist. The signal that sent to white nationalists and other racist groups was undeniable. Trump can claim that his meaning wasn't racist all he would like, but the racists loved it. There's a reason for that.
Even after a synagogue was the scene of a mass killing this weekend, FOX personality Lou Dobbs hosted a man who claimed George Soros or other jews were sponsoring the caravan of several thousand people who are about 1,000 miles south of the American border. They say they are headed this way, but they will struggle to make it by Thanksgiving.
The suspect in the mass murder at the synagogue posted on social media about his great fear of these asylum seekers and his growing anger at jews for making their trek possible.
That may not be a direct cause and effect, but it is close enough to cause some introspection from those who are ginning up fake outrage and inspiring men like the killer in Pittsburgh to plan and carry out his attack.
Anyway, how many asylum seekers in this caravan are as scary as the racist shooters and wild-eyed mail bombers who are already here and already more radicalized than any radical islamist.
Even leaders in other countries are getting in on the act. Czech President Miloš Zeman is telling jokes about the death and dismemberment of a journalist from America at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. “I love journalists, that’s why I may organize a special banquet for them this evening at the Saudi embassy."
Journalists are in the crosshairs and the American President stokes the flame of hate at nightly rallies. Even Monday he called the media "the true Enemy of the People."
In addition to Trump's irresponsible tweets and rhetoric, Saudi Arabia blatantly killed a journalist, and now other world leaders are normalizing that act by joking about it.
The man's dismembered body hasn't even been returned to his family, yet and this murder is already the subject of jokes.
That's wrong. It is dangerous. It is hardly the only example.
President Trump in one breath promises to ratchet up his attacks because he is the victim of bad press and in the next breath he calls for the country to be more united.
Trump calling for unity is like a guy eating a dozen donuts while ordering a Big Mac meal at McDonald's and telling the kid taking his order that he needs to lose some weight. Unity is not Trump's goal nor will it be his effect.
We have to do better. When people say they hate political correctness, they simply mean they want to be able to spew racist or other hateful speech with impunity.
That's impossible. It isn't political correctness. It is simply the truth.
Words matter. Awful words lead to awful actions. We have to hold leaders to a higher standard to stem the growing tide of domestic terrorism.