I imagine the Kathy Griffin controversy that exploded recently and continued to smolder presented many challenging conversations around American dinner tables. The imagery is grotesque and the boundaries are murky. After months of attacking the Trump family for everything from their living situation to their clothes, some Americans probably felt strange to suddenly defend the Trumps against Griffin.

But that’s where American politics is these days.

Which is why, as challenging (and sometimes contradictory) as these conversations are, they are an excellent opportunity to talk to children about important topics.

We have had many such conversations with our teenage sons about Kathy Griffin’s actions and the public’s response. Below are just a few of the points that seemed to be the most problematic (and therefore important) to sort out.

Freedom vs. responsibility

Some have used “freedom of speech” to defend Griffin. No doubt, we live in a country where she is as free to express herself as the president is to say shocking and distasteful things. But freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences, and what Griffin is facing now, as advertisers, venues and employers step away from her brand, is a direct result of her actions.

Griffin doesn’t see it that way. As Matthew Rozsa wrote on Slate, Griffin, at a now infamous press conference, “attempted to frame the ongoing criticism of her image as a conspiracy launched by aged white men in high seats of power — not a genuine public reaction — and censorship enacted by an authoritarian regime” but “none of the available facts bear out the comedian’s analysis of the situation.”

Sometimes we reap what we sow …

For years, Griffin has made Sarah Palin and her family the target of jokes. In January 2011, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Griffin even made it her New Year’s resolution to “offend a new Palin.”

Her chosen victim: then 16-year-old Willow.

“I think it’s Willow’s year to go down,” Griffin said.

This is from a woman who claims to have been bullied as a child and is now claiming to be bullied by the president of the United States. This is a woman whose art caused an 11-year-old boy (Barron Trump) to think his dad had actually been beheaded.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should not act with grace.

“They had it coming” is an easy response. It’s why people thought nothing of threatening the life of Walter Palmer, the dentist who shot Cecil the lion. It’s why the mother of the boy who fell into Harambe’s enclosure was harassed and vilified. It’s why, in fact, Griffin thought it was acceptable to pose with what looked like Donald Trump’s severed head.

And yet, would we let our children threaten the life of the school bully? Would we allow our kids to see someone suffering and say, “They had it coming”?

If not, then why are adults doing it?

Gandhi’s “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” seems fitting here. In our rage and vigilantism, we’ve all gone absolutely mad and blind.

When you say “this has never happened” without checking the facts, you’ve already lost the argument.

At her press conference, Griffin said, “What’s happening to me has never happened in this great country. A sitting president of the U.S. … is personally trying to ruin my life forever.”

If nothing else, at least she and President Trump use the same kind of speech, and they don’t always check the facts first. If Griffin thinks a sitting president has never at least been accused of trying to ruin the life of someone else, she might want to revisit the Clinton years.

But the really troubling thing about Griffin’s statement is that she doesn’t realize it was her actions that might “ruin (her) life forever.”

When we accept nothing but perfection, we will get imperfect candidates who don’t care.

Aside from the fact that I in no way condone Griffin’s or Trump’s (or Bill Clinton’s) actions, our society has come to a place where we accept nothing short of absolute perfection and sainthood from our politicians, entertainers and anyone else who wanders into the public eye. If someone makes a mistake, their lives are ruined. If someone uses a tasteless word, people call for their death. If a performer makes a bad joke, he loses his job.

It makes you wonder who would even consider going into public life these days when one false step can leave your life, career and family in ruins.

And yet, maybe it is our intolerance for missteps and our unwillingness to forgive that has created the environment where people on the extremes, people like Trump and Griffin, are the only ones who participate and thrive.


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