Why are only college students allowed to complain about feeling uncomfortable?

Call it “uncomfortable privilege.” The same sort of complaint that gets college students complimented and coddled just got a highly regarded sports writer canned. The story begins just as every American summer does, on Memorial Day.

Memorial Day traditions. Pool openings. Backyard barbecues. Family picnics. And the Indy 500. Lots of famous winners. AJ Foyt, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Johnny Rutherford. All Americans. This year a non-American won, joining other famous names such as Dario Franchitti and Emerson Fittipaldi. The 2017 race winner was Takuma Sato of Japan.

Races such as the Indy 500 are considered all-American sporting events, but the reality is that they are world championships. The golf US Open, despite its name, has been won by a non-American 9 times since 2000. In tennis, the US Open men’s single champion has not been an American since Andy Roddick won in 2003.

Memorial Day, aside from the sporting and social events, commemorates those who died in active military service, typically foreign wars. Many of those remembered on Memorial Day died during World War 2, in the Pacific theater, fighting the Japanese. Some may find it interesting or ironic that 70 years later, a car racer from the country we fought, won a big race on the day when we remember those who died fighting that same country nearly three quarters of a century ago.

Times change and the world is a smaller place now. I suspect most Indy fans enjoyed watching the race and seeing the fastest and best driver win the championship, regardless of nationality. Others enjoy watching the epic crashes involving vehicles traveling over 200 miles per hour, hoping that everyone walks away from the wreck.

A Denver Post sportswriter, Terry Frei, had a different reaction to this year’s race. His father, a pilot in WW2, flew missions over Japan, losing two compatriots in the Battle of Okinawa. Mr. Frei, thinking about his father on Memorial Day, wasn’t angry. Instead he simply felt uncomfortable.  He tweeted the following:

“Nothing specifically personal, but I am very uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend.”

An honest reaction. In hindsight, best shared with only his family or close friends rather than the entire Twitterverse. The reaction was swift and predictable. The Twitterverse, bored during a long weekend, attacked swiftly and viciously, accusing him of being a racist and an all-around horrible human being.

But why is someone feeling “uncomfortable”, for whatever reason, now suddenly social crime?  Especially when feeling uncomfortable about a statue or memorial from the Civil War era is justification to deface or destroy the statue.

The Denver Post wasted no time in firing Frei, a long-time sportswriter and author, a six-time state winner of sportswriter of the year. The Denver Post apologized “for the disrespectful and unacceptable tweet that was sent by one of our reporters”, saying it “doesn’t represent what we believe nor what we stand for.” Frei apologized as well. All for feeling “uncomfortable”.

According to the virtue codes of political correctness, isn’t “feeling uncomfortable” a cause for accommodation, not further derision? What is the purpose of “safe spaces”, now proliferating on college campuses?

An op-ed in the virtue signaling NY Times described a safe space as,

“An area on campus where students — especially but not limited to those who have endured trauma or feel marginalized — can feel comfortable talking about their experiences.”

What about Terry Frei? Where was his safe space? What if he was traumatized over the war through the experiences of his father and his own writings about the war?

I thought those feeling uncomfortable should be listened to, heard, validated and accommodated? Nearly half of Dartmouth students who are registered Democrats “would feel uncomfortable living with a Republican roommate.” Agree with that or not, they can feel however they want. Should they be expelled from the university, as Terry Frei was expelled (fired) from his job?

Feminists at Sierra College pass out written citations to students they claim make others “feel uncomfortable and/or threatened.” Seems that those feeling uncomfortable, for whatever reason, are the victims, needing protection and safe spaces. Yet when a sports writer admitted to being uncomfortable, he was fired.

The psych community, quick to diagnose Donald Trump as having a “dangerous mental illness”, stresses the importance of feelings. Psych Central tells us, “The more we can align our feelings with a positive understanding of what they can do for us, the more we can try trusting them to carry us forward in our lives.”

So then why, when the son of a WW2 pilot, had “uncomfortable” feelings over a Japanese racer winning the Indy 500, is he ridiculed and fired from his job? Aren’t we supposed to “feel our feelings” and have our feelings validated rather than shamed? That’s what the psychologists tell us.

In our politically correct world, to paraphrase George Orwell, all feelings are equal, but some feelings are more equal than others. The Denver Post, virtue signaling to its progressive reader base, found their sports writer’s feelings unacceptable for continued employment, swiftly firing Terry Frei. How many of its writers feel uncomfortable, or worse, toward Donald Trump? Or his supporters? And remain employed.

Being “uncomfortable” with Trump is virtuous, high minded, sophisticated. Particularly the #NeverTrump Republicans. They don’t call him a Nazi or fascist as the hard-leftists do. Instead they are merely “uncomfortable.”  His brusque style. His tweets. All “making Republicans uncomfortable.”

That’s their prerogative. I don’t see them being fired from the National Review or Weekly Standard because they express being “uncomfortable” about the duly elected president. Congress, on the other hand, may suffer in November 2018 if they continue to be “uncomfortable” with the leader of their party, obstructing and undermining him.

I’m not defending Frei’s tweet. And the Denver Post has the right to fire him if they so choose. But how about some consistency in the outrage? After all, it was perfectly acceptable and not disrespectful for the Denver Post to editorialize about “Lying Trump.”  But when one of their writers expresses his own personal discomfort, instead of giving him a safe space, his employer gave him a pink slip and a swift kick out the door.

Brian C Joondeph, MD, MPS, a Denver based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter.

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