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Supported by Guest Essay Debbie Dingell: How to Stand Up to Trump Mrs. Dingell is a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Michigan. “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. When I expressed my thoughts about his Christmas message, Mr. Trump took to Truth Social to go after me once again as a “loser.” Unfortunately, he also brought John into his rant. I can deal with being called names and subjected to the standard venom that we’ve all become familiar with in Mr. Trump’s social media attacks. But when he brings up John, it’s one of the things that hit me hardest. It would be easy to say his words don’t hurt, but they do. And I am sure he knows it. When my husband died, Mr. Trump called me. At the time, I was touched by the president’s sympathy, his taking the time to reach out, and having the flags flown at half-staff. I did not ask Mr. Trump for anything during that call; it was Representative Nancy Pelosi, who was then speaker of the House, who helped with funeral arrangements. John earned the tributes he received. But President Trump cared enough to call, and he lowered the flags. Though we recall it differently, to this day I remember his act of kindness. But that private moment of empathy wasn’t and is not some kind of pass when my duty was to consider articles of impeachment against him, or a permission slip to allow for the public words he chose four years ago or those he used this week. People don’t know how much I still miss John, especially this time of year, and how easily the tears come. Loneliness is something that is affecting many these days, and the loss of someone who was your total partner, and accepting the painful reality he is gone, does not happen quickly or easily. It is a hard, exhausting process. But I cannot and will not be bullied or intimidated by anyone. Sometimes tyrants think women will cower. We cannot. We have the strength and courage to do what is right and fight for the betterment of our communities. Mr. Trump’s style of politics — the disrespect, prejudice, name-calling and malice that too often get swept aside as his just calling it as he sees it — makes healthy debate and discussion virtually impossible. The word “congress” by definition means coming together. Government shouldn’t be about who can make the most noise; it’s about working together to find solutions. Take it from me: What Mr. Trump is doing isn’t honesty or candor, it’s ruthless and deliberate viciousness. We can be sure Mr. Trump’s rhetoric will get only more fiery, discordant and divisive over the next year leading up to the election. We’ve already seen the dangerous and deadly consequences his words can have, and we cannot become complacent. This isn’t just about one man. We all face a choice in how we react to bullies, and we all have a responsibility to choose civility in the face of cruelty. What I would encourage people to do, if attacked by Mr. Trump or his supporters, is to not be afraid to challenge the attack. Try to de-escalate the situation by presenting an alternative point of view calmly. Don’t let them bait you to descend to their level. Because that animosity is exacerbating the problem: We are watching very premeditated and carefully chosen words and actions by Mr. Trump that are stoking anger, further fueling a lack of trust in many institutions and creating a climate that is threatening democracy. Beware, the dangers are real. I’m concerned by Mr. Trump’s pledges to rip health care away from Americans and to rule as a dictator, and by his applause of political violence. We need to hold people accountable for their words. I know that if John were here, he would tell me to do exactly what I’m doing now — to stand up and make my voice heard, and not back down. That’s what I’m going to continue to do, and I hope that as we look toward 2024, all our leaders, elected and aspiring, will join me. Debbie Dingell is a Michigan Democrat and member of the House of Representatives from Michigan. The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: . Follow the New York Times Opinion section on , , TikTok , X and Threads .