Steve-O-in NJ continues the very topical discussion of hate and partyism in our society. This story from yesterday is on point: increasingly Americans regard those supporting different parties as unfit for friendship, marriage, and other forms of association. I have been writing about this trend for almost two decades; it has accelerated greatly due to social media, the increasing bias and incompetence of the news media, divisive political leaders and bad luck. Democracy cannot thrive or even survive in an atmosphere of such distrust. This should be obvious, and as I have observed elsewhere on Ethics Alarms, those who are feeding the hate and distrust appear to bee doing so deliberately for some imagined political gain. This is madness.
More stories surface every day showing members of the political class embracing the madness. Like this one, about a Democratic strategist who has started promoting the hastags #HuntRepublicans and #HuntRepublicanCongressmen. on Twitter. “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people,” wrote James Devine on Twitter. “Why is it a shock when things turn violent? #HuntRepublicanCongressmen.” A Democrat who has has run for office, consulted for numerous New Jersey candidates, and worked for New Jersey lawmakers, Devine said in an interview, “If you want to invite a class war, then you have to expect people to fight back at some point.”
Wait….Bernie Sanders is a Republican? All those people cluttering up Wall Street vilifying the “1%” were conservatives? Republican Congressmen called citizens who wouldn’t fall into line “deplorables’?
This is the latest rationalization I have been seeing on Facebook: Donald Trump has made Democrats act like spoiled street gang members. How? Why, by having the audacity and bad manners to win the election, of course. Here was Peggy Noonan correctly diagnosing the phenomenon:
Here I want to note the words spoken by Kathy Griffin, the holder of the severed head. In a tearful news conference she said of the president, “He broke me.” She was roundly mocked for this. Oh, the big bad president’s supporters were mean to you after you held up his bloody effigy. But she was exactly right. He did break her. He robbed her of her sense of restraint and limits, of her judgment. He broke her, but not in the way she thinks, and he is breaking more than her.
We have been seeing a generation of media figures cratering under the historical pressure of Donald Trump. He really is powerful.
They’re losing their heads. Now would be a good time to regain them.
They have been making the whole political scene lower, grubbier. They are showing the young what otherwise estimable adults do under pressure, which is lose their equilibrium, their knowledge of themselves as public figures, as therefore examples—tone setters. They’re paid a lot of money and have famous faces and get the best seat, and the big thing they’re supposed to do in return is not be a slob. Not make it worse.
By indulging their and their audience’s rage, they spread the rage. They celebrate themselves as brave for this. They stood up to the man, they spoke truth to power. But what courage, really, does that take? Their audiences love it. Their base loves it, their demo loves it, their bosses love it. Their numbers go up. They get a better contract. This isn’t brave.
Today, on Facebook, my wife intervened in a liberal echo chamber exchange among women saying they were going to boycott a local department store because it sold Ivanka Trump’s merchandise. She pointed out that this was unfair and made now sense, and kept batting away various rationalizations offered by the women, who were lawyers. Finally one wrote, “Ok, I admit it. I just hate Donald Trump.” That was the best and only argument she had.
This is both admitting bigotry and being so comfortable with it that you accept it.
Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/14/17”:
Hating someone or some group and stewing for long periods in that hatred, however, is a step down the path towards becoming an evil person, or at least performing an evil act. In my last reply to his post I talked at some length (I apologize for that), about several individuals who did just that, and finally went over the edge, taking others, most of whom had nothing to do with their real or imagined grievances, with them, over the edge with them. I could throw out a few more examples, but I think the point of what happens when there is that kind of hate on the individual level is made.
Let’s talk then, a little bit about what happens when hate, justified or not, reaches the macro level. Let’s talk about what happens when those consumed by hate rise to high levels or large groups swallow hate to the point it goes mainstream. We actually don’t have to talk much if we don’t want to, we can just go for the low-hanging fruit – the South post-bellum, where bitter and angry defeated whites decided that if the blacks were not going to be slaves in name they would be slaves in fact, and used every tool at their disposal to make it so – bin Laden, who hated everything non-Islamic and decided that to make his point he would turn airliners into manned missiles – and Hitler, about whose hatred of everything non-Aryan, but especially everything Jewish, little comment is needed.
If we want to go a bit deeper we can talk about the hate-powered individuals and regimes few talk about now – Cromwell, whose hatred of the Irish was so strong that he forced them off any kind of worthwhile lands (“to hell or Connaught, and I care not which!”) and shackled them with ridiculous laws that excluded them from every meaningful aspect of life – Diderot, who spoke of the great day when “the last king is hung by the entrails of the last priest” and whose devotees sent who knows how many to the guillotine for any reason or no reason – Francisco Lopez, who hated his neighbors so much that he plunged into war with Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay all at once, and when the dust settled his own population had gone from 1,400,000 to 229,000, never mind 1,000,000 casualties being inflicted on the other side.
Let’s give a nod to the haters that get romanticized also – Che Guevara, who oversaw the deaths of so many in Cuba and died trying to “export the revolution” to Bolivia, who might not look so romantic if he was marching you and your family out to be executed simply because you owned a business and were reluctant to simply surrender it on his say-so – the IRA, who far too many Irish Americans characterize as warrior poets fighting for some ideal of a land of saints and scholars that never existed, but who might not appear so hero-scholar-like if they were about to kneecap you with a power drill because you might have seen or said the wrong thing – Hugo Chavez, whose obsessive hatred of the United States and anyone allied with it turned his formerly prosperous country into a socialist black hole that teeters on the brink of becoming a failed state.
Civilized society is a more fragile thing than we realize, and prosperity more so. I don’t know whether to compare unreasoning hatred to acid that eats away at the supports while no one notices it until the structure gives way, or to gas that nobody sees, smells, or notices until it builds up to the point that it only takes one spark to set off a huge explosion. We’re not there yet, but if this rhetoric continues to go mainstream to the point where enough people decide it is in fact all right to not just hate, but act on it because the other side’s hate is wrong but theirs is right, we could get there quicker than any of us would like to admit. Most folks have forgotten what the late 60s and early 70s were like, because fewer and fewer who are still around now were adults then – my dad was a young man then and he is 74 now. Most folks can’t fathom what it was like to live in any of those other times I just talked about, because all they do is read about them in the high school history books for one paragraph or so, remember them for the test, them promptly forget them.
They don’t know what it’s like to take a different route to the office or the job site every few days just to improve their chances of making it home alive. They don’t know what it’s like to dread the car pulling up in the middle of the night. They don’t know what it’s like to suddenly be at the mercy of the merciless. If they do, it’s most likely because they live in an area where the authorities have ceded control to gangs and there is no way out. Is hate worth so much that we want that to spread everywhere?