“The United Hates of America”
Sometimes a person or group can be so focused on what they *want* so say deliberately, they completely overlook when they are saying by accident. Social humans employ varying levels of deception in their active communications, often for noble purposes like the avoidance of hurt feelings. But like all animals, we have our weaknesses, aspects of our behavior that reveal us to be clumsy and often transparent creatures. We work so hard to shine up our lies, rarely realizing how much truth is buried within them.
We’ve all seen our share of these kinds of moments. Watching people declare they’re not racist while unwittingly using a racist argument to make their case. Sometimes I simply don’t have the patience to explain to people that actually, the fact that you know exactly how many black friends and/or lovers you’ve had and that they’re the first thing you use to defend yourself when challenged over an unrelated instance of racial insensitivity confirms that in your mind black people and minorities are objects and tokens. There are few clearer ways to illustrate how a literal token works than watching someone try to use another human being as a “pass”.
In the last few weeks we’ve watched too many men in Hollywood try to prove they’re not misogynistic by invoking the existence of their wives, mothers and daughters. If the only or primary thing allowing you a foothold to empathize with women is concentrating on the women in your life specifically then you have little-to-no empathy for women. Take away the women in your life and your mind can’t seem to find a foothold for any charitable emotion or equitable consideration. That’s misogyny.
Lately my mind has been stuck on the ideas of hate and fairness. Especially in the aftermath of the President’s disrespect of our troops. Especially after so zealously invoking the troops to try to silence dissent. This has been a very angry and disappointing week in a very angry and disappointing year.
In reflecting on hate and the idea of fairness this week, what’s been striking is noting the extent to which so many Americans I see indulge in hate and unfairness, myself included, while totally thinking they don’t hate and are capable of being objectively fair in all things.
“I don’t hate that political party, they’re just not my cup of tea.” When something’s not our cup of tea that means we don’t like it. When we don’t like something that means we dislike it; we hate it. Hate is “an intense or passionate dislike”, a dislike so intense that it typically drives one to avoidance.
“I’m a fair person, I just want my country back and this guy who will do and say anything to give me my country back is alright with me.” Fairness involves executing an agenda “without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage”. If there are a bunch of other people here, this can’t be really be said to be “your” country, any more than it can be claimed Columbus “discovered” the “New World”. Wanting “your country back” and not caring what the person you voted for does to give it to you is the full embodiment of cheating and trying to achieve unjust advantage.
When are we going to get honest about these things?
Imagine you’re sitting down playing cards. One of the players insists on dealing every hand, and gets quite agitated about not being able to “win anymore” when it’s someone else’s turn to deal. What can a reasonable person conclude about the game they’ve been playing?
Imagine you wake up one day to find something important in your home is missing. Your neighbor hurriedly proclaims innocence and indignantly says we need to come together and stop looking at the past. Every other day after that you see your neighbor stockpiling weapons, talking about self-defense, and trying to beef up personal and home security. What can a reasonable person conclude about their neighbor?
Imagine you’re getting assaulted on a sidewalk in broad daylight. In spite of your screams, no one helps. Eventually a passerby wades in and speaks up, not to stop the assault, but to berate you for screaming and causing such a disturbance. What can a reasonable person conclude about the passerby and the world in which they live?
If this were a country defined by justice and equality, these questions would readily signify the existence of the absurd, the existence of hate. But we have not been honest, at least not intentionally. Our most honest moments seem to consistently come by accident.
Polling data confirms that racial animus was the primary corollary in the vote for the President. When “anxious” white people were told the white race would no longer be the numerical majority later in the century, it made them approximately twice as receptive to voting for the President.
Here’s the rub: if this were a country truly defined by justice and equality, then no group would need to fear no longer being in the numerical majority. The fading majority would trust that all citizens in this country are treated equally, so it’s not really possible to “lose” your country if your country is treating smaller groups with the same fairness as larger groups. If this a truly just and equitable nation it would be considered shameful to utter the words “my” country or “your” country beyond the sphere of international interactions, as this land and its government would be universally recognized as “our” country. But people are scared of the thought of a shared nation. They’re scared of living in an America where white people at behind the steering wheel. Why?
People seem scared of what will happen to them if and when the nation “officially” stops solely being “their” country. Why are they terrified of losing power if they’ve been dealing squarely? Fear of a transition confirms that political power has not only been disproportionately consolidated, but everyone is in on it. Everyone in the majority knows. Everyone in the majority likes it, or at the very least doesn’t *dislike* it enough to want any real changes. The thought of change scares them, scares them so much they voted for the scariest person they could find to get between the nation and its trajectory of constructive change, to try to slow change down and buy the majority extra time. At the very least, they weren’t bothered by the prospect of having extra time in control, even if it meant unleashing an under-qualified political savage on the nation. What else can “shake things up” really mean, especially since so many of the corrupting influences in the swamp have gotten more powerful since Inauguration Day, not less?
People say they’re not arsonists yet voted for a Molotov cocktail and rebuke so many of us for being “hysterical” while everything that keeps so many of us safe is burned to ruin. That sounds like an arsonist to me. The compartmentalized blissful obliviousness to our stresses coupled with steadfast commitment to their chosen leader betrays a deep comfort and commitment to what the President is doing and how he is doing it, or at least the end result they imagine he has in mind. Somehow I don’t think our defensive compatriots mean to tell us all that with their silence and compliance. And they are right not to want to tell us that. They know if they said any of that explicitly they would be no other conclusion to draw except that they hate. We are getting the message anyway. Our fellow citizens hate us. They appear to hate everyone who’s not them.
We can speak with some deductive authority on hate because the leader people chose clearly hates everyone who’s not like him and they haven’t abandoned him in spite of all the hateful things he’s said and done. They say they love him because he’s “authentic” and “doesn’t have time for political correctness”. That appears to be code, because they don’t like it when other people are being “authentic” or say things that offend them politically. They didn’t like it when Hillary Clinton called racist people “deplorables”, not one bit. Calling Mexicans rapists and murders? Well that will now go down in history as the start of what turned out to be a historic campaign. Not the finish. Not the death blow. Not even a scandal. The start.
The President is saying and doing things many of them apparently wish they could say and do. He spends every day in office finding new ever-more offensive way to tell the lot of us to “go fuck ourselves”, the way they have been wanting to tell us to “go fuck ourselves” for going on two decades. Do you tell people you like to go fuck themselves? No. You say that to people you dislike, people who have irritated you beyond the point of reconciliation, people you hate. Our compatriots hate a good many of us. And in an emotional manifestation of Newton’s 3rd Law, many of us are starting to hate them back.
I thought Senator Marco Rubio was being hyperbolic when he said “I don’t know of a civilization in the history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in a country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.” “Hate” seemed like such a strong word. But I think he had his finger on a pulse I did not. We *do* hate each other, as much or more than we “love” the idea of our country. A lot of times I’m not even sure about the “love” of country part. I just know one side seems to “want” our country really badly, so badly they don’t mind hurting her or her citizens to “have” it.
If we are candid with ourselves right now, truly candid, we will admit we harbor more animosity towards each other than any of our actual international enemies. I don’t hate Russians. Putin is a problem I want dealt with, but I actually have a great deal of affection for Russia people and Russia culture. Once upon a time I called Russians “family”, and I will love them as family until the day I die. Russia’s one of our most storied and dangerous enemies, yet being Russian is not a dealbreaker for me or most people in friendship, relationships, or matters of family. But I know a great many people who have taken to cutting fellow Americans out of their lives based on who they voted for or what political party they give allegiance. The New York Times put out an article in February detailing how D.C. residents have been actively emphasizing that supporters of the President need not apply to be their roommates. I was disappointed at first but now I can’t even say I blame people anymore. But I also can’t say it’s not hate, in use as a two-way street.
The same goes for North Korea. Kim Jong-un is annoying, but I’ve never heard of any American cutting off a relationship with a person because they were from North Korea. North Korea makes videos where they fantasize about blowing up Washington. Washington’s my hometown. Yet I still don’t really have any ill-will toward North Koreans. Can anyone remember the last time anyone said or thought anything vitriolic about North Koreans, and then compare that to the last time they said or thought angry things about the opposite political party? When was the last person a conservative heard a liberal or minority voicing a grievance and didn’t mentally label the complaint as “excuse-making” or “hysteria”, maybe mentally cycle through a few derogatory words used to describe women? How many liberals and minorities can remember the last time they saw a pickup truck with a flag decal on the back or a driver with a camouflage cap and didn’t think to themselves “This motherfucker here…”?
In January it was reported that Putin is more popular right now with Republicans at 35 percent approval than Obama was at 9 percent approval. What is this madness? How can we have more animosity for our neighbors, fellow citizens and our own leaders than countries and leaders that represent existential threats to our entire nation? Rubio was absolutely right. There seems to be helluva lot of hate swirling under our beautiful and spacious skies.
The existence of hate might not be the end of the world or even our country. Admitting a problem is the first step to solving it. If we ever find the temerity to openly admit to each other the extent to which we have and actively harbor hate in our hearts, we can have honest exchanges. The exchanges will be ugly and uncomfortable exchanges at first but at least they’ll be honest. That’s a start.
Anyone who’s been on a tense car ride with a significant other knows that the most stressful, most charged time is when one person is refusing to admit or acknowledge that he or she is actually mad. The confession of animosity is usually where a productive discussion can start and either reconciliation can occur, or a candid realization that no reconciliation is possible.
In confirming the existence of hate we may ultimately find a foothold for hope. Do we have the courage to look into that dark place, at risk of discovering our neighbors and even ourselves might be our own scariest monsters? I have a feeling venturing into the darkness may be our only path back to the light. Whenever the time comes and however welcome a relief it will be, it is profoundly naive to think the end of this presidency will rid us of the demons this President has helped bring to the forefront. He is making us all dirty and it may take us a lot of years, a lot of soul crushing talk and a lot of soul-searching work to rebuild what is being torn down right now. Time will tell if we find that kind of courage.
In the meantime, there probably is no need to keeping calling for unity in our country. We don’t need to keep scouring the realm of ideas for common ground. We already have quite a bit in common. We are united in our hate. We are united in wishing everybody would shut up and go away. We are united in thinking the country would be better if the other side kinda didn’t exist or maybe existed somewhere else, somewhere else where they couldn’t vote on stuff that affects us. Hate appears to be our common ground. It’s ugly ground, but it feels like we’re all standing on it. We can either face up to that truth or keep hiding intellectually, and watch this unchecked hate use our cowardice to run amok and keep tearing apart everything we say we love.
This Union started out as a pretty powerful idea. Thirteen culturally and ideologically different colonies that didn’t just choose to defy a king, they chose to defy the King of one of the most powerful empires human civilization has ever known. We didn’t know if it was going to work. We didn’t know how we were going to make it work. All we knew was that we had each other’s backs and we’d rather go down together than live another day as anything less than free. Our quest for freedom was muddled with lies and hypocrisies but the ideals themselves were true. From the start we realized that we are a force to be reckoned with when we join together, join in pursuit of a common set of ideals, see each other’s value and make use of each other’s value. Once upon a time we completely lost sight of each other’s value and had a terrible terrible fight. But we are so strong that to this day that terrible fight caused the most terrible loss of life that’s happened in the history of our nation. The losses were terrible because Americans detest surrender. The losses were terrible because Americans would and did willingly march into Death rather than surrender. In the one hundred and fifty two years since, no nation on Earth has been able to hurt us as badly as we hurt ourselves. Not even one of the greatest evils the world has ever known could hurt us a fraction as badly as we hurt ourselves. No one can come close to destroying our nation except for us. We should not repeat our mistakes by letting our hates define our nation or drive us into ruinous division.
This Union is still a pretty powerful idea. So is not surrendering. See you on the dark side. I hate you.