The Option of Hate
It’s an unsettling time to be a liberal, much less a leftist, in America. I fall asleep and wake to the question of what other unnerving incident will take place, with or without the complicity or initiation of the White House. Our better angels urge us that hate is not an option today. We must not hate each other, we must not let hate be an option.
There are so many avenues on which our hatred can travel, and given what could happen soon with the Supreme Court’s makeup, there will be more, or at least the ones already less traveled will become more rutted and dug out/in.
It’s difficult to engage in a reasonable debate today about immigration, abortion, LGBTQ rights, the role of churches in education, the Browning of America. The rise of white nationalism, the morality of our leaders especially when it comes to sexual behavior.
Many of us — my friends and colleagues who think as I do on these issues — feel horrified, insecure, depressed, and enraged. We shout horrible names at our opponents, or at least think them. The tide of incivility seems unleashed and roaring. The best lack all conviction…now where have I heard that before?
Just a few weeks ago, I looked another human being in the eyes and said “Fuck you” to him, several times. Of course, he had said my home looked like a “pig sty,” and a few other things. I have never said “Fuck you” directly to anyone before. Or at least not with all intended venom.
It felt good, too, but it did not solve any problems, and there were/are plenty of problems between this man and me. I don’t feel sorry for what I said, but I also know that what I said wasn’t helpful either. Just the opposite, in fact.
Do I hate this man? Does he hate me? Can we recover? Should we?
I read the news today. Oh boy.
New York Times Columnist Thomas Edsall warned against giving Trump and his proxies the victory of assuming that everyone who opposes more immigration (legal, illegal) is automatically a racist (“Don’t Feed the Troll”). Maybe he’s right.
The suspect in the Charlottesville murder last summer is now facing hate crime charges in addition to murder charges, charges that could carry the death penalty:
“The eight-page indictment alleges that he (James Alex Fields) decided to attend the rally on or before Aug. 8. As he prepared to leave for Charlottesville, a family member sent him a text message urging him to be careful.
Fields replied, ‘We’re not the ones who need to be careful,’ and attached an image of Hitler, according to the indictment, which also says Fields used social media to promote racist views, including support for the Holocaust.
At the rally, he engaged in chants promoting white supremacy and other racist and anti-Semitic views, the indictment said.”
The victim’s mother added, “I think it’s a tragedy all the way around… I lost my child, but he’s also so young to be so stupid, and I really hate that for him. But I didn’t make the choices. He made them.”
The choice to hate. Clearly, there are other options, so why this one?
I also read yesterday that Corey Stewart, Republican House nominee from Virginia, is arguing that the Civil War was about “states rights,” and not so much about slavery. Well okay. No problem there, and I’m sure all the fighting was worth it. Apparently, hate was an option way back then.
Guess what? It still is.
Currently, I’m reading a very independent, low-key book, The Newspaper Boy, by Chervis Isom, an account of his coming of age in 1950’s Birmingham, Alabama. The Civil Rights Era. The end of this era produced light for many, many Southerners, especially African-American southerners whose lives had been formerly led in almost total darkness when it comes to social/economic equality.
As a teenager, Isom supports segregation, especially after his father takes him to an Asa Carter campaign rally. Look Carter up if you want; he made George Wallace seem enlightened. Isom quotes Carter’s views on immigration to a young couple who are on Isom’s morning paper route:
“Mr. Carter said that we’re letting more and more immigrants come to our country — Russians and Jews and Catholics — people not like us. He says our immigration policy is a Trojan Horse and if we’re not careful they will take us over without firing a shot. Besides, you just can’t expect an immigrant to support our country against his own”(134).
The wife of the couple then tells young Isom that he’s wrong, and as a case in point, her husband, a German immigrant, fought for America during World War Two in the US 8th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge. And also, she and her husband are Catholic. Isom is understandably chastened.
Remember, there was a time when many Americans hated and feared German Nazis as much as many Americans hate/fear radical Islam today.
This exchange occurred in the mid-1950’s, and if you know your American history, things were going to get much darker.
Now I’m not saying that we should merely relax and let history run its course. I’m not saying that we should do nothing and expect that everything will turn out all right for our democratic republic.
I’m saying that perspective matters. That tides turn and turn back.
I feel, too, that I must also quote Isom’s recollection of an Asa Carter rally, one where Carter asserted to his fellow white southerners that,
“This is the time, friends — our time. The Citizen Councils are our last chance to save our children from degradation, atheism, mongrelization, and communistic dictatorship (REMEMBER WHEN WE FEARED RUSSIA? my note)…we hereby serve notice that we shall take our stand firmly to fight for segregation and our race, to stand up for Jesus, our rock of strength and comfort…” (95).
History is a funny thing. Imagine: Jewish Jesus the segregationist.
Finally, as Isom reflects on the damage he and others like him did to afflicted people in their community, he writes from his heart, his mature, educated heart:
“What strange things are we human beings. We are blessed with rational minds, yet our minds somehow permit us to hold positions that are radically inconsistent, even to empathize with one who is rejected by society, and at the same time, to scorn an entire class even more rudely rejected. Is that perhaps the explanation? We may condemn and reject and turn our backs on an entire race of humanity, but once it takes a human face, once we’ve come to know the person, his values, his hopes and dreams; once we’ve come to respect him and his culture; perhaps then we’ll form a new attitude; and perhaps that is the hope for humanity” (85).
I know personally Trump supporters, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, African-Americans, gay, lesbian, and trans individuals. Hungarians, Germans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Democrats, and Republicans. I like them all. I don’t agree with all they believe, nor do they all agree with my positions.
So far, none of us has chosen to hate the other for these beliefs. I hope we never get there.
So while today is dark, and perhaps tomorrow will be, too, there has been darkness before.
And, there has been light, the option I choose.