Uncommon Common Sense
By Bill Frayer
Politics of Hate
“Hate” is a strong word. Many people would tend to shy away from revealing that they hate someone. Yet politics, notably in the United States, has become dominated by an emotional animosity, almost tribal in nature. We can easily sit back and scratch our heads at Middle Eastern and African tribal conflicts characterized by blood-thirsty hatred. In the West, we don’t usually kill our political opponents, but we vilify them nonetheless.
In fairness, this is nothing new. Thomas Jefferson was very familiar with this tendency when he said in his 1801 Inaugural Address, “Having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions.”
The vast majority of voters are turned off by this politics of vicious conflict, yet it persists. I think, for many people, politics has become an emotionally-charged “us vs. them” epic battle. Liberals disdain conservatives while conservatives disdain liberals. There are fewer people in the middle who will listen objectively to both sides.
Many people, myself included, have tended to blame the media, particularly cable news programming, for inciting this political tribalism. That certainly is true. However, these cable networks are also pandering to self-selected viewers who tune in specifically to be aroused and angered by the “news” presented from their biased viewpoint. It is a vicious cycle.
I think another problem is the nature of the Internet, which provides a forum for angry readers to vent their hatred, often anonymously. I am familiar with people, in Ajijic and beyond, who regularly spend a great deal of time alone with their computers reading and pontificating to their respective tribes. I have no problem with honest disagreement about public policy, but ranting in cyberspace does not adequately replace thoughtful discussion and debate. When criticism devolves into ad hominem name-calling and insulting tirades about other political tribes, little is accomplished. It surely makes the writer feel better, but his or her words are not likely read by those who might disagree. They are accomplishing nothing.
In many ways, I think we have lost our perspective about politics. Political conflict is a natural and useful component of democracy. Public policy certainly has important consequences for society, but it’s not the only important component that affects our lives. When those with whom we disagree are in power and making decisions we disagree with, it isn’t pleasant, and we may consider the consequences of their decisions harmful. But we move on and continue the struggle.
The Dalai Lama has said hate is “our true enemy,” and has “no other function than simply destroying us, both in the immediate term and in the long term.” All sides need find ways to repudiate hateful discourse and find ways to work with their political opponents to make the world a more kind and compassionate place. The longer we allow hateful, spiteful discourse to dominate political discussion, the more difficult it will be to address our increasingly serious problems.