On Elections and the Easy Evil of Hatred

December 5, 2016

This article appeared in The Christian Review on December 2.

“All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy.
Stay away from easy.” Scott Alexander

Hollywood heavyweight Aaron Sorkin weighed in with gusto after the election. In a letter to his daughter published recently in Vanity Fair, Sorkin – clearly gob smacked by what he’d believed was an inconceivable outcome – proclaimed, “The Klan won last night. White nationalists. Sexists, racists and buffoons…Hate was given hope. Abject dumbness was glamorized…” In the letter, Sorkin re-invigorates the enraged rhetoric of both millennials and the overlords of social progressivism. It’s the kind of rhetoric that reduced, is nothing more than simple name-calling. His sneering response was not exceptional. In reply to an article in which Samantha Bee asserted white women needed to work off the karma they’ll get after voting for Trump, a Jezebel commenter claimed that if friends or relatives voted for Trump, “[they are] awful human being[s].”

Enter the protests. In Los Angeles, they burned Trump in effigy. In Portland, protestors attacked police, started a dumpster fire, blocked the highway and did $1 million in damage. A teen wearing a Trump hat was beaten and kicked by other students during a high school walk out (one of many nationwide) in Rockville, Maryland. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets burning American flags and hash-tagging their disgust, with statements like #RapeMelania and #KillTrump.

For a movement claiming that “Love Trumps Hate,” it all looked quite a bit like…well, hate.

We know now that what propelled Trump to victory was in large part the mass of red-state inhabitants, those in oft-ignored “fly over” country who had been denigrated as ignorant, homophobic xenophobes. These were the voters who decided they’d had enough of the liberal condescension that has been a hallmark of the last 8 years. In fact, Obama had previewed Clinton’s now-infamous “deplorables” caricature, describing the same group in 2008 as those who “get bitter, [who] cling to guns or religions or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

That’s the easy thing to do with people with whom you disagree: lump them unexamined into categories you find anathema, call them “dumb” and walk away.

Hate is facile. Labels are easy. If we succumb to these visceral, knee-jerk impulses, we reject an entire group as adherents to unthinkable ideologies – no matter what their voting motivations actually were – and dismiss them as unworthy of our serious consideration. Hate makes no room for concessions or understanding.

But make no mistake: hate most definitely works both ways. Honesty demands we recognize the Nazis and Klan that voted for Trump and have taken his ascendancy as a cue to wreak havoc. It requires a clear-eyed view of the spray-painted messages and shouted epithets and threats. But here’s the thing: hating them for that is no different than hating all of Trump’s supporters, or for that matter, all of Clinton’s. One member of a group is not its whole. Hate – at bottom – is ignorant. It is myopic, and self-selecting. It is narrow-minded, and fearful. Hate points fingers and burns flags and never asks “why.”

Hate asserts: “You have nothing to add because you’re (conservative)(black)(Latino)(pro-life).” Hate knows no variations. It is the great equalizing force that is as destructive to liberals as it is to conservatives, with its roots in the arrogance of perceived superiority.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof had the fortitude to expose his party’s duality by noting, “We progressives believe in diversity, and we want women, blacks, Latinos, gays and Muslims at the table — er, so long as they aren’t conservatives.” He goes on to describe the unique plight of sociologist George Yancey, who said, “Outside of academia I faced more problems as a black…But inside academia I face more problems as a Christian, and it is not even close.” Even Kevin Drum at Mother Jones was honest enough to explain, “We’re convinced that conservatives, especially working-class conservatives, are just dumb. Smug suggests only a supreme confidence that we’re right – but conservative elites also believe they’re right, and they believe it as much as we do. The difference is that, generally speaking, they’re less condescending about it.”

So the conservatives – many of them in the disenfranchised working class, caught in a cycle of stale wages and denied opportunity – voted in droves. Not because of hate. Not because of racism or xenophobia or sexism, but because of the hope for a better personal future. Their choice of president lay in two unsavory candidates. But only one candidate deigned to treat them with respect and offer a vision for their personal prosperity and success. As John Daniel Davidson writes at The Federalist, “The mainstream media caricature of angry blue-collar whites turning to Trump out of racial animosity and misogyny didn’t stand up to scrutiny.” So it was that Trump broke through the industrial wall of the previously-blue Midwest – a region nearly guaranteed to fall for Clinton.

Untenable choices ought not to serve as the platform for hate, but the springboard for hope. Empathy must prevail. Our nation hums with the agitation of polarization. But we who recognize a Savior of the greatest compassion, One who sought out the “least of these” and pursued we lost souls with an everlasting love, must be the first to reach out our hands and ask why. We must set the difficult example, because the easy thing will ensure our discord and our ultimate destruction. We are, it turns out, all members of the same irredeemable cohort, situated comfortably in a basket built for deplorables.

So let us do the hard thing, extend our hand to our neighbor and get ourselves out.