Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“A Culture of Hate”
July 10, 2017
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Walt Kelly (1913-1973)
Something with which we can agree – a nexus of hatred swirls around our nation, with President Trump as its axis. One side blames Mr. Trump; the other, his attackers. It’s unhealthy. “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs,” is a line from Proverbs. Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural and facing the dissolution of the Union and years of war, spoke of the “better angels of our nature,” when he said, “We are not enemies, but friends.” For four years, his words proved too optimistic, as 620,000 American soldiers were slain between the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and the surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Mr. Lincoln did not live to see it, but our “better angels” did prevail.
The Bible teaches that love is more powerful than hatred, and perhaps it is. But hatred is more unifying. In Travels with Charlie, John Steinbeck wrote: “I asked,” ‘anyone know any Russians around here?’ And he went all out and laughed. ‘Course not. That’s why they’re valuable. Nobody can find fault with you if you take out after the Russians.’” Hatred unites us, which is what Steinbeck was positing – societies need someone to hate. In 1960, the Cold War was at its peak; fear of and loathing for Communism helped bring us together. Today, we live disunited, and our hatred has become for one another. It has been that way for a few years, but growing worst. We have lost confidence in and respect for our Western values. We no longer see ourselves as a force for good. What has gone wrong?
Mr. Trump may be the focal point, but he was not the catalyst for today’s self-hatred. That is something more deeply rooted. A compendium of universal values has replaced our Western ones. In a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, historian Allen Guelzo said that the nation is more split than at any time since the Civil War. Some would argue that the late 1960s and early 1970s were as disruptive. But Professor Guelzo noted that some of today’s differences have long and deep roots. The Whigs (predecessors of Republicans) proposed a society that would be economically diverse, but culturally uniform – precursor to today’s free-market capitalism and nativism; while Democrats preferred economic uniformity, with greater tolerance for cultural and moral diversity – fore-runner of today’s statism and multiculturalism.
The compartmentalization of people into competing identity groups has eroded the political center and fed the fires of partisanship. Added to the conflagration has been the decline of what James Q. Wilson called a moral sense – the compass that guides us toward ethical norms and civil behavior. It is seen in shrinking church attendance, in the foundering of community groups that Harvard’s Robert Putnam has described. It shows up in the growth of PACs (political action committees), which use tax-advantaged dollars to promote issue-specific causes. We see it in the growth of life-time benefits for public employees, which crowd out public support for eleemosynary institutions that help the poor and disabled. It is abetted by an expanding sense of entitlement and dependency, with a concurrent drop in personal responsibility.
The Left looks upon Mr. Trump as a crude demagogue with autocratic tendencies, deserving of the press he gets. But that argument is fatuous. The Left has long treated their political opponents with supercilious disdain. Ronald Reagan was a dunce, a movie star with no grasp of domestic or international affairs. George W. Bush was stupid, the fortunate son of a distinguished family, a man who had drifted through prep school (Andover) and college (Yale), thanks to his heritage. President Reagan deftly deflected criticism with humor. Mr. Bush, a decent man, ignored the jabs. Donald Trump is different. He fights back. Is he thin-skinned, or is he fed up with the sanctimony and hypocrisy of the media and progressives, in the way they treat conservatives? I suspect the latter. While he targets the chattering classes with his Tweets, his audience is the forgotten men and women of middle America – those the elites from both Parties have ignored for years and whom Hillary Clinton referred to as “deplorable.”
While examples of hate can be seen on both the right and the left, it is in the intolerance of those claiming to be tolerant where hate is most insidious and where it can be most commonly found. Certainly, there are those on the right who oppose same sex marriage, who find insults to Christianity objectionable, and who question the ethics of late-term abortions. But most Americans cluster toward the center. They count on the bounty that government offers in terms of schools, highways, bridges, and aid to the elderly and the sick. They expect that those who cannot care for themselves will be cared for. They respect others, regardless of sex, politics, religion or race, and they expect to be respected in return. They abide by the Golden Rule of treating others as they would like to be treated. They have faith, and they believe in the rule of law. They recognize the impetuousness of youth, but expect college presidents and deans to act as adults. They don’t understand a culture that says a 16-year-old girl can be suspended for saying a prayer in school, but allows her to get an abortion without parental notification. They cannot understand politicians dividing people into identity groups – setting one group of Americans against another.
Those who philosophically disagree with me will say it is my bias, but it seems to me that the most heinous vitriol emanates from the left. They own our popular culture – from movies to music, from publishing to universities. Jacques Barzun, a French-American historian who was awarded medals of freedom by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, once wrote: “Political correctness does not legislate tolerance; it only organizes hatred.” In our dealings with others, we should be governed not by fears of being politically incorrect, but by want of decency and respect. Many on the Right, including me, felt the policies of Mr. Obama were inimical to the concept of liberty. We argued our case, and we attacked those flaws in his character we saw epitomizing his failings. But, we never treated him the way the Left does Mr. Trump.
The media has long believed that authoritarians comes from the right, not the left. I would argue that extremism can come from either direction. Consider the last century, and the tyrants that arose out of Nazism and Communism? Neither group had any regard for human rights or liberty. Both killed millions of their own people. Their goal was power. Political extremism is not a continuum that stretches left and right. It is circular. Extremists meet on the opposite side of the circle from centrists.
Some claim the press is protecting us against the threat of a man who would seize power – an authoritarian. I ask: Where is the proof? As President, Mr. Trump has reduced the power of the executive by rescinding authorizations the Obama Administration gave to agencies like the EPA, the IRS and the ATF. Mr. Trump has never tried to shut down free speech, as have Leftist protestors in colleges and universities. He is crude. He mocks the press, but does not try to still their rights. It has been Washington’s elite and their sycophants in the media who have tried to silence those with whom they disagree.
History is the story of trying to reach perfection in our relationships with one another. It is a tale without end. We could do a lot worse than re-read those lines from Lincoln, who promised that the better angels of our nature will “swell the chorus of our union,” and alleviate the curse of hatred that divides us. But first we must be civil and rid ourselves of hate. We must recognize that it has been Western culture and the opportunity it offers, which has made us strong and that attracts immigrants to our shores. We must celebrate our values. We must be worthy of our inheritance.