Hate heightens hyperbole. Screaming red faces at public forums spew illogical, spurious claims that thinly veil their seething, savage hatred. A hate that cannot exist only for an idea — a bodiless, formless thought which has of itself no power. You cannot hate a precept with that kind of vitriol. No, there is a body behind it. Of course, the body is a man — a black man who is the President of the United States. Last October, Pandora opened the box and unleashed banshees whose hate and tolerance for violence and cruelty takes one aback. The hate spews without focus: here a man is shot to death in his church, here another is murdered at a memorial site for mass murder, and here brothers talk about taking up arms against their brothers in order to rend our country in two for a second time. The pain and punishment be damned. This is how it is with hate. It blinds you from consequences and to compassion. So, now, Pharisees publicly renounce their Christian duty to care for the poor and less fortunate while waving their Patriot’s Bibles all red, white, and blue. With a furor that is inexplicable and illogical, they let loose a torrent of hate for their fellow countrymen. How can this hate — for government, for the concept of socialism, for ideas and human constructs — replace the innate social urge? Is it so strong that it can cause us to turn away from hungry children, homeless families, the sick, and the broken? The angry, angry red faces at town halls across the country seem a world away from the homeless shelters, hospices, and food pantries.
I would like to blame the hatemongers. This has become the reasoned and yet unreasonable response to the outcries. As Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh rant about socialism and death panels and rationed care, John Stewart, Rachel Maddow, and Stewart Acuff call them on the carpet for fueling the hate and their politics of divisiveness. They plead for a rational respectful debate wherein citizens hash through the facts and come to, if not consensus, compromise. But, as Acuff has noted, the history is against them here. We like to think fondly of olden days when respectful patriots put their heads together to come to wise conclusions through reasoned and civil discourse. When were those days? Was that the time firemen in Birmingham turned their hoses on black children who wanted equal opportunities? Or, was it when Andrew Carnegie hired Pinkertons to occupy the Homestead plant, equipped with sniper towers and water cannons, to dispel striking employees who wanted to preserve their union? Or was it when Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Sumner within an inch of his life on the eve of the Civil War? Or, perhaps, it was when George Washington led the army against Revolutionary War veterans revolting against taxation under the fledgling U.S. government?
George Wallace lost his first race for Governor of Alabama in 1958. Afterwards, he summarized his lesson learned thusly: “You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” Wallace went on to serve three times as Governor, in 1963 declaring: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Politicians and pundits are opportunists feeding off of the prejudices and passions of the masses. American history provides us with a wealth of examples of this. Sometimes, change in our country is born of political expediency; often from violence; almost never from reasoned discourse. It is unhistorical to expect otherwise. We will weather this trial, as we have the others that have come before it. It will be ugly. It will be democracy.