You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do. Anne Lamott
Colin Kaepernick’s Nike ad campaign, the late Senator John McCain’s memorial, Aretha Franklin’s eulogy, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing and Steve Bannon disinvited from the New Yorker Ideas Festival: football, death, music, the Supreme Court and an ideas conference become platforms to spew hate at the other side. And that was just this past week. It seems that at every turn, given the choice of escalating or de-escalating our hatred and warfare, escalation wins every time. (My HuffPost essay, “The New Religion: Destructive Escalation,” describes this downward polarizing cycle of escalation.)
Wonder why this constant hate is such a winning idea these days? Take Nike. President Trump harshly criticized NFL players for kneeling – playing to his base. Nike now reignites the controversy by playing to chosen market segments. Media has a field day reporting on all of this. Nike gets gratuitous press by the people who burned their Nike equipment and those who bought more – with ample “virtue signalers” along for the ride. Business and politics have become masters of monetizing drama and conflict often stoking rage for profit and power.
If we as a society are increasingly committed to hating our enemies, then we need to get better at it. Although I usually preach about how to strengthen relationships, it is inevitable that we butt heads with some people, so just this once I want to focus on how to do a better job of hating our enemies. You would think with all the practice that we might have upped our game – but I find no evidence of that. Perhaps even Nike can learn a thing or two. Morningconsult.com reports in the first 48 hours after Kaepernick’s ad became public, Nike’s overall favorability dropped 34 points (from +69 to +35) including a drop in their key demographics of young generations, Nike users and African Americans. Those likely to buy dropped 10 points. Has ham-fisted hating pushed us over the edge – weary with “conflict fatigue”?
One important caveat. It is my experience that most enemies are not really enemies at all – they are just “other,” or different. However, by addictively emphasizing and focusing ad nauseum on our differences, they have become the first stage of enemy-formation – the gateway drug to hate.
Knowing Whom to Hate
The first issue in becoming more “hate-effective” is whom to hate. That is actually trickier than it seems because things are so fluid these days. For many today, President Trump is the most compelling target. Yet, it gets tricky because if you hated Jeff Sessions, the first major Republican Senator to endorse Trump, and it appears that Trump now hates Sessions – then if the enemy of my enemy is my friend – how does all of that work and how do I keep it straight. Looking back, if you hated President Obama and yet if he helped rig things so Hillary Clinton would be nominated over Bernie Sanders – where does that put you with Bernie Sanders?
A number of people who loved the presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin now seem to hate McCain and others seem to hate Palin. Conversely, some of McCain’s biggest haters just a few years ago waxed eloquent about him in the past few days. People who hated President Bush now love him -- some so they have standing to hate President Trump. People who loved Hillary Clinton now hate her – because she lost to Trump. It can be very confusing. It is like baseball – to really keep everything straight requires scorekeeping, even if you are just watching from home.
Hate is bigger than just individuals. A number of atheists who hated the way churches try to impose or even inflict their views on non-believers now find themselves organizing, promoting and evangelizing in the name of “no-God” – looking a lot like what they hated about churches. A number of people who once hated those opposing free speech are these days promoting control of hate and other kinds of speech that in their view normalize offensive things. Further some who advocated for free speech – like Laura Ingraham – are now promoting regulating social media to stop tech monopolies from mistreating conservatives.
The lesson is that when looking at a hate target, be sure you find someone or something you can stick with – you know – stay committed to. Transient hating looks unserious, and no one likes a fickle hater. You end up being a hypocrite as well as a hater, and everybody knows it.
Knowing How to Hate
Once we know whom or what to hate, next is learning how to hate. There is some real work to be done in this area. Remember the words of legendary coach Vince Lombardi: “Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.” So, if you are committed to hating, here are my top five tips for how to hate more effectively.
1. Don’t let your hate blind you into self-defeating actions. One of the real risks of unmitigated hate is that we allow it to blind us, or as Michael Corleone of Godfather fame said, “Never hate your enemies, it affects your judgment.” Hate-filled blindness often leads to actions that actually build-up our enemies and damage us. The birther movement against President Obama and extreme comparisons of President Trump to Hitler did little to hurt either but damaged the credibility of the accusers while deepening the loyalty and resolve of their enemies’ supporters. A number of evangelical Christians known for their conservative views – especially on marriage and adultery – nevertheless backed Trump who is dreadful on both counts.
2. Don’t imitate the least attractive traits of your enemies. Despicable actions of your enemies will be no more attractive on you. There has been much coverage of the litany of untruths that President Trump has unleashed. And, yet the term “fake news” has gotten traction because a number of left-leaning press members, in their efforts to “resist” Trump have been caught in fabrications and outright falsehoods that shift the focus from Trump to the press. In their rush to condemn him, their emulations help him and hurt them. Did the Nike ad remind people of Trump’s constant stirring of the pot?
3. Learn from your enemies – they always have lessons to teach us. One of the functions of opposition is to bring us a different perspective that we would often prefer to avoid. For example, many Democrats – especially those in urban areas – were caught off guard by the number of blue-collar, Obama supporters in 2012 who voted for Trump in 2016. Trump, with all his faults, was able to respond to the pain of these hinterland voters who felt abandoned. It is easy to blame your opposition but learning from them is much more effective.
4. Don’t try to beat them at their game – play your own game. Usually our opponents have certain honed strengths that have served them well. Sometimes, in our hated-filled frustrations we attempt to respond with like-minded actions. Remember in the 2016 election when Marco Rubio tried to return tit-for-tat with candidate Trump with the whole “size-of-your-hands” riff. It did not hurt Trump but it did diminish Rubio. Probably nothing Rubio could have done would have turned things around but he could have avoided self-inflicted wounds. Trying to outplay the opposition at their own game seldom works. Change the game.
5. Understand that today’s enemies may be tomorrow’s friends or even partners. It is uncanny how often we wind up in some type of relationship with former enemies – making for strange bedfellows. Enemies get married to each other, competitor companies merge, warring countries form alliances, nemeses get traded and play on the same team. Sooner or later winning the war requires winning the peace. That is why it is important to avoid getting personal. The other side always has real strengths that can be authentically acknowledged.
Here’s the point. Hating is a choice: whether to hate, whom to hate, how to hate. Becoming obsessed with hate and viewing way too many of life’s circumstances through a “hate-colored” prism of us vs. them will eventually drain you dry. If you must hate – as we all do from time to time – make the choice to do a better job of it.
Robert’s latest book, “This Land of Strangers” is now available in paperback. A “recovering CEO,” he has authored 150 published articles and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes, The Huffington Post, The CEO Magazine.