Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. Anne Lamott
Oh the debates! For many of us, recent comments by our President about “rat-infested Baltimore” or “go back to where you came from” leave us hungering for a less hateful, divisive political tone from our leader. Yet what did we just hear? Bernie calls the fossil fuel industry’s basic function of producing energy “criminal activity” while calling Wall Street “crooks.” Biden says we ought to put insurance (pharmaceutical?) executives in jail. Elizabeth Warren must have said the word “fight” a dozen times invoking warfare as her operative model. She called the insurance industry villains – sucking life out of the system. She condemned the wealthy and connected as kicking dirt in the face of everyone else. Bill de Blasio has made “tax the hell out of the wealthy” a part of his campaign URL. The attack on President Obama’s Obama Care and deportations were so severe that Drudge’s headline read: Dems Attack Trump Obama.
What do these Presidential candidates comments have in common? They throw millions of people into one bucket and says they are all the same: bad, blame-worthy and deserving of our contempt – a hunting license to hate. Remember candidate Hillary Clinton’s comment about the deplorables and President Obama’s about clinging to guns and religion? Whether blacks, Hispanics, rural, urban, religious, Jew, Muslim, certain industries, or politicians, when we lump everyone together it provides a scalable way for us to generalize our hate.
While President Trump seems unrivaled in his divisiveness, hate is not a good look on anyone trying to differentiate themselves from him and is the last thing this country – and this world – needs right now. Many, especially elites (media, Hollywood, Academia) very critical of Trump seem oblivious to their role in heaping disrespect on large swathes of the country that contributed greatly to his getting elected. And many who support Trump are oblivious to how their support of him and his hateful rhetoric undermine any respect they might desire. Hating on either side may feel good in the moment but unfortunately is a seductive mistress that pulls us down. We cannot hate our way to glory.
The reality is that each of us is unique and so are the groups to which we are attached. Baltimore like most cities is great in many respects and broken in others. The fossil fuel industry employs a million workers, has delivered us from Middle-East energy dependency, warms us at night, fuels our transportation and cooks our food at the lowest prices in recent memory – and contributes to climate change. You get the idea. Each of us and each of the organizations we are part of – political, business, religious – is flawed.
Further, when you develop a relationship with individuals and groups, are you not often amazed at how diverse they are and how varied are their opinions? We call crime motivated by prejudice toward a group “hate crimes” for a reason. It is among the most insidious forms of hate and it applies not just to race or religion.
It also applies when we indiscriminately hate whole regions (the South, California), political parties, industries, and government organizations (ICE, IRS). No matter the faults of any of these groups, they are crucial to our present and future and must be stakeholders and bridges to a fairer, more effective tomorrow. Real people work and live there, they provide real products and services that we are depending on and they produce real benefit. It is easy to condemn them, but what is really hard and really important is redeeming them when they falter in their mission. That is the role of leadership – to continually redeem.
Marianne Williamson struct a nerve for many when she stated: “The racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight, if you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.” This dark psychic force is hatred and it is not limited to race. It has been around since the beginning of recorded time.
We know this first-hand. We are only a century and a half removed from our own Civil War. If you have visited Israel and talked with Israelis and Palestinians or if you have traveled to South Africa during the period of, or after, Apartheid or if you have visited Ireland and talked with people in Northern Ireland or the Republic, you know firsthand that once distrust and hatred take root in a culture, it is extremely hard and time-consuming to overcome – it is a cancer. That is where our country and its culture are headed.
I am amazed that while candidates debate the wonky details for health care, immigration and the like, we are ignoring the pending division and fracturing not just on race, but rural vs. urban, coasts vs. fly-over country, brown vs. black, blue-collar vs. professional, haves vs. have-nots. It is not just us. Allies stumble through their own conflicts – think the UK and their Brexit divorce proceedings now led by flame-thrower Boris Johnson. As people become more fearful, both sides seem to keep moving to more authoritarian leaders who talk of destroying the other side. Meanwhile our enemies like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea salivate.
Surely there will be no greater risk over the next two or three decades than countries unraveling. Nothing puts noble aims around income inequality, climate or immigration at risk like a country coming apart that cannot pass even the most elemental legislation. Surely, we will look back and say what were we thinking? We fought viciously over where the deck chairs should be placed while the Titanic sank. We disdained the authoritarian tendencies of the other side while we cultivated authoritarian, divisive, hate-filled leaders on our side.
Marianne Williamson touched a nerve and we all know in our guts that she is on target. But, hating Trump is not the answer and in many ways is the problem. Hating him legitimizes him and his paradigm of war, “winning in any way possible.” It plays into what I believe is Trump’s greatest power. It is not what he has done but what he has gotten his opposition to do – hate, lie, and lose credibility. We have allowed his belligerence to further infect us all.
Moderates are thinking way too small. The reason to be moderate is not to win independents votes to beat Trump, but to save the country from divide. The larger truth is that governing means winning the future by governing in a way that best supports what diverse stakeholders want and need. It is a dance, where partners sometimes lead and sometimes follow.
Condemning Trump for his executive actions, just like Trump condemned Obama – and then doing the same thing if elected – is truly hypocritical. Open borders, Medicare for illegals, de-criminalization of illegal immigrants – will be viewed by Trump supporters just like Trump’s actions of separating children or banning travel were viewed by his opposition. The seductive illusion of political warfare is that you are going to win when the reality is it mostly leads to gridlock and destruction—where everyone loses. It is like rat poison.
If Democrats truly want an alternative to Trump – then don’t ape his style. Lose the anti-tone and advocate and model what you are for.
Robert’s latest book, “This Land of Strangers: The Relationship Crisis That Imperils Home, Work, Politics and Faith” is now 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. His website: www.robertehall.com