Opinion: Real leaders don’t promote hate; they fight against it
I’m trying not to despair, but the world seems awash in hate right now. In the Middle East. In Ukraine and Russia. In rabid anti-immigrant movements in Europe. Among some Donald Trump followers, including Trump Republicans in Congress.
Threats are mounting against Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans. On Saturday, outside of Chicago, a 6-year-old boy was stabbed to death in an anti-Muslim hate crime. Threats of domestic terrorism are mounting.
Yesterday I saw a demonstration by students at a university that prides itself on free speech and inclusion, but the rally reeked of hatefulness and intolerance.
Tragically, hate is a huge motivator. “The whole secret of politics is knowing who hates who,” wrote Kevin Phillips, the political analyst who died last week.
I did not know Phillips well. We appeared together on various panels and forums over the years, so I heard a lot of his views about political strategy. I’m reluctant to speak ill of someone recently deceased, but it is important to understand Phillips’s legacy.
His 1969 book, “The Emerging Republican Majority,” was for many decades the GOP’s blueprint for how to win over white voters unhappy with the Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights in the 1960s.
Phillips urged Republicans to link white voters’ racial anxieties to issues such as crime, federal spending, and voting rights, and make racially coded appeals such as “law and order.”
It worked — helping to produce Richard M. Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, Reagan’s in 1980 (aided by Reagan’s condemnation of “welfare queens”), George H. W. Bush’s 1988 victory (remember “Willie Horton”?), and GOP majorities for decades.
Phillips’ politics of hate was the predicate for Trump’s politics of resentment and fear — Trump’s dehumanizing of immigrants and Muslims, use of antisemitic tropes, denigrating “globalists,” “coastal elites,” and the “deep state” bureaucrats, and attacking the mainstream media as “enemies of the people” and Democrats as “socialists.”
The politics of hate is central to today’s fierce divide between red and blue states — including Ron DeSantis’ and Greg Abbott’ wars on trans youth, “critical race theory,” women wanting to preserve autonomy over their own bodies, and undocumented immigrants.
And it’s at the heart of the “great replacement theory” peddled by Tucker Carlson and other bottom-feeders in the right-wing media.
Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes built Fox News on fear and hate. Social media is now overflowing with it.
I have spent much of my adult life condemning haters (I repeatedly took on Phillips). But I do not hate them.
Hate is a corrosive. It consumes and devours those who practice it.
History shows that where hate is normalized, its poison seeps into the subsoil of a culture. It gruesomely distorts societies.
Brutality, fear, and distrust transform otherwise rational human beings into close-minded fanatics. People no longer listen to the “other side.” They view them as threats, enemies.
When hatred becomes entrenched, it can last generations. Haters pass their hatred and bigotry on to their children.
Yet today, too many politicians, both here and abroad, are fueling hatred for their own selfish purposes.
Real leaders stand up against hate. They reject bigotry. They denounce intolerance. They seek to bring people together rather than spur revenge and retribution.
I’m often reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words in his Second Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1865 — when the end of the deadly Civil War was in sight, when South and North were brimming with hate of each other, and when many on the Union side were eager to punish the rebels. But Lincoln understood his task:
“With malice toward none with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Of course Hamas militants must be held responsible. So must Putin. So must Trump. So must those who are now threatening Muslim Americans and Jewish Americans, as must everyone who is blinded by hate.
In holding them responsible, though, we must make every effort not to fuel even more hate.
— Robert B. Reich, Tribune Content Agency.