Shortly after the election a very thoughtful friend had reached a breaking point. After carefully studying the campaigns she concluded that sexism was at the heart of the constant harangue of HRC’s personality, face, voice, and ambition. My friend is a feminist, and she was angry.
“You’d better look out,” she warned, “I’m coming after the patriarchy.” That was fine with me. But, as she roused her determination and her fury she went a step further: “I’m coming after you men!” As she continued I could feel a defensive anger rising in myself, and warned back, “I am on your side on this issue, but if you keep attacking me as a man you’re going to lose me as an ally.” She took a deep breath, stepped back, and paused. “I guess blaming all men is just more sexism, isn’t it?”
We kept talking and agreed that attacking a person rather than the issue was not only ethically questionable but also bad political strategy.
The familiar admonition to love the sinner and hate the sin can feel a bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, but it is sound advice. In addition to the fact that personalized anger and hatred is corrosive to the hater as well as the social environment, it is usually counter productive to any desire one might have to change another’s opinions or behavior. People don’t trust or listen to enemies, they fight or flee from them. As proof of this point I invite you to name a time when you attacked a person in anger and changed their mind. That’s what I thought.
Separating the person from a value they espouse or a characteristic they possess is psychologically tricky business. I am one of those who feels that Donald Trump’s narcissism, lack of empathy, greed, apparent amorality, disregard for truth, and entitled life style make him a very poor choice to be our national leader. At the same time I’m trying very hard not to condemn or dismiss him as a human being. The challenge is exacerbated by my desire to respect the office he holds even as I don’t respect his having the office. Democrats are having a similar problem with Trump voters in their families and communities who they are called to love but whose votes they believe were cruel and irresponsible.
But attacking people for their opinions, no matter how misguided we believe those opinions to be, is socially destructive and politically not helpful. In point of fact, many Trump voters have reported that being called stupid, uneducated, and deplorable pushed them closer to voting for Trump. I doubt there’s even one who said, “Oh, I don’t want to be deplorable, so I’ll vote for Hillary!”
Objectifying and demonizing people can distract us from the real problem. They can be as much the victims of their fear or ignorance or anger as those they are affecting. Attacking them does nothing to reassure, teach, or calm them. It does little to solve the problem.
Some of the world’s most successful activists, people who literally moved whole nations in support of their causes, did so while scrupulously avoiding attacking the people leading their opposition. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. held and taught deeply moral convictions that sounded a lot like Jesus’s command to love your enemy. That didn’t stop any of them from fighting the wrong they saw strategically and effectively, with enormous passion and the force of righteousness, and bringing about political change.
If the social values liberals hold are as morally correct as they/we believe, the challenge is to demonstrate that truth so it resonates in the hearts, minds, and consciences of our fellow citizens. It must be practical and it must ring true to overcome people’s instincts that have been aroused by fear. To work, “Love Trumps Hate” must be more than a slogan, it has to be practiced.