The Septuagenarian Speaks – published February 12, 2020, Siskiyou Daily News
It’s been quite a week on the political front. The Trump acquittal. The Iowa caucuses debacle. The State of the Union speech. The Pelosi-tearing-up-the-president’s-speech incident. The Democratic candidates’ debate. On the whole, a good week for Republicans, a bad week for Democrats. Being a bit right-of-center, I guess I feel good about that, but I know that this too will pass. Politics is dynamic, not static. Today Republicans gloat and Democrats seek retribution. Next week, next month, or maybe next year the situation will be reversed. So why is everyone yelling and screaming?
Yelling and screaming is the norm these days, and it’s distressing, to say the least. Actually frightening. The common denominator is hate. I’ve never considered myself to be a student of politics, but I don’t remember a time when hate has been so prevalent. Sure, there has been righteous hate toward enemies of our country; the Nazis, Osama Bin Laden after 9-11, the “Japs” after Pearl Harbor, etc., but that hate was directed outward, not inward, like what we are experiencing today. I may not be remembering correctly, but I don’t believe that the hate that prevailed back in the sixties’ days of social unrest – civil rights and Vietnam – compares to today’s hate.
Being in my “golden” retirement years, I read a lot of contemporary fiction, something I never had time to do back when I was gainfully employed. I finish most books I start, but a couple of weeks ago I started two that just didn’t click for me after the first fifty pages, and I put them down. Looking for something different, I picked up George Orwell’s dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” and, wow! It blew me away! I had read it back in the 9th grade (didn’t we all?) and vaguely remember being impacted, but today it’ll give you nightmares. It’s more relevant than ever. Take for example the “Two minutes Hate.” In the story, there is a mandatory daily public ritual where the government forces every citizen to watch a film depicting its current enemies and requires the citizens to openly and loudly express hatred for the enemies. Quoting the story, “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.” The Two Minutes Hate was one of the Party’s methods of psychological manipulation and control of its society. To maintain the extreme emotions provoked in the Two Minutes Hate sessions, the Party created “Hate Week,” a week-long festival of hatreds.
It is easy to hate something, or someone, when you don’t make an effort to try to understand what that thing, or person, is all about. It makes it even easier to hate a person when that person is obnoxious, or demonstrates characteristics foreign to the observer’s sense of what’s right. Donald Trump, for example, is easy to hate. Even his supporters would admit that he is an obnoxious bully, not someone you would want your daughter to marry. Does that make him the sole cause of the of the nation’s divisiveness? Or maybe he is just one of the causes, and his detractors are another cause of equal or greater impact, because they don’t want to like him anyway.
In today’s culture we have become polarized because we really don’t want to try to understand where those with opposing views are coming from. It’s much easier to just put them in a category of being “bad” or “evil.” They are “deplorables,” or “radicals,” or “racists,” or whatever; subhumans deserving of nothing but hatred and loathing.
This culture of hate is having the effect of eroding the institutions, including the Constitution, that have thus far kept our country strong and unified. In the direction it is headed, I fear it’s not going to end well.
Is there something we can do to turn around the “us versus them” mentality? Perhaps one solution would be for us all to make an active effort to understand both sides of the important issues. If you watch Fox News and then watch MSNBC, it’s like you are on two different planets. The interpretations of the same set of facts are one-hundred-and-eighty degrees apart. Each news outlet is preaching to its own choir. The “Party” in Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” simply vaporizes the one they don’t like. Fortunately, freedom of the press in the USA is still alive (although struggling a bit). But people individually tend to consume only the news they agree with, and shut out the news they don’t. Maybe a step in the right direction would be for us all to actively strive to get both sides. If we are comfortable with Fox, counterbalance it with a little MSNBC, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. And we need to be civil when conversing with someone on the “other side.” Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves having conversations only with those we agree with, which can be dangerous, and at the very least might get lonely.