Editor’s note: This is a special guest op-ed from BernardGoldberg.com Premium Member, Michael G. Frankel.
Reading Bernie Goldberg’s column this week, Who’s Worse — Trump or His Enemies?, I was inspired to comment in more than a cursory manner.
Think back to the summer and fall of 2016, when we were inundated with signs, slogans and angry voices telling us that “LOVE TRUMPS HATE.” At that time, it was a forgone conclusion to millions of Americans (not just Hillary supporters, but also those of us resigned to voting for Trump because he wasn’t Hillary) that we were about to have another Clinton in the White House. And with her victory would come another four years of the Obama quest to fundamentally transform America. (The concept of fundamental transformation is interesting unto itself. Try telling your spouse that you really do love her and are proud of her but that she needs to be fundamentally transformed and you are the one to oversee that transformation. Then duck!)
I went to bed early on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, because I was feeling tired and depressed, particularly as I contemplated that in a few hours America would choose Hillary to be our next President. I arose early Wednesday morning, had a cup of coffee and began a long walk to help me come to grips with the numbing reality that our president for the next four (or, God forbid, eight) years was a person who would finally have the awesome power she had lusted for so long.
That’s when my son called as he was on his way to work and asked me if I could believe that Trump had won the election. My reaction was quick: ha ha, nice joke. When he told me that the networks had all confirmed Trump’s victory, I had goosebumps and more spring in my step — not because Trump won, but because Hillary’s lust would be unfulfilled and the transformation of America would at least be slowed down.
At the same time, I felt compassion for friends of mine who were Hillary supporters, or at least Hillary voters who voted against Trump more than for Hillary. I tried to put myself in their shoes and feel their disappointment and depression. But I also believed that, as in past years, our political differences would be set aside to some extent and we would all move forward as Americans whose love of, and pride in, our country would reemerge.
Boy was I naïve.
As we moved forward into December and January (before Trump had even taken office and done anything as President), it became clear that the purported Lovers were in fact Haters. It was one thing to hate Trump because of his language and behavior (past and present). It was another thing to extend that hatred first to those who ardently supported him, and then to anyone who voted for him, and finally even to life-long Democrats like Alan Dershowitz who were not willing to sacrifice their principles and fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.
One can understand, to some extent, why someone might project their hatred of Trump to nameless, faceless others out of frustration and fear. (Note that understanding such reactions is not justification, but rather mere acknowledgement of how people can work themselves into an emotional frenzy — especially when seeing things through a highly emotional lens in which identity politics, labeling and hate-filled rhetoric is omnipresent.)
But what about the animus directed by Haters towards their relatives and lifelong friends who have the temerity to espouse different views regarding Trump or a controversial political issue?
I have spent countless hours trying to understand how family relationships and close friendships have been torn asunder and offer the following observations:
- In almost all cases, it is the Hater who has no tolerance for his or her former friend/relative who sees things differently. The Hater in many cases will not or cannot even have a civil discussion. The hatred simply overwhelms the Hater.
- As noted by Bernie, in many instances, the Hater views himself or herself as morally superior to the subject of their scorn. Smugness becomes a communal badge of honor.
- When asked, the Hater (if honest) will admit that their morally superior ends justify the means chosen to serve those ends. This is how someone like Professor Dershowitz, a leading guardian of Constitutional values, is disparaged and demeaned by those who pretend to be proponents of American values and fret about “existential threats to our democracy.”
Can the tide of hatred be reversed, and if so, how? It should be obvious that the hatred did not begin in 2016 and will not dissipate easily or anytime soon. It also should be obvious that there are strong forces from multiple directions that revel in their hatred.
But there are millions of us across America who still believe in all that America is and will continue to be. This American middle, as has always been the case, is not monolithic in its political views. Some lean left while others lean right. We will always have differences as to our viewpoints. What’s critical is that respectful and civil dialogue occur at grass roots levels. It is unlikely that mutual respect and civil discourse will emerge from the political class, the media or academia. Perhaps our houses of worship or other community organizations could take the lead by trying to foster dialogue and civility among their congregants and members who have diverse views on important issues.
Let’s hope the dialogue begins before it truly is too late.