This piece ran as an op/ed in July, 2021
There’s a reason that Christianity presents the combination of “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill to Men” as a central message about the Good in the human world:
- “Peace” says how people are supposed to engage with each other;
- “Goodwill” is the feeling that inspires people to engage with others in harmonious and constructive — rather than conflictual — ways.
In America today, however, we see signs of the very opposite: people seeking an excuse to feel hostility and to express it through strife.
Take for example the spike – since the pandemic began — in hateful attacks on Asian-Americans.
These attacks are presumably prompted by the belief – unproven still, but possibly valid – that China has some responsibility for this destructive virus causing such global suffering and disruption.
But even if that turned out to be true, it would still be crazy to translate the culpability of the regime (or some lab) in China into a “reason” to attack innocent American citizens of Asian descent?
Launching such attacks on the flimsiest of excuses indicates a need to hate, a need to find someone onto whom the attackers vent their rage.
That same dark spirit is manifest – less blatantly, but ultimately more importantly — in how readily those Americans who constitute the Republican base are supporting their party’s waging a political war that quite clearly will injure their own present and future well-being.
That political warfare was declared by the Republican leader of the Senate when he said that the Republicans would be “100% focused” on blocking “the Biden agenda.” That’s a sure-fire strategy for national brokenness, that will hurt everyone, because:
- At times of crisis the divergence between best- and worst-case scenarios is exceptionally wide, depending on the actions taken;
- The course of paralysis and drift – which is what Republican success in obstruction would imply for America, at this time of crisis — surely leads toward the worst outcomes for the nation;
- Far better outcomes would come from the nation steering a well-planned course, and
- the “Biden agenda” gives every sign of offering such a competent, responsible (widely-supported) way to serve the common good; And therefore
for any rational America it should be obvious that the Republican path is indefensible.
So the question arises, “Why would the Republican base support their party taking a course that clearly will injure the present and future well-being of all Americans?”
And, conversely: “Why wouldn’t they insist that their party take what – equally clearly – is the appropriate policy, i.e. to act on ‘the Biden agenda’ in whatever way will best serve the nation’s future?”
The answer to that question seems to overlap with a question that liberals – including me — have been struggling with since the Trump era began: “How can America’s conservatives align themselves with a leader who continually works toward the very opposite of the values that conservatives have always stood for—the Constitution, Christian values, the virtues of good character?”
After puzzling over that question throughout this era, I’ve noticed lately that liberals seem to be converging on a particular answer: Trump’s supporters love him, this hypothesis declares, because he attacks and hurts the people they hate.
Trump’s approach to America’s divisions has consistently been to inflame them– targeting black people, depicting immigrants as “rapists” sent by Mexico, and – not least, in this “Us vs. Them” orgy of hostility – demonizing liberals and Democrats.
The mystery that liberals first perceived as “How can they support someone so outrageous?” gets solved: “It’s precisely because Trump so effectively outrages us liberals,” the thinking is, “‘Owning the libs’ isn’t a by-product, it is the purpose. That’s how much they hate us.”
If that emerging liberal interpretation is correct, it dovetails with the support the Republican base gives the disastrous obstructionist choice the Republicans in Congress are making: when one is driven by hate, attacking the “enemy” can be gratifying enough to obscure the costs.
This need to hate answers another puzzle that liberals have pondered: “How can those Republicans believe that the election was ‘stolen’ when that claim has been so thoroughly exposed as a Big Lie?”
Answer: that Big Lie – “They robbed us” — provides a justification for the hostility that seems to possess the Republican base. It’s less that the belief they’ve been robbed causes the hatred than that the hatred motivates people to believe the Lie.
Just with the attacks on the Asians: the need for hate seems to come first, providing the motivation to find some excuse – however bogus — to justify it.
The need for an excuse also illuminates why Republicans so consistently demonize their liberal fellow citizens.
I feel in a good position to testify to something that today’s “conservatives” seem not to want to know: that the people in a liberal group would on average be just as good and decent and moral as those in a similar group of conservatives.
Although good people can come to different conclusions on difficult issues, none of these divisions should make it impossible for Americans to get together, in a spirit of good will, to work for the greater good wherever possible.
But the Republican base chooses strife (not “Peace on Earth”) to express some deep hostility (not “Goodwill Toward Men”). And just as the Christian message offers a path toward a more whole world, its opposite is sure to make it more broken.