My Turn: Trump’s greatest gift — hate

  • AP FILE Photo/ Evan Vucci AP FILE Photo/ Evan Vucci

Published: 1/18/2021 3:25:39 PM

“As is well known, we usually hate those whom we have caused to suffer.” — George Simmel

Compassion and sympathy are words (one Latin and one Greek) for “feeling with” “suffering with” and “experiencing with.” Compassion is costly, confusing, difficult. Compassion brings with it a feeling of having ill-defined boundaries, an anxious sense of responsibility, and with sensitivity to responsibility comes a sensitivity to guilt — an uncomfortable emotion. It takes a very strong person to endure feeling compassion.

But hate can make even a weak person feel powerful.

If you ask yourselfwhy is it that the same people who advertise themselves as “Pro-Lifers” do not want to wear masks that could help save the lives of others, or why is it that people who decry “Fake News” seem to have no interest in “truth” or “facts”? How is it that those who so value “freedom” want to have a dictator? Why does it seem so hard to reason with those on the Far Right who support Donald Trump?

Part of the reason is that reason has nothing to do with it. Trump offers the Far Right a set of delicious and salvific emotions: a righteous, purifying hatred.

Hatred galvanizes; it defines, clarifies, simplifies. People who rage no longer have to negotiate a confusing world colored in a myriad shades of gray. They can live in a simple world of black and white (in this case both figuratively and literally).

Compassion feels weak to them, and they do not miss it or bemoan its absence in their savior. On the contrary, Donald Trump’s successes have been the living proof for them of the power of hate. (As a woman who of approximately the same age as Donald Trump, and who grew up in New York City, I know that Trump has nourished himself and his ambitions on bigotry for over fifty years.) Trump has authorized and legitimated hate in others. For the Trumpists, hate is a winner.

The irrelevance of knowledge to this group is one of the reasons that the same persons can champion, in the same breath, the unborn and the imaginary children whom the Demonic Democrats are (according to QAnon) eating for breakfast — but not the born, not the children separated from their parents at the border, not the poor, not the sick or suffering, not the oppressed.

Championing the living would require dangerous acts of compassion. Rather than feel doubt or guilt, they side with the very powerful and very rich against the weak or poor. Indeed, those who hate are liable to hate most those whom they have most injured.

How can one speak to people who do not care about — or want — reason? How can one speak truly to people for whom truth is beside the point? Ultimately, the powerful emotional state that they value above all else is deeply antithetical to knowledge.

How to tolerate intolerance? How to live with haters without hating them? It was a problem that I struggled with for the more than forty years I was a history teacher. The very most important value I wanted to instill in my students was compassion. The only way I could think to do that was to articulate the most complex understanding of the world that I was able; to get them to entertain the widest possible diversity of opinions and ways of seeing the world, to endure paradox and contradictions, to endure uncertainty and doubt. It is hard to teach tolerance to people have imprisoned themselves in segregated mental bunkers.

Sometimes I wish we could strip down to the skin every person seething with rage, send them all out into the desert, and let them exhaust their hated on one another.

Alternatively, I yearn for us to have some kind of universal national service which would take young people from rural areas and send them to work with people in the cities, that would take young people from the cities out into the country, to have Northerners work with Southerners, people of every color and background to work together in common projects for the common good. We good give the gift of care to one another. In this time of extreme distress and need, a compassionate New Deal — rather than hatred — might help to save us.

Carlin Barton, Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a resident of Greenfield.

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