Has civil discourse been buried by a positive feedback loop of hate?
Timothy Egan, writing for The New York Times, says that Donald Trump is getting the “Hitler vote” (NYT, December 12, 2015), as Trump has become part of the American neo-Nazi campaign to “Make America White Again.” Egan exclaims, “I hate these guys (neo-Nazis),” in ironic parallel with the neo-Nazi hatred toward non-White, non-Christian Americans. This symmetry of emotion might make us wonder whether Egan, and other liberals, are adding to the amount of hate in the world, just as we suspect that the campaigns of Donald Trump, and even Bernie Sanders, add to the amount of global hate by demonizing others—foreigners or bankers. Can there ever be a political campaign based on compassion and understanding, rather than finding subjects of hatred that seduce the most voters?
Imagine a political campaign that has sympathy for the devil (apologies to the Rolling Stones). Even Egan admits that neo-Nazis are likely victims of a global economy that has “run them over” (and) “who need a villain” to explain their experience of a country that has abandoned them. And the bankers, demonized by Democrats, are just following what they take to be the American Dream of success in a competitive financial jungle. Would such a campaign of compassion be a futile as the Dalai Lama reclaiming Tibet from the Chinese?
Maybe the Dalai Lama has not been such a failure. He may not have regained Tibet as a Buddhist religious state (not a particularly democratic goal, anyway). However, Tibetan Buddhism and culture has continued to grow in its global influence. Find any large American town without a seminar on Tibetan Buddhism, and a thriving Tibetan community.
Perhaps the best way to transform the politics of hate is to spend time with someone who is a hater, and have a conversation about the source of their hate. I have a friend who grew up in an Idaho, Aryan nation, stronghold, and though he has become a respected liberal Sociologist, he continues to spend time with neo-Nazis, finding common ground and searching for the sources of their hatred. I am a liberal ethicist, who continues to hang-out with conservatives who resonate with the analysis of Fox News, searching for the sources of their hate. Making friends with diversity has long been an American value—let’s not lose it in an age of internet-fed neo-conformity.