This year’s jolting events should make us stop and think. All of us, right and left. It has jolted me enough that this blog has gone silent these last weeks, and perhaps that’s a good thing. It’s time to put down the drums we’ve been beating and take a good hard look at where they’ve taken us. Here’s my hard look, and I invite others to share theirs.
I came of age in the Fifties, when Joe McCarthy used the fear of communism to make his opponents “enemies,” “a danger to the American way of life” and lead an inquisition that destroyed careers. That change in language from “opponents” to “enemies” has shaped the politics ever since. Words matter. We may fight opponents, try to persuade them, or ignore them. We destroy enemies. The language of war is not the language of argument or civil discourse; hatred of enemies is called “patriotism,” dissent is called “treason,” “selling out.” Thinking becomes “waffling.” We are united by fear and its near cousin, hatred.
I was raising children during the Sixties when the young, angry and betrayed, rebelled with a revolution of their own. Through unity and numbers they have created great change for the good, especially for minorities and marginalized, but their language was, and is, the language of war. Calls for revolution are calls for violence—the overthrow of entire systems of order. Liberals insisted they meant peaceful change, but the word matters, and the reaction to it was fear, solidifying of the other side and increasing bitterness and hatred. Rather than persuading others, the language of civil argument, they created their own closed community, an ever more rigid ideology, silencing thought, rejecting all dissent as “selling out” or “racism”—the new word for “enemy.”
If you are one of the silenced ones, I join you—and I am a moderate liberal, not a conservative. I am not proud of my silence, but in the ever increasing bitterness, to disagree was to be dismissed as “an establishment patsy.” When Obama’s election came simultaneously with the crash of 2008, I told my fellow Democrats it was time to start conversations with Republicans. I was told they didn’t know how to talk to Republicans. So they went on, bringing in speakers that only increased their dogmatic rigidity while Republicans did the same, splitting into dogmatic, rigid, isolated groups.
The more people isolate themselves into camps, the more they identify themselves by that camp and denigrate “those others,” the less they know through interaction, the more they reinforce each other’s hatred. Many complained about the polarization and gridlock, but we seemed helpless to change our ways.
And so now a leader has risen to give voice to the hatred of the silenced, and our very institutions are threatened. Demonstrations, protests, and movements will only add fuel to the fire, but the young, who have grown up in the war climate, know no other way. We did this.