Why Do They Hate Us?

Why Do They Hate Us?

You’re driving along the freeway, listening to some great music or peacefully chatting on your cell phone with a friend. Suddenly, a dusty, beaten up old car pulls up alongside you, the driver’s eyes wild, his face contorted with hellish fury. He appears to be swearing at you, he’s flipping you off, he swerves his car slightly into yours. You react defensively by swerving to avoid him, and you hear the fender of your previously undamaged car scrape along the center divider. Your anger at him immediately matches his toward you, and the battle is on. In truth, that man had already had a lot to be upset about that day, but he had actually been outwardly quite calm just a few seconds earlier. Then you had cut him off when you changed lanes without noticing him, and he had almost crashed. You were completely unaware of that: you were busy enjoying your music or talking with your friend. The fact that you weren’t paying attention now has both of you locked in a potentially deadly conflict.

The election of President Trump is like a road rage incident. Mainstream Democrats had been going along peacefully, thinking that they understood the correct focus-tested messaging and statistical analysis of the issues to run a successful Presidential campaign. Then a group of people that they hadn’t been paying attention to came out of nowhere and started ramming into them with a bizarre orange egomaniacal authoritarian in populist’s clothing (clothing purchased and custom-tailored for him at the priciest stores in Manhattan). Bewilderment turned to rage as this erratic new ruler pushed forward racist and xenophobic policies and began dismantling every institution of government necessary to the continued functioning of American civil society. Trump’s supporters defended his every move or at most shrugged, immune to all arguments that Democrats put forth, every scandal that the President created, every hypocritical act, every idiotic or offensive or even dangerous tweet. The worse it got, the more strange the non-reaction  of the Trump voters seemed, and the angrier Democrats became.

Just underneath anger often lies other emotions: fear, envy, pride, sadness, a sense of injustice. The anger of the man in the road rage incident was sparked by fear: you had nearly killed him when you cut him off and almost caused him to crash. Your lack of awareness of what you had done as you drove blissfully along in your relatively nice car prompted further outrage: he had recently been laid off and was two months behind on his rent, facing eviction, and on top of it all, someone like you was so unaware of people like him that you had almost killed him without even noticing. The fact that the current conflict could now result in his death (fear of which had ironically started the incident moments before) is of little importance to him: all he wants now is to see you punished.

Likewise, your anger at him was provoked when he threatened your life by swerving at you. It was intensified when you realized that his bizarre actions had needlessly resulted in your car being damaged. Not only had his behavior endangered you: he had also cost you money in car repairs or potentially higher insurance rates. The fact that your car could possibly get totaled and you could get killed as you engage with him on the freeway is now of little importance to you: all you want is revenge.

Similarly, the anger on both sides of the Trump divide has other emotions underneath. For many on the left, like you in the road rage incident, those who elected Donald Trump have needlessly endangered your life in profound and ongoing ways. You have been thrust into living with a scandal-ridden President who seems mentally unstable, who has made the possibility of nuclear war seem real and imminent for the first time in decades, who seems bent on the destruction of essential institutions of government, who is undoing key relationships with our allies abroad, and many of whose decisions seem particularly mean-spirited toward the least fortunate among us.

For Trump supporters, like the guy in the other car, the anger was simmering decades before the election. The grievances have varied – small towns being hollowed out and brought to their knees by unemployment and addiction, hard-earned tax dollars being handed over to undeserving “others,” a long-standing cultural and economic structure upended by progressive causes like civil rights and immigration, a soft stance on the mortal danger of terrorism, or just outrage over a reakingly corrupt government. But in the end, the enemy is the same: “the system” and those in the mainstream who have been keeping it in place – both Democrats and Republicans. For almost all Trump voters, Hillary Clinton was the quintessential embodiment of the out-of-touch, cosmopolitan system of corrupt career politicians.

Just as you had been driving along peacefully in your car without noticing the havoc that you had created for other driver, you had not noticed how some significant systemic issues were (in reality or in their imaginations) endangering the lives of Trump voters. As small towns silently buckled, you instead encouraged government to help the equally needy and deserving inner cities. As people in rural America had to drive long distances to their jobs and to get groceries, you advocated paying for infrastructure repairs with a gas tax increase that would hit rural people disproportionately hard. As terrorists (whom many Trump supporters equate with “all Muslims”) waged deadly attacks against our country, you asserted reasonably that not all Muslims were terrorists, which in the minds of some Trump voters made you not only woefully naïve, but putting American lives in danger with your idiotic “tolerance.”

The guy who swerved into you on the freeway didn’t see his action as a way for him to get a new job or a way to pay his rent, but his act was partly an expression of his rage and despair over those problems. Similarly, Trump voters did not necessarily see their vote as a solution to their festering problems, but rather as an expression of long-standing anger and despair over those festering problems, and over the system that inflicted them. Going at least as far back as Timothy McVeigh, it was a kick in the nuts to the guy with the boot on their neck. The goal was simply to impose some sort of damage to the system, to hurt it. The fact that Trump supporters will likely experience even greater hardship under Trump than they would have under Clinton, the fact that the other driver could get killed antagonizing you on the freeway – it all has little relevance. What’s important to them is that punishment is inflicted, that you feel some of what you have unwittingly inflicted on them, and that you are not able to continue ignoring them and their pain. Your outrage, fear, confusion, or despair is all just an indication that the punishment is having the desired effect. Regardless of the impact on their own lives, there is satisfaction among some Trump voters in what they see as the justice of you having to lament the collapse of your democracy (they haven’t felt like it was theirs for a long time), your damaged fender.

In the road rage incident, if you and the other driver were to pull over and get out of your cars, the ensuing conversation would almost certainly be unproductive at best. You would yell about your fender, which the other driver couldn’t care less about: he would see it as just desserts for your endangering his life. He would yell at you about cutting him off, which would seem disproportionate compared to his overblown reaction and the bill that you are now facing for body work on your car. You would essentially be talking past each other, having two different conversations at the same time in which neither person could hear the other.

Most attempts at dialog between Trump supporters and those on the left are similarly unproductive. Many on the left consider Trump’s election to be primarily about racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, and ignorance. Many of Trump’s supporters, on the other hand, consider his election to be about geographic and economic unfairness, political corruption, over-involvement abroad, strength toward foreign enemies, religious issues, and working class dignity. When Trump supporters and those who oppose Trump debate each other, they are therefore often having two different conversations at the same time. They shout past one another, neither hearing the other. It is why Steve Bannon says that he’s happy to debate “identity issues” all day long, because he knows that as long as polarization remains, he wins.

There is no easy way to heal our political divide. Many news outlets, social media trolls and craven political opportunists have found it profitable to feed division rather than seek to resolve it. A constant flow of information or misinformation supporting whatever reality each American wants to believe is certainly an obstacle too. But one thing is for certain: giving each other the simple courtesy of listening cannot hurt. When an angry person knows that they have been listened to and genuinely understood, the intensity of their anger diminishes dramatically, and they can begin to hear the other person.

Listening does not mean agreeing with the “other side,” letting go of principles, or stopping the important work to further deeply held values. It merely means hearing a different perspective and trying to put onesself in someone else’s shoes. At this point, the goal of listening is not some kumbaya moment where everyone hugs it out and moves on in harmony. The goal is to lower the intensity enough that we don’t total the car.

– rob rünt

Kindling

Kindling

Kindling

In the early morning hours of February 27, 1933, a fire rapidly engulfed the German Parliament, known as the Reichstag. The building was gutted, and firefighters found several bundles of what they determined to be fuel sources. A young communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested nearby and was sentenced to death for setting the fire.

Less than a month earlier, Adolf Hitler had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. Historians widely credit the fire – and the resulting anti-communist and anti-immigrant hysteria that Hitler stirred in the German population – with Hitler’s ability to quickly consolidate power. The day after the fire, he convinced German President von Hindenburg to indefinitely enact an emergency decree suspending civil liberties, including freedom of the press, freedom of expression, freedom of association, and the ability to communicate by mail or phone without government intrusion. Historians still debate whether the Reichstag fire was actually set by Nazis or communists. It should also be noted that Hitler did not rise to power advocating the mass extermination of human beings.

In the United States, on September 11, 2001, 21 terrorists used commercial airlines to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, with an additional plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. As the day wore on, news anchor Tom Brokaw, struggling for something new and profound to say after hours of nonstop coverage, called the attack “an act of war, nothing less than that” and likened it to Pearl Harbor. After the attack, America responded militarily against an entire country, Afghanistan, for a criminal terrorist act committed by 21 individuals.

President Bush later turned his attention to Iraq as a potential source of terrorism that needed to be responded to “preemptively,” warning that we could not “wait for the final proof – the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” So we went to war with Iraq over what most Americans now acknowledge (and what critical thinkers at the time recognized) as flimsy evidence.

In the meantime, Americans had quickly come to accept things previously unacceptable: government intrusions into electronic communications without judicial authorization, torture of suspects, indefinite detainment, secretly authorized executions by American drones overseas – which sometimes killed innocent people, and which continued even into the final months of the Obama Administration.

The number of terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11 has been small, even with many of the above measures reversed under Obama.

Last week, in response to Federal Judge James Robart putting a temporary nationwide  hold on the executive order on immigration, Donald Trump tweeted “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” The Trump Administration then asked an appeals court for an emergency stay of Judge Robart’s order.

170212-16

What follows from this point is purely speculation and should be taken as such.

I call your attention to the language used above: “emergency” stay; “If something happens blame him.” Given how few terrorist attacks have happened in the past 15 years, such imminent crisis-oriented language from the White House sounds very dire (Full Article – New York Times). Terrorist attacks are horrible, but they also account for far fewer deaths in America than many other obscure causes (Source: START). And if the goal is to prevent needless American deaths, thousands of times more Americans die each year from smoking (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is preventable, or heart disease (Source: Center for Disease Control), which is also preventable.

Trump is surely aware of how September 11 caused many Americans – even many who had opposed President Bush – to get behind their President. As former news anchor Dan Rather said on September 17, 2001, “wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.”

And if Trump is not aware of the history of the Reichstag fire, his Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon – former executive chair of the alt right/white nationalist news source Breitbart, a man with a thorough knowledge of history, and a man who Trump inadvertently signed an executive order appointing to his National Security Council – certainly is.

Vigilance, perspective and critical thinking are important tools for Americans right now.

– rob rünt

Note: After writing this piece, I discovered that economist Paul Krugman wrote a piece published on Friday indicating that he is of a similar opinion (Full Article – Daily KOS).


“We’re going to have to do things we never did before … that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy.”

Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
November, 2015
(Full Article – Huffington Post)