It has always been so: using emotive language to describe those people we detest reduces them to things. Such is the case with people we don’t happen to like — or want to kill in violent confrontations called “war.” Not long ago the Japanese were called “Japs,” and the Germans were called “Krauts.” We devise hateful names to describe those we hate and want to kill in the name of God and all that is good. It seems to work: it reduces human beings, as noted, to things to be dispensed with.
We now find ourselves living in a society in which our feckless leader has labelled his enemies in order to generate hatred of those things or people he has determined are his enemies — and therefore the enemies of us all. Thus are the Democrats now called “the party of crime. . . too extreme and dangerous to govern” as they are derided as enemies of the Republic for which we stand. And this is only one example of the way this man uses words (often incorrectly) to generate strong emotions in his followers. He loves to hold rallies, as did one of his predecessors who also generated hatred in his followers, in order to feel the glow of admiration and even worship — and convince himself that he is loved and admired. The Germans thought Hitler was the new Messiah; many Americans now think our president is the savior of this country. The parallel is at times quite striking — and alarming.
But, let us take the word “Democrat,” as an example. If we are to save this nation and make “America Great Again,” we need to recall that we have always been a two-party democracy. Granted, there were no formal parties at the outset, but there were those who favored a Republic (like Jefferson) and there were those Federalists who favored a watered-down monarchy (like Hamilton). Folks lined up on either side of what was then a budding two-party system. Eventually those parties took on the names “Republican” and “Democrat.” The former were the remnants of the Federalists preferred by Hamilton and the latter were those who favored a popular government, like Jefferson. In any case, the two parties were seen to be the way the country divided itself and politics became a game of balancing and compromising the differences in order to find a middle ground that all could live with. Compromise was the key word.
The game of politics can become ugly, as we all know. And the rules were frequently rewritten and often even forgotten. But the way it worked was for men and women of differing political views to come together and seek a middle ground. You scratch my back and I will scratch your back. That was then. This is now. Among certain folks in this country at present the word “Democrat,” like the words “socialist,” and “liberal” have become terms of derision, if not of genuine hatred. And the notion that one should compromise with the opposition strikes many as heresy. This is worrisome.
To ague that we are going to make America “Great” again by labelling those who oppose us with hateful names is absurd. To call the Democrats names is insidious and blind to history. And the tendency to point to that party (or any party for that matter) as the cause of all that is wrong is nothing less than an attempt to ignore wrongs that need to be corrected and to point elsewhere for those mistakes we all make. Whether we like them or not, those who disagree with us are the ones we have to live with and while we can agree to disagree we must draw the line at calling them names and dismissing them as enemies of the state, dirt to be swept away. That way lies totalitarianism and it is anathema to everything the Founders hoped would follow from establishing this Republic. Worse yet, it breeds hatred and contempt and when fostered by fear, as we know from the past, it can lead to tragedy on a grand scale.
In the wake of the murder of the Saudi/American journalist at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, I have been working on a piece with the theme “why are those who have, or want, absolute power always the most afraid?” It applies largely to totalitarian regimes—of the past century, but going back thousands of years—and it so often includes two factors: name-calling and dehumanizing of opponents, and demonizing, jailing or killing poets and writers or other critics. But it is happening in our midst, too.
Trump is a frightening example. Rarely questioned in his life before the White House, he can’t bear to be questioned or criticized now–neither by his staff and cabinet, nor the media, nor other opponents. So he comes up with so many derisive names for people. And he demonizes journalists as “enemies of the people,” and decries any story that investigates him or reports criticism of him as fake news. What his whining really means is that he can’t handle the truth and seeks to discredit those who speak it. This is the stuff of totalitarian regimes and banana republics, although, thankfully, he’s only threatened–apparently in mocking ways, say his White House aides–to jail those who criticize him. But such persistent verbal attacks often can lead to physical attacks and the literal stifling of dissent. Thankfully, there are many who call him on it. But, frighteningly, his base and the weak-kneed Republicans in the House and Senate rarely do. That lets the hatred, and demagoguery continue.
And, as you write, Hugh, it’s a reflection of the rest of the nation: we’ve either given rise to Trump or he continues to rub off on those who accept his form of hatred. Or both. There are many good people among us, those willing to act and speak with civility. But any quick glance at comments on social media, or comments appended to news stories, shows a great many of us who quickly resort to such angry, hateful responses, with unbelievably mean name-calling. I saw this last night, reading the Facebook page of Karin Housely, the Minnesota Republican candidate for Senate. She is under fire for, in 2009, making a Facebook post that compared Michelle Obama to a chimp. It’s awful and should be a career-killer. But the responses posted, now, on her Facebook page call her words that reek of the gutter. Both parties, in this case, come across as repugnant.
But a leader sets the tone for national discourse. Right now, we have a Republican president who sounds as far removed from the first Republican president (Lincoln) as Pluto is from the sun.
As you suggest: it’s not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. It is a cultural thing. Our minds grow weaker with poor schooling and we lean on emotive language harder because it comes more easily. I look forward to reading your piece!
Hugh, those who say Trump is ordained by God to solve our country’s problems, must be paying attention to a different God than I am. My religion precept is simple – treat others like you want to be treated. Some even go further and ask “what would Jesus do?” I am pretty confident Jesus was not big on hate speech, or name-calling, or demeaning, or blaming others, or cheating, or lying….The list goes on. He probably did not pick on people who lost a loved one as a soldier. He probably did not grab a woman by her private parts without her permission. He probably did not call women who brought forth claims of sexual assault as evil.
Labeling and hate speech are ugly short cuts. If one uses a label, that means he is trying to say you need not even read or listen to what the other person said. To me, if someone consistently blames others and calls others bad names, then we must dig deeper in the speaker’s positions. Keith
I have to agree labeling those with whom one disagrees is no substitute for critical assessment — but sometimes, sadly, it feels just right.
When a Facebook follower asked my why I referred to Donald Trump as “Der Gropenfuhrer”, I replied that I used this term because “Der Untergropenfuhrer” seemed a bit much.
With apologies… 🙂
The ad hominem is very popular — and always tempting!
Under the mission statement,under the self-imposed blindness of most Americans, America was always a very ugly, very violent place, never great. Beyond the rhetoric it will become exponentially even less than what it never was. Trump has shed light on the reality upholding the hegemony, hence why he can say and do what he does with impunity and keep his power and popularity. Trump is the spirit of America. Trump is the preacher and the Ugly American congregation hired him to represent its will. Harsh? If the shoe fits… The comparison to the Third Reich and Hitler is totally appropriate.
He certainly has turned over a lot of rocks and what has come creeping out is disquieting at the very least. And, as you suggest, those critters have always been there.
A very timely and prescient piece, my friend. The disgusting rhetoric has gone far beyond the point of being insulting and is to the point that I anticipate it leading to outbreaks of violence in the coming 19 days leading up to the mid-term elections. It is counter-productive to ever finding the middle ground you refer to, and the word ‘compromise’ seems to have dropped from our vocabulary. I shall re-blog, for I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I expect violence as well, especially if the Democrats do well, as espected. But it will get even worse if Trump is impeached! This country is on the boil!
I agree … if he is impeached or assassinated … there will be blood in the streets for sure.
Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
“These are the times that try men’s [and women’s] souls”, said Thomas Paine on 23 December 1776. What makes the times today so trying to our souls is, of course, the government that no longer represents the people, but even more disturbing is the way the head of said government is pitting us against each other. Our friend Hugh has written a piece that is well worth reading and thinking about. Are we falling for the rhetoric coming out of Washington to the extent that we are sacrificing our future? Thank you, Hugh, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking post.
I don’t want to say much, I could easily go into an in-depth essay about he who preteinds to do what “everyone wants him to do,” but to save space I will merely say, name-calling is the easy way out, not just for his followers, but for Trump himself. Taking the easy way does not need thought, research, or even truth. From my comfy couch in Canada, this is easy to say, but there is no way to compromise with an Orange Turd. So much for being nice.
Not much to add to that! Many thanks.
Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
There’s a lot of hate talk going around and it’s poisoning the two-party system.
This ugly side has always lurked beneath the veneers of virtually every society in every age.
From a European perspective it could be said ‘Welcome to Nationhood, Youngsters’.
That dose of cynicism aside it has to be said WE should have learned by now, and the USA being a young society which nearly tore itself apart in a civil war might have been a flag-bearer for tolerance. Sadly not so, as flawed as the rest.
You stand at a cross-roads. There is a choice for the majority of folk to have nothing to do with these poisoned people who will die of corrosion and nightmare fears. Another possibility is that the USA as it is currently configured can no longer hold and will drift apart into a loose association of states with Washington and The President being something of a nominal head.
The nightmare is a bloody partition version of the aforementioned; this is not some fantasy/dystopian novel plot, look back at History and you will see this written in blood and tears, bitterness and hate being the only legacies.
Trump is but a figurehead himself, propelled forward by a 30% of the voting population, possible because of a political system currently wallowing in self-interest and no sense of love of The Nation. Had he been around during the days of LBJ or Nixon he would have been crushed in the early primaries or left to be a fool as a Third Party Candidate. In historical terms he is a Nothing, a blip and a foot-note.
The main problem, has many fathers and mothers and is hard to pin down; it may be that the Civil War never really finished; maybe you should have had a king, a central authority (who knows?). Maybe the USA as it stands was destined as other states to fall apart anyway.
One warning for those who preach hate, racial superiority, intolerance and shabby patriotism, are they truly ready to lie as bloated, or torn or crushed bodies or screaming out their last breaths upon new fields of other Antietams, Gettysburgs and Shilohs, or even Berlins. No one ever gets out of that cycle without paying.
And Trump’s grave will be a repository for spittle.
We’ve seen it all too often in Europe.
Many thanks for the perspective. I do believe that the United States have never been truly united — except, perhaps, during the First and Second World Wars.
I’d agree with that Hugh.
Once the USA entered with manpower and resources against regimes quite opposite to hers; that was the end of them.
And they did think Americans were decadent and with no fighting spirit; more fool them!
I worked as a research assistant to a professor of Political Science when I was working on my Masters in same subject. He wrote a paper, the premise of which was that the only thing that truly united us was a threat from an external source, which ties in with your thought that the only times we were united were when we were fighting in a major war. The second part of his premise, though, was what I found really disturbing and I think of it often these days. It was that if a leader found the nation so divided that he couldn’t bring cohesion, he would create or induce an external threat to bring the people together, even if it meant a war. Frightening times we are living in.
Interesting side-note. Gibbon tells us that the only time the Christian Church was united was when it was struggling for survival against Rome. Once Constantine determined that Christianity was a legitimate religion, it started to fragment and war against itself — a war that is still going on!
I don’t know…. where this will lead, but the onslaught of hate and anger is so frightening! To see…. that it has found it’s way, to the very top level of our government….. is horrifying!!!! There is no accountability. Their motivation…greed, money and power! No empathy, no compassion….only pitchforks and condemnation.
I was just commenting with Jill that President Trump’s openly disseminating of hate, divisiveness, describing Democrats and others with differing opinions as evil who will destroy this country and his tirades against the press, is a form of yelling fire in a crowded space.
To my mind, it is the president’s rhetoric that gave the Saudis the signal that the US would look the other way when their agents murdered a US resident, Washington Post journalist in a foreign country, ally, Turkey.
I’m still having problems buying into this story. First, who reported the deed? Who saw the body pieces and identified the body? Second, would a veteran like Khashoggi not be aware he was walking into a trap? Third, would he not have some “serious dirt” to be revealed somewhere by someone should his life be threatened? The naivety involved in his actions does not match his supposed character. I smell a plot within a plot here and some very high level characters are being misdirected so as to bring them down. We may never hear from Mr. Khashoggi again but I’m betting he’s alive and well, and safe. If there was a victim, it wasn’t Khashoggi. My take on this more than bizarre episode.