I recently had to unfriend someone on Facebook. Someone I’ve been close to for over 20 years. Someone I know to be a terrific, smart, creative, generous and kind person. But since the election started, she has moved to a place that can only be described as outwardly and openly hateful toward anyone who does not agree with her politically. It’s one thing to be critical, to disagree, to be passionate about one’s beliefs. Lord knows I am. Daily. It’s a very different thing to display hatred and intolerance and to create the “other.” Unfortunately, this is also a political strategy used by candidates to “rally support” against a “common enemy.” We certainly see Trump using it every day.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s also a tactic Hillary Clinton has given into on more than one occasion. Whether it’s old comments like “Super-predators” or more recently “Deplorables,” or the flames she stoked (if not outright helped create) of the “Bernie Bros” narrative of violent, misogynistic men. And yes, my friend is someone who latched onto that particular narrative and is still running with it with a violent insistence that those who don’t see Hillary as “progressive” or consider her “hawkish” on foreign policy, are vile, moronic, and deluded, if not outright woman-haters. It’s not fun to be on the receiving end of that level of intolerance and unbridled hostility. I’m all for heated political arguments, discussions, disagreements and opinions, but this is something that overflows into another area altogether. It feels, to me, far too close to the kind of bigoted hate and intolerance displayed by many Trump supporters. It’s not rational, it’s not logical, it is deeply emotional. And incredibly damaging to other human beings in myriad ways. But it also does not define all they are.
This person, I am certain, still also holds all those qualities that I loved about her and kept us friends for so many years. Anyone who reads my posts knows that I am very vocal and passionate about my political views. And I have had many discussions on Facebook and elsewhere with like-minded individuals, fellow liberal friends with whom I have disagreements, and even Republican and Conservative friends who see things very, very differently from myself. But the conversations I’ve had with them, even at their most heated, were civil and respectful.
There is not much of a difference for me between someone who hates and demonizes someone for their political opinions and places them in a tiny box to direct their rage at, and those who display that same hatred and intolerance toward someone for the color of their skin or their religious beliefs. It all stems from the same need, the same desire. Many of my friend’s posts and many of her direct comments to me have been outright cruel and demonizing judgements of men in general and me as a white male. And as someone who agreed with many of the politics that Bernie Sanders espoused, which she hatefully describes as a petulant and very dangerous group of deeply ignorant people. This is, in my opinion, equally harmful. And distressing. I can choose to no longer subject myself to what she puts out there in the world and to what she directs at me personally, and I can even choose to be vocal in my opposition to that line of thinking and find it repellent in many ways, but I also know that this isn’t a “horrible” or “deplorable” person. Angry, scared, misinformed, or simply confused amidst the mass of strong emotions and experiences and stimuli taking place. As most of us are to varying degrees.
The lines that separate us really aren’t that wide. But it is oftentimes so much easier to hate than to see ourselves in those qualities of others that we don’t like or that frighten us. I have to fight daily to not let my feelings turn to hatred or outright intolerance or demonization of people I believe are making choices I find to hold potential dangers, that frighten me, frustrate me, that may negatively impact my life and the lives of those I care about or the beliefs for which I am passionate.
I remember the Dalai Lama when asked which American President of the ones he’s met he most liked personally, his answer was George W. Bush. This shocked me. And I loved it. It wasn’t that the Dalai Lama agreed with W’s politics or didn’t think he made dangerous and destructive decisions, and as a humanitarian he could speak out against those things and try and sway actions in a different direction, but he didn’t define the entire human being by this. He still found the place where they had similarities, the common ground. And it was through this genuine avenue that he chose to be influential, to offer alternate schools of thought.
For those who vehemently and righteously come to the defense of the “deplorables” or “Bernie Bros” narratives to the point where they can no longer see the number of human beings they are tagging and judging with these alienating definitions of stupid or innately violent or uncontrollably dangerous, know that the line between them and us has never been smaller than in that very moment. And those are the moments when we all lose, no matter what our beliefs.