We set sail with a new president on an old ocean of hate. A new photo of a new man will now symbolize U.S. leadership. But hostility is still winning, vengeful hostility, demanding scalps.
In the aftermath of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, some vocal critics want names and numbers — not just of the violent fools who committed the actual attack, but anyone who worked for the man they rallied around, Donald Trump, and, frighteningly, anyone who voted for him.
A CNN anchor last week actually said, “If you voted for Trump, you voted for the person who the Klan supported. You voted for the person who Nazis support. … It puts you in the same crowd.”
When a colleague tried to walk him back, saying, “Just because you vote for the same people doesn’t mean you believe the same things” the anchor doubled down.
“Yes, it does,” he said.
That is ridiculous, like saying everyone who shops for fertilizer intends to make a bomb. But the CNN anchor is not alone. Since the Capitol event, there’s been a groundswell of angry finger-pointing casting anyone having anything to do with Trump, including the nearly 75 million people who voted for him, as seditious, racist, moronic and irrevocably flawed.
An MSNBC host actually asked the founder of The 1619 Project — designed to examine the historical consequences of American slavery — how to punish Trump voters, saying, “We have millions of Americans, almost all white, almost all Republicans, who somehow need to be deprogrammed. It’s as if they are members of a cult. Do you have any idea of how we start that process?”
Deprogrammed? That’s how we usher in a new era of decency?
An eye for an eye
I understand those who feel the last four years were torturous. But if we demonize voting, we demonize democracy. Who are any of us to condemn one another by a presidential ballot? I know plenty of people who voted for Bill Clinton. They were not adulterers. I know plenty of people who voted for George W. Bush. They do not believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Thirty years ago, in North Carolina, the Ku Klux Klan weirdly endorsed a Black Democratic senatorial candidate named Harvey Gantt. I’m sure the liberals voting for Gantt didn’t identify with burning crosses.
There were scores of people who voted for Trump who were just as disgusted and just as appalled as their Joe Biden counterparts at what happened on Jan. 6.
Let’s face it. People vote for presidents for all kinds of reasons. Some vote on the abortion issue. Some on taxes. Some on Israel or Middle East policy. More and more, we vote because we don’t like the alternative. It’s called “negative partisanship.”
“Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose,” wrote Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, who labeled the idea.
“Our research has shown that since the 1980s, supporters of both major parties … have grown to dislike the opposing party and its elected leaders more than they like their own party and its elected leaders.”
In other words, hate outdraws belief. It’s happening now. The hate the right has toward the left is matched by the left’s hatred of the right. This has the effect that Gandhi once observed: “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Do we want to be blind with rage as a new president takes over? Especially one who ran on being better than his predecessor?
A fleeting moment
The sad irony is that nearly everyone seemed united in the shock and disgust at the Capitol riot. I talk to a lot of people, from all sides of the political spectrum, and I haven’t heard a whisper of “Well, you know, they did have a point. …”
It was a horrible rampage that left the nation furious. In that way, it was momentarily unifying. The Capitol is a symbol. And its attack a symbolic act. For a few hours, we were all Americans decrying a small mob who committed an atrocity. But once it shifted from the act and became about Trump, all bets — and any hope of unity — were off.
So it quickly devolved into arguments and punditry, and the cancellation of Twitter accounts, and Forbes magazine threatening its scrutiny on any company that hired former Trump communications officials, and certain cable news folks basically calling half the country loony and immoral. A CNN host who had, in the past, taken time to explore both left and right voters, penned a piece called “I’ve Had It With Interviewing Trump Supporters Who Go Off The Deep End.”
Again, fury at the rioters is justified and needed. And Trump should pay a price. But that event, and Biden’s victory, has aroused an intolerance and vindictiveness on the left that some on the right have been practicing for years. It’s crazy how a country that calls for “a national dialogue” every five minutes doesn’t want to listen to anyone else during the other four. Mimicking bad traits for a good cause doesn’t change the traits. Hate doesn’t look better when it comes in your size.
Honor our philosophy
We must communicate. We must try and understand our fellow citizens. We must stop labeling each other with the single hard stamp of a customs official. That’s not who America is or ever was. We were forged on multitudinous opinion, not blind allegiance. To be a better nation, we have to behave better. Trump followers must accept the election results as legitimate. And no matter how validated the Biden camp may feel, his victory was still by a few percentage points, and his houses of Congress separated by narrow margins.
Majority rules in America, but it does not tyrannize. We need to gracefully disengage this effort to smear half the country with the stain of the Jan. 6 rioters. It will get us nowhere. Time will tell who those people were. It may reveal that some of them didn’t bother to vote at all. At least one person charged with crimes from that day is a self-proclaimed left-wing activist who nonetheless yelled “Burn this s— down!” He alone ought to teach us to wait before we judge.
However strong our personal beliefs, we should consider a limit to the sins of a few being visited on the many. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decried a rioter who wore a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt. As someone who knows and is related to Holocaust survivors, I echo the outrage. But his presence does not make me think everyone who voted for Trump is an anti-Semite. One deviant does not deserve that much power.
Alexis de Tocqueville, a European who famously observed this country in the 19th century, wrote, “Americans are more anxious to do honor to their philosophy than to themselves.”
We need to get back to that honor. And tolerance, and patience, and yes, even love. We should do so starting Wednesday, the day of Biden’s inauguration. Otherwise, the immeasurable hate we generate toward our leaders will rain down upon us all. It will be an emotional Civil War.
It feels like we are in one already.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.