(author’s note: I originally wrote this a couple of weeks ago but did not get around to posting it until now. Obviously some stuff has happened in the meantime so I’ve added post-election thoughts at the end.)
During a recent episode of The Splattercast (#483), my friends Mat and Rachel accused me of hating Hillary Clinton. I denied this in the strongest possible terms and even expressed that I was offended by the charge. I do not hate Hillary Clinton nor anybody else. I view “hatred” in a certain way, that I think must be different from the way Mat and Rachel view it. Bless their hearts, Mat and Rachel are card-carrying liberals and in that sphere I think the word “hate” is used quite, well, liberally. “Hate” is now commonly used to describe any disapproval of any given thing.
I’m certain I’m guilty of throwing the word around too casually, especially while riffing on the podcast. For example, I might say something like “I hate pineapple on pizza!” Perhaps I should choose a different word there so as not to diminish what “hatred” really is. For me, and this is informed by my religious and moral beliefs, hatred is a very serious thing. It is unacceptable for me to hold hatred in my heart for anyone. I can absolutely vehemently disagree with someone, such as Hillary Clinton, and I can criticize them harshly. But that is distinct from hating them. If I examined myself and concluded that I was feeling hatred for anyone, I would need to expunge that hatred from my heart.
On the bright side, being so charged has helped me tie together a few disparate thoughts that I’ve wanted to write about for a little while now.
I’ve come to believe that empathy is the most important thing you can bring into a debate, aside from whatever empirical facts and figures are germane to the discussion, of course. An ability to empathize is more important than a quick wit or a large vocabulary. I think that if you make a concerted effort to understand where your opponent is coming from and begin each interaction by assuming that your opponent is arguing in good faith, you will be distinctly advantaged over them if they are not assuming the same of you.
This is because you will be positioned closer to the objective truth of the situation (that is: most of us, on all sides, really do mean well) and arguments based on truth will be stronger than those based on falsehoods. If some portion of your opponent’s argument is based on their assumption that you are motivated by, for example, hatred or racism when you in fact are not, their arguments will not hold up. If your argument, conversely, is based on a fair interpretation of your opponent’s position and a willingness to understand their reasoning, it will be stronger.
To be clear, I’m lauding empathy here, not naiveté. Don’t be a rube. Don’t be willfully duped if someone does indeed give you cause to revoke that initial assumption of good faith. But I am saying, start the interaction by assuming that your opponent has arrived at their position, whatever the topic, based on their honest evaluation of the merits of the issue through the lens of their beliefs and values, and not simply because they are a hateful person who wants to hurt others.
It’s been proposed to me that if someone accuses me of being a racist (or a sexist or a bigot, etc) I should accept that I am a racist because my accuser probably has standing to make that assessment whereas I do not, by virtue of the privileges into which I was born. I shouldn’t try to argue with them about how I’m not actually a racist, but should instead take the opportunity to meditate on my racism and look for ways to get less racist.
But here’s the thing: We don’t interact with other people for no reason. We don’t have to. Sure, you might casually say “good morning” to a stranger on the street out of simple politeness but your more meaningful interactions will be based on some sort of mutual exchange. When interacting with family or friends, you’re exchanging love and affection. When interacting with people at your job, you’re exchanging your work for compensation, and so on.
In the case of a person who wants to tell you that you are a racist, it seems that they wish to control both sides of the exchange. They want to deposit their judgment and withdraw your penance. If, however, you are not a racist then you will have no penance to give. This means their judgment feels much more like an unfair assault than a well-intentioned attempt to educate, and people are not inclined to hang around with other people who treat them unfairly. This is unfortunate because I believe we all benefit when we are able to have positive relationships with people of differing points of view. It makes us into more complete humans. We need to be able to interact with people who feel differently on important issues without being miserable to each other about it.
Racism Is Now A Meaningless Charge
Ditto hatred, sexism, bigotry, take-your-pick-ophobia.
The broader context for the original “you hate Hillary Clinton” discussion was in relation to the current presidential race, which is pretty much a dumpster fire. I’m incredibly disillusioned. I’m a conservative with some libertarian tendencies so generally I’ll end up voting for Republicans but I may not even vote at all this time around. I dunno.
But enough about my existential despair.
To my friends who are more aligned with the Democratic party politically, you guys were always going to call the Republican candidate a racist, whether it was Donald Trump or Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or anyone else. Those on the Republican side understand that this is always the case, so the charge is meaningless to us. It has been for a long time. Honest disagreement is “hatred,” honest disagreement is “bigotry,” and on and on. It’s not true and we’re over it.
Look at someone like Mitt Romney. Sure, he lost the 2012 election fair and square, I don’t have any issue with that. In terms of personal character, though, you won’t find a more decent person than Mitt Romney. But even he was accused of all the standard garbage: Racist, sexist, bigoted, etc. If you’re willing to say that about Mitt Romney, you’ve either been misled or you’re trying to mislead others. I’m not saying that it’s not an effective tactic for influencing undecided voters. It probably is. Congratulations on being able to steer the minds of the uninformed by telling vicious lies. Really guys, cheers.
Part of what Donald Trump is, what the whole “Donald Trump Thing” is, is a response to the type of treatment that Romney-style, McCain-style candidates have received and the type of electoral performances they have delivered (i.e. they lose). If character doesn’t matter, then why not spin the wheel on someone who’s going to push back for once? If you’re going to lose, there’s some appeal to doing so with your chin stuck out.
Welp. I did not see that coming.
It’s “the day after” as I write this last bit and I know emotions are raw. I do not mean to pile on to people who are hurting but I think the gobsmacked reactions I’m seeing on social media today sync right up with what I’ve described throughout this piece. Many people seem to be having an extremely difficult time even considering the possibility that anyone could have opposed Hillary Clinton in good faith for substantive reasons other than sexism/racism/hatred.
If that’s where your head is at, I implore you to get over that mental hurdle. You are situated away from the truth and it makes your arguments weak. Certainly, take some time to decompress and vent. Take as long as you need. But come back and consider alternate explanations for what happened in this election.
Here are a few pieces I’ve read today that I think are well worth your time. I’m sorry if any of these headlines are abrasive to you, e.g. “Democrats have themselves to blame” and whatnot. These are not gloating pieces.
Jack Mitchell (local Lincoln, NE radio host) on Facebook (read this one if nothing else)