Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Ferocious Madness of Hate

When President Obama was elected, I was prouder of my country than I have ever been. I dared to think that Americans had finally grown up and turned a corner on the poisonous hate of racism – and, in truth, half the electorate has. But too many of our citizens made a U-turn back into racist muck.

The hate-mongering began during the presidential campaign. Who can ever forget the McCain/Palin rally where Palin was trying to whip the crowd into a frenzy by demonizing Obama as a terrorist. She succeeded. “Kill him,” a member of the crowd shouted.

Since President Obama took office, racism has continued steaming up like swamp gas from every Republican/Tea Party/right-wing fundamentalist rabble-rousing orifice. So pervasive is the hate-Obama campaign that the entire Republican contingent in Congress turned its back on this nation and set a seditious agenda to bring down Obama’s Presidency by obstructing, blockading, stalling, misrepresenting, lying and saying “No” to whatever this administration wanted to accomplish.

Anyone who has studied history recognizes the bullying scenario: Appeal to the most primitive human fear—fear of the “Other.” Demonize Obama into a fearsome “other”—someone unlike “us.” Enlist a propaganda agency—in this case, the misnamed Fox News—and a few willing hate-mongers who command large audiences to spread the word. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin slide neatly into those slots. Then spread lies about Obama designed to scare people to death. So the lies proliferate about Obama’s birth, his citizenship, his political philosophy, and his religion. In February 2009, Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing tabloid, the New York Post, published a racist cartoon that depicted Obama as a chimpanzee being shot by cops. More recently, Tea Party signs depict him as Hitler and Lenin.

In September 2009, the Rev. Steven L. Anderson of Tempe, Arizona, preached a sermon he titled, “Why I Hate Barack Obama.” During the sermon, Anderson said, “When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell,” So much for the reverend’s Christian love and peace.

Also in September 2009, during Obama’s address to Congress about health care, South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson shouted, "You lie!" Afterwards, former President Jimmy Carter said Wilson’s disrespectful outburst was "based on racism" and ran "deeper" than mere policy opposition. "There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president," Carter said.

It’s ugly. More than ugly, there’s madness afoot. As we near the November elections, the exhortations to hate are becoming more frenzied, more dangerous. The most recent ploy is to gain a “twofer”—whip the crowd into anti-Muslim hate and propagandize Obama, a devout Christian, as a Muslim. The trigger for this propaganda is the proposed mosque two blocks from “Ground Zero,” site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centers in New York City. Protests and heated opposition seared by hate and fear have dominated the airways. Incredibly only a few politicians or either party have stepped forward to defend our country’s separation of church and state. Have they all been bought?

The most eloquent statement came from New York City’s Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Aug. 3, 2010: “Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question – should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another. . . . We would betray our values – and play into our enemies' hands – if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists – and we should not stand for that. For that reason, I believe that this is . . . as important a test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime – and it is critically important that we get it right.”

The only other prominent Republican to come forward and defend our precious Bill of Rights was Congressman Ron Paul of Texas: “The fact that so much attention has been given the mosque debate, raises the question of just why and driven by whom? . . . In my opinion it has come from the neo-conservatives who demand continual war in the Middle East and Central Asia and are compelled to constantly justify it.

They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill conceived preventative wars.”

Not surprisingly, some Republicans are now trying to paint Congressman Paul as a left-wing ally of Democrats.

Where are other voices speaking out against the madness of hate? Where are Republicans who should know better? Where are Senators Olympia Snowe Susan Collins? Where are the Democrats -- Senators Barbara Boxer, Russ Feingold, John Kerry and Sherrod Brown? Not even Minnesota Senator Al Franken has raised his voice. Why haven’t they rushed to defend the 1st Amendment to our precious Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, speech, the press, peaceful assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Does anybody believe in democracy anymore? Did anybody, going back to the founders, ever believe in it? Since the Nixon and Reagan administrations, and accelerated by the Bush/Cheney administration, we have seen our Bill of Rights shredded and the “freedoms” our politicians talk about so piously, curtailed. Al Qaeda can see it, too. We are ripe for the picking. Money has replaced democracy.

Meanwhile, the bloviators haven’t hesitated to spew their racist venom. Hate-rouser-in-chief, Rush Limbaugh, referred to President Obama as “Imam Obana,” and added he’s “the best anti-American President the country’s ever had.”

The campaign of lies is taking hold. According to an August 2010 Pew Research poll, nearly one in five Americans (18 percent) say Obama is a Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. Roughly one-third (34 percent) of right-wing Republicans say Obama is a Muslim.

The hate madness is dangerous—not only to the President but to our country. One of the extremist Republican Tea Party politicians, Sharron Angle, senate candidate in Nevada, issued a call to armed rebellion. During a radio interview on June 16, 2010, she said, “ I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who's in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical... it's to defend ourselves. And you know, I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies.”

In case anyone has forgotten, our Supreme Court interpreted the second Amendment to mean that individuals have the right to carry guns. We saw footage of men toting guns among groups protesting President Obama’s speeches in Phoenix, Arizona, and New Hampshire. In the state of Virginia, the General Assembly voted to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns in restaurants that serve alcohol as long as the pistol-packing daddies and mamas don’t drink. Good Luck! Frankly, I will avoid Virginia restaurants. I don’t want food seasoned with bullets.

Step-by-deliberate-orchestrated step, the fanatics, the crazies, the hate-baiters are setting up the United States to become a fascist state. So far, the campaign of the corporatists is spreading, persuading tens of thousands of gullible Americans to give up their liberties for “protection” from those “others” who are to blame for our woes. Don’t underestimate the awful power of hate pitting tribe against tribe, religion against religion. When reason is abandoned and hate fueled by fervor, the consequences are genocidal.

History is replete with awful examples: From 1885 to 1908, King Leopold II of Belgium conducted a reign of terror in Congo Free State. Depending on whose estimate you accept, between eight and 10 million Africans were whipped, raped, tortured, shot or worked to death as slaves. Leopold ruled the Congo as his private fiefdom to extract rubber and ivory.

Between 1915 and 1923, the Muslim Ottoman Turk empire systematically slaughtered some 1.5 million Christian Armenians. During World War II, German Christians embracing Hitler’s Nazi racism slaughtered more than 20 million human beings, including 6 million European Jews, some 10 million Slavs, and millions of Poles, Czechs, French, Dutch, Slovenes and others. From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians. The 1990s saw rampaging Hutu extremists slaughter some 800,000 people in Rwanda. The Hutu blamed the Tutsi minority for the country’s increasing social, economic, and political pressure. Sound familiar?

Then there are the murderous policies that lasted for decades: the USSR’s murder of about 41 million citizens from 1917 to 1987; the Chinese government’s slaughter of about 35 million of its citizens from 1949 to 1987; and what the Religious website calls the “longest lasting genocidal campaign in human history”—the systematic extermination of Native Americans that began with the arrival of Columbus in San Salvador in 1492 and continued as Europeans invaded North America. In the early 18th century, the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey promoted genocide of local Native Americans by imposing a “scalp bounty” on dead Indians. This bounty continued into the 19th century until ended by the public. George Washington compared Indians to wolves, “beasts of prey,” and called for their total destruction.

History is clear: No religion, no ethnic group, no country is immune from hate. We’re all terrorists. It’s what makes us equal.

Hate spreads like a lethal virus unless citizens and politicians assert their better selves, call on our compassion and use our reason to see through the lies and resist the fear and hate manipulators. We do not have to spend our short lifespan killing each other. Our evolutionary history shows we would not have survived without using our nurturing, cooperative capacities. These are the traits that make us truly human—traits we desperately need to summon and exercise. It’s well to remember that no other animal treats members of its species with such murderous ferocity as humans.

In her brilliant book, Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy warns: “To all the reasons people might have to worry about the future of our species—including the usual depressing litany of nuclear proliferation, global warming, emerging infectious diseases, or crashing meteorites—add one more having to do with just what sort of species our descendants millennia hence might belong to. If empathy and understanding develop only under particular rearing conditions, and if an ever-increasing proportion of the species fails to encounter those conditions but nevertheless survives to reproduce, it won’t matter how valuable the underpinnings for collaboration were in the past. Compassion and the quest for emotional connection will fade away as surely as sight in cave-dwelling fish.”

If the United States goes down in the current environment of fanaticism, ignorance and madness, it will not be due to Al Qaeda, or illegal immigrants, or any religion, or any outside power; it will be because Americans turned on each other, destroying the great promise and hope of our country with hate.