How do we learn to hate? I don’t mean difficult neighbors or jerky celebrities. How do we learn to hate whole groups of people about whom we know little?
Hatred of the “other”, people who are not like us, has been a constant in human societies since before the Bible was written. Group hatred was the fundamental cause of the genocides which characterized the 20th century, from beginning (mass killing of Herero people in southwestern Africa by the German Army in 1904-07) to end (Serbian mass murder of Muslims in Bosnia 1992-5). In the US we are still dealing with the mass hatreds against natives and blacks which have stained and bloodied our history.
It’s trite, but true to say that babies don’t hate. Children happily play with other children of different races and religions until they are told that it’s wrong. To hate specific groups of people, humans must be taught hatred.
In 21st-century America, mass hatred focuses on three groups: blacks, gays, and Muslims. The ancient hatred of Jews, which was still played out in social exclusion when I was young, has nearly disappeared in the Western world. It took the murder of more than one-third of the world’s Jews to make Christians realize the effects of centuries of Jew-hatred propounded as official religious doctrine. Now the fact that Bernie Sanders is Jewish hardly figures in discussions of his campaign for President.
The hatred of black descendants of African slaves brought to the New World has been much more central to American history. Long after slavery ended, Americans in every state organized to promote hatred of blacks. Recent research by historian John Kneebone of Virginia Commonwealth University has widened our understanding of the primary promoter of race hatred, the Ku Klux Klan. Between the world wars, over 2000 local “klaverns” were organized in every state, including one in Jacksonville. In Indiana in the 1920s, about one-third of white native-born men were Klan members. The KKK was not run by ignorant hicks, but included men prominent in their communities and in politics. Klan preachings of race hatred were reflected in movies, books, newspapers and educational curricula.
Klan membership died out by 1940, as the organizations disbanded. The influence of their messages of hate lived long afterwards. Americans like me who grew up in the postwar years, meaning the people who have held, now hold, and will continue to hold power in this country, were raised with messages of anti-black hatred ringing in our ears. Local laws, police practices, judicial decisions, and social customs reflected the widespread acceptance of the traditions of American racism well into the 1960s. Then it gradually became a social error to openly espouse hatred for African Americans, for the first time in American history. Lee Atwater, the long-time Republican strategist, revealed how Republicans continued to use racism as a political motivation in the more genteel post-civil rights era.
The Pandora’s box of racial hatred was still open, when the election of Barack Obama suddenly lent partisan cover to the recycling of traditional racism.
When I was young, I didn’t know that so many people hated homosexuals. Nobody talked about homosexuality, except to voice popular taunts about effeminate men. Open public discussion about gay sexuality, and a slightly disguised public hatred of gay people, has become a feature of our public life since the 1970s.
But long before, a crusade to teach hatred of homosexuals had been pursued by our government. Beginning in 1937, the FBI organized a systematic campaign to identify gay people, compile “intelligence” about their activities, broadcast this information across government, inject it into the public domain, and get their targets fired from their jobs.
Gay marriage is hardly one of the pressing issues facing our nation today. Yet the Republicans have made their anti-gay position into one of the basic pillars of Party ideology. You can find Republicans who urge the Party to tolerate (that’s the best they offer) the acceptance of homosexuality, but you can’t vote for them.
Today’s Republicans compete with each other to see who can tap into and nurture a popular political fear of radical Islam. They have no scruples about fomenting a more general hatred of all Muslims as a tool to their own political power.
They have joined the international chorus popularizing hate. The American wing of PEGIDA, the Islamophobic fascist movement in Germany, tweeted happily last year, “Donald Trump doubles down on his stand AGAINST TAKING IN MORE SYRIAN MUSLIMS”. They loved Ted Cruz (“Ted Cruz !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”) when he suggested killing the Ayatollah if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon.
PEGIDA Iceland loves Trump and PEGIDA Ireland loves Cruz. The only Republicans who mention PEGIDA are media stars, who wholeheartedly approve. They don’t recognize racism when it comes right of their mouths, as Gov. Paul LePage of Maine demonstrated the other day.
Hatred and anger are powerful political emotions. Republican candidates believe they can employ the politics of hate to win elections and then later control the hatred they encourage. Meanwhile they teach their supporters that social hatred is good for America. Those lessons take a long time to unlearn.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, January 12, 2016