Combating Hate

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner / Steady
Combating Hate Dan Rather (Hon.’83) speaking at Boston University November 19, 2019. (photo: BU Today)

Antisemitisim. Racism. Homophobia. Misogyny. Bigotry. The demonization of immigrants.

That these forces are ascendant is newsworthy. And it is vital they are considered thus. That these forces exist, however, is not news. Neither is the fact that they are being stoked, winked at, and normalized by the previous president. And neither is how most of the Republican Party leadership is silent, supportive, or insufficiently disapproving.

To say all this is not a political criticism. It is about confronting a grave threat to our nation and the world. Politics should be about a competition for ideas that fall within the realm of civilized discourse. What these people are peddling is not policy, but prejudice.

Repeating these sentiments should not diminish the importance of the message. The need for us all to confront this with the frequency that we are is evidence of the salience of the mission. And let’s be clear: It is of extra importance for those not directly targeted to speak the loudest. Silence is complicity. To speak softly is cowardice.

The latest outrage swirls around an occasion at Mar-a-Lago in which the former president dined with avowed antisemites. But we do a disservice to history and the dangers we face by bundling recriminations under the banners of combatting “MAGA” or “Trumpism.” The former president may have built his political power by tapping into a well of hate, but the reservoir was already there. Others are eager to draw from its waters as well.

Discrimination, often enforced with violence, has been a hallmark of our country since its founding. White supremacy is embedded in our Constitution. And the biases and bigotries of the American electorate have shaped some of our national narrative ever since.

To be sure, there is a powerful counter-narrative. It begins with the noble words of our founding documents, which laid out a vision of equality and justice unimaginable at the time of their writing. Over the centuries, countless activists and dreamers have leaned on the courage of their convictions to wrest the nation toward a path of greater inclusion and enlightenment. Most who signed up for service in this army of conscience are not famous, but we are lucky to live in a world made better by their mettle. They have helped to make the nation better and now keep hopes alive that it can and will be getting better, a lot better, still.

We have undoubtedly made progress, but the undercurrents of hatred have never been fully expunged. It takes very little for them to resurge. Far more energy and commitment are required in combating them than in fomenting them.

We should find hope in the journey our nation has taken before. The bigotry we are now decrying was once largely accepted political discourse, in both parties. This is not ancient history. Many of us were of memory age when antisemitic, homophobic, and racist statements were spoken without a second thought. Our country was a weaker place because of it. Our struggle now is to be vigilant in making sure we do not return to that darkness.

We know we have shared these sentiments in this space before. And we know we will almost assuredly have ample reason to do so again. That is the reality. And that is all the more reason this needs to be said. By all of us. Often.

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