By Ed Gross
Here’s the conundrum I’ve been struggling with for years now: I believe right-wingers hate left-wingers like me. But if I hate them in return, wouldn’t it mean I’m no better than they are? To begin with, as a Humanist, I work hard to see the worth and to respect the dignity of every human being. My personal philosophy, therefore, is simply opposed to hating “the other.” Nonetheless, I have to recognize now that I do indeed hate. It’s a sad admission, but necessary and true.
This forces me to confront the question of whether there is ever a justification for hate. Here, I don’t mean hating a policy, idea, or occurrence. No, the question is whether it is ever morally or ethically acceptable to hate another human being. Granted, the victim of a violent or truly despicable act can be forgiven for hating the perpetrator. But what I’m focused on is my long-held belief that it’s unacceptable and even destructive to hate people whose politics you oppose. I suspect that many of you, my fellow Ethical Culturists, feel the same. And that’s why I want to discuss an exception.
It would hurt me more than it would hurt them
To be clear, I still don’t believe it’s ethical to hate someone because they advocate or even enact policies of which I disapprove, including policies I believe will do great harm. People who work against saving the Earth from climate change or make it harder to vote or take away women’s bodily autonomy make me extremely angry. I hate what they stand for, but I understand that they see the world differently. It would hurt me more than it would hurt them to let that anger turn to hate. As impossible as it may be for me to attribute ethics to their opinions, I must at least accept their right to hold them. There is, however, an exception that is obvious, and yet I’ve spent the last seven years unable to pin it down and address it by its right name. That name is evil.
Worse than bad or awful or some other ill-defined descriptor, evil can be understood to apply to a person who acts in such a way as to do serious violence—usually physical but also mental—to another or others without considering the humanity of the other or the consequences of their own actions.
Violent, racist, and anti-woman rantings
The seven-year timeframe I mentioned above is, of course, short. After all, evil has been perpetrated in this country since the early days of the slave trade. Members of the Ku Klux Klan with their cross burnings and lynchings provide just one of many more recent examples. But seven years ago is when Donald Trump entered politics and injected his violent, racist, and anti-woman rantings into our news and our public discourse, where it could reach the most susceptible people and do the most damage.
Why then, I ask you, have I never seen a newspaper or magazine article or heard a cable news talker label Trump as evil? I myself wrote a post about his rantings and machinations every day for more than three years and I never used the word evil, either. Yet, how else should we describe a man who as president stoked anger, incited violence, and expressed despicable and disgusting opinions about every minority group and just about anyone who so much as annoyed him?
Misleaders and misinformers
I allow myself to hate Donald Trump because he is evil. In fact, he is the grinning face of the worst, most virulent strain within American history. Furthermore, to be completely honest, it’s not just him. I also feel justified in hating his collaborators and messengers. Among them are Fox News personalities, rightwing talk-radio hosts, and election deniers in the Senate as well as the entire chaos caucus in the House. By promoting Trump and his hateful messages, they also fit within my exception. I hate them because they are not the misled and misinformed. They, damn them, are the misleaders and misinformers. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are evil incarnate like Trump. What matters is that the damage they are willfully doing to our country, to the survivability of our planet, and to the prospects for peace and civil society defines them as evil.
I used to believe Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he proclaimed that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. I’m not so sure now. Here in the United States, we have our work cut out for us to make that happen. I’m now convinced that work must include recognizing and naming evil when we see it. Otherwise, our politics and much of our populace will continue to bend the other way.
Ed Gross is a longtime member of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.