Making Intolerance and the Intolerant Intolerable
by Dr. Gary Stamper
Yes, I know…The subtitle of this article is a paradox. But since I am supposedly capable of holding multiple perspectives at the same time, I’m perfectly fine with it, especially for the purposes of this article
The Shadow In America: Reclaiming the Soul of a Nation, was first published in 1994. Compiled by Jeremiah Abrams with a foreword by Thomas Moore, and with contributions by Abrams, Jacquelyn Small, Aaron Kipnis, Robert Bly, and others, it presented an optimistic view of the firm ground needed to strip away the darkness that hides our country’s soul: racism.
Twenty-plus years later that optimistic view and the dream of unity has been stripped away and has been replaced by the original sin of “separation,” the polar opposite views of American Exceptionalism, increasing intolerance against anyone deemed an “other,” not like us, and fear of “those people.” When did we become such cowards?
It’s easy to blame the racist rants of leaders who loudly denigrate the “others, but if leaders weren’t supported by a large number of people, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. A leader and a large number of people and their shadow/hatred/fear of the “other”- spurred on by the silence of those may not agree but are afraid to speak up - encourage their hatred to feed upon one another.
Is America standing on the precipice of a new civil war, or are we witnessing the death throes of the hatred-based systems of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis?
In 2014, America’s Southern Poverty Center said the number of hate groups in the U.S. was up from 602 in 2000, to more than 930 at the end of 2014.
Today the SPLC tracks more than 1600 extremist groups in the country.
And while a NBC Political Unit Poll on August 21st - taken a week after his first speech on Charlottesville - showed President Donald Trump’s overall poll numbers were slipping again, what was particularly disturbing in the state-by-state polls was the percentage of Americans who approved of his job rating, ranging from 25 to 56 percent.
One cannot help but remember the words, spoken by Joseph Nye Welch to Senator Joe McCarthy in 1954 as we look today at a president who offered support to the abominable free speech rhetoric to those who were again inciting violence and urging extinction to Jews, including his Jewish son-in-law and his daughter who became Jewish upon their marriage:
"Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
Trump was saying - not once, but twice – that both sides were to blame for the violence that led a white nationalist to plow his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing Heather Heyer, and the poll numbers are even more disturbing: While 55 percent of voters disapproved of Trump's response, an astonishing 34 percent of those voters approved of Trump’s response.
What can we extrapolate from the 34 percent approval rating of his statement?
It is not a stretch to assume that 34% - or one-third - of voters are, at some level, sympathetic to the white supremacist/neo-Nazi/white nationalist position. Could it be true, that in the 21st Century, one-third of voting adults in the U.S. essentially support white supremacy?
Linguist George Lakoff places those who believe in white power and racial superiority at 35 percent of the country. In other words, the moral universe where male-led white supremacy thrives is rooted in a sobering significant portion of the country.
According to an article on the website AlterNet titled The Spread of White Nationalism Is Taking Our Nation into Uncharted and Dangerous Territory (link), it may take three or more decades for American demographics to change (when non-whites become a majority) to surmount this latest eruption of white supremacy. In the meantime, with one-third of our country eager to enter those unchartered and dangerous waters, with permission and encourasgement from the President of the United States, no less, we are witnessing an unraveling, and it’s only beginning.
A deeper look into these demographics of racism and authoritarianism reveal how a global rise in authoritarian leadership is all too eager to promote fear of “the other” to their racist bases. Authoritarian leaders, who may or may not be racist themselves, use their racist base as one more tool to take more and more control.
I’m not naive enough to think that it’s possible to completely stamp out hatred and racial intolerance, any more than it’s possible to stamp out authoritarianism, but if the majority of us want to live in a better world, then we have no choice but to make intolerance intolerable, and we need to start now… and that includes the indigenous genocide over the founding of this country.
…and the only way to do that is to show up at the polls, and start winning elections.
But first, we have to care.
But first, we have to care.
(Now, about that paradox…just one more variation of yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater: You can think it, but you can’t say it, a conservative’s politically-correct nightmare.)