Today, let me praise President Donald Trump for his statement following the shooting in Alexandria. The president said: “We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country … [W]e are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”
When I read this I closed my eyes, and for a moment I could imagine living in a country where there is respect for unity and our common humanity despite all our differences.
But I don’t live there. None of us do.
This is a country where a white nationalist went into a church to kill peaceful churchgoers for the crime of being Black in America, where an ideological extremist killed 50 people at an LGBT nightclub, and where, on Wednesday, a man filled with hate for the president opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.
There’s a concept called “monstering,” which is all about the process of warping the perception of someone on the other side of a political, cultural, or social divide from a human with different opinions, beliefs, background, or life experience into something alien, amoral, inhuman, and monstrous. A good example of this is the bizarre conspiracy theory that suggested top Democrats were running a pedophilia ring out of a pizza shop in Washington. That also ended with an angry man with a gun.
It’s easy to see this happening — just look on Facebook, listen to right-wing radio, or read any comments section. If liberals are godless baby-killing Communists, conservatives are racists who hate the poor, and moderates are squishy-headed spineless sheep, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for humanity, much less unity.
This kind of thinking is driving us to the edge of the cliff.
We can debate with humans, and try to either live with them or get them to compromise or alter their views. But there can be no compromise with monsters. Monsters are enemies instead of countrymen, and whatever is done to push them down is morally acceptable.
People who are made into monsters are therefore also made into targets. I’m a member of the LGBT community: believe me, I know how this goes.
We got here little by little over the course of decades, and we’ve become numb to it. Extremism and dehumanization has gotten slowly worse, year by year, until attacks and language and rhetoric that would have been unthinkable a decade ago now seem routine and unremarkable.
That we all exist in such different, often mutually-exclusive spheres makes this vicious circle easier. If we never talk to one another, if we’re segregated in real life and online from people of different races, backgrounds, beliefs, and political views, it’s too easy to stop thinking of them as real people.
So now it’s easy to play to the base, to unrelentingly attack the other side. It’s easy to rant online, to amplify the most extreme voices, and to join the angry mob. That’s what drives outrage and passion, and that’s what drives clicks, money, and votes.
This is the world we made, that we allowed to happen.
In Washington, shaken members of Congress came together to denounce hate, and the congressional baseball game went on as planned.
It won’t last, though. You know it won’t. We remember here in Connecticut how the shock over an unspeakable tragedy in Newtown faded while Congress did nothing. It’s easier to go back to the old fights instead of trying to change. Case in point: the president’s statement about unity was good to hear, but now he’s back to ranting on Twitter about the Russia investigation while people both left and right try to score political points off of tragedy.
We can’t trust the loud voices to stop any of this, we can only do what we can. So here’s my advice: be angry, be passionate, and fight for what you believe in — but also find a piece of your heart that you can open to other people. It’s not an easy thing to do. But the alternative is to let ourselves get lost in our anger and hurt … and that doesn’t lead us anywhere we want to be.
It’s such a small thing, but it’s all I have to offer. I don’t know where this is all going. I don’t know if we can really step back from the cliff, or if we’re already falling, falling, falling toward the rocks below.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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