Writing for the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, Rochelle Riley urged voters to vote against “hate” when they headed to the polls for Tuesday’s midterm election. “Know that you’re either voting for hate — or against it,” she wrote.
But how does one know whether they’re voting for or against hate?
Is to vote against hate to vote against the party of President Donald Trump, who as a candidate in 2016 told his audience at a campaign rally that he would pay the legal fees of anyone who engaged in violence against protestors, who refused to condemn white supremacists in the wake of a deadly attack at a protest in South Carolina, and who as recently as last month praised U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter last year?
Or is to vote against hate to vote against the party of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who encouraged her supporters to harass supporters of Trump when they show up in restaurants and other public places? The party of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who said last month that “if there’s some collateral damage for some others who do not share our views, well, so be it”?
By the time this newspaper reaches many of its readers, the polls will have closed on the most expensive, perhaps most contentious, mid-term election in our nation’s history. The votes will have been tallied, winners declared, and we’ll know which party will control Congress for the next two years. Democrats will cheer or Republicans will sneer, depending on the outcome, but one thing seems certain: regardless of the party that wins, hatred is winning.
Riley, obviously, was expressing her view that her readers should vote Democrat in Tuesday’s election. Though she wrote that this election isn’t about party but a referendum on Trump and people who think like he does, she presented a list of Republicans — ranging from Michigan candidates to recently-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — as evidence of people who support what she termed the president’s “white nationalist” agenda.
But political hatred doesn’t seem to be bound by political party. As our nation experiences social unrest unlike it has seen since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, blame for the strife is plentiful enough to spread evenly between conservatives and liberals. We see it on display when a white supremacist drives his vehicle into a crowd of protesters and when a progressive activist shoots up a congressional baseball game that was organized for charity. We see it when a conservative Trump supporter mails crude, homemade pipe bombs to the president’s political opponents and when liberal antifa protestors attack police with explosives and bricks at a pro-Trump rally. We’ve seen it at the synagogues, like the one in Pittsburgh where an anti-semite went on a murderous rampage, and on the campuses of America’s elite universities, like Middlebury, where a professor wound up in a neck brace at the hands of rioting students after she attempted to defend a conservative student’s right to speak.
Words matter. Rhetoric has consequences. Ultimately, those responsible for political violence are the extremists and lunatics who are picking up the guns, the bricks, the explosives and actually carrying out their acts of hatred. But as Daniel S. Morgan wrote for The Hill on Sunday, “If violence is the common thread to deal with polarization and lack of trust in American institutions, then leadership must be the way to repair this unraveling.” Leadership starts at the top — with the President of the United States.
If leadership means defusing the situation rather than fanning the flames of social strife, then Trump isn’t exhibiting good leadership.
But the responsibility of leadership doesn’t stop with the White House. Hillary Clinton is America’s former first lady, head of state and a candidate for the presidency who has played her part in the deepening crisis, recently declaring that Republicans aren’t deserving of civility.
As Morgan wrote, all three branches of government and the media have contributed to the current state of affairs — and the comments of Waters and Pelosi are certainly proof that Congress, including its members who are so quick to criticize the president’s rhetoric, are far from blameless. As for the media, let’s not forget that as Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., fought for his life in a hospital bed after that attack on the congressional baseball game, MSNBC host Joy Reid called the attempted assassination a “delicate thing,” because of Scalise’s conservative views, including his opposition to gay marriage. “Are we required in a moral sense to put that aside in the moment?”
It’s sad that we’ve come to this in the United States of America. Hatred for one another based on political viewpoints has become the norm, and associated politically-themed violence is increasingly becoming the same. For the first time in my adult life, I wonder whether America is headed for civil war. It’ll be a different kind of warfare than what we learned of “the” Civil War in our middle school and high school history classes, but it seems that the battle lines are being clearly drawn.
Rochelle Riley is right, of course: it’s time to vote against hate. Unless the America we’re becoming is the America we want for our children, we must. But it isn’t as simple as voting for one party and against the other. If we were truly to vote against hate, we’d have to vote against both parties and start over. Then we’d have to retool America’s mainstream media, which has become less about informing than advocating and has in the process cast itself as a propaganda tool in this crisis.
And then we would have to take a good, long look in the mirror. Because if we’re being honest, in this hate-fueled political war being fueled by our leaders in Washington and our mainstream media, there seems to be no shortage of foot-soldiers.