[While working on editing my next Rita book, I find this among my journal entries.]
Sunday, August 13, 2017
5:50 a.m. Well, the extremists got what they wanted in Charlottesville yesterday. Apparently, cadres within both sides wanted violence that could be blamed exclusively on the other side. And, as I said, they got what they wanted, and now we wait for the next provocation.
Isn’t it interesting how the people who push for confrontation never consider that perhaps they would lose an all-out conflict? What was the Civil War but the final settlement of an ongoing series of provocations and outrages that dated back at least to the 1830s? The slavers never considered that they might lose, but they did. The right wing today never considers that it might lose. It has the government, what it thinks is a majority of the people, and what it thinks is right on its side – just as the slavers did in the 1850s.
The left doesn’t have the government, but it has certainty of being right, and many within it are so intransigent that they want confrontation in order to – they think – make right prevail. Have any of them even heard of Weimar Germany? Do any of them consider that the fear they evoke is fueling the right-wing fanaticism quite as much as any talk-radio moron? No. They know they’re right, so they are immune to any suspicion that they may be also wrong.
I think historians will trace all this to the election of 1964, when people who were still reacting emotionally to the murder of John F. Kennedy voted for Lyndon Johnson. He, thinking he was Franklin Roosevelt, rammed Great Society legislation through his temporarily acquiescent Congress, and suddenly we got a glut of new federal programs that changed everything. Naturally it would take time to digest all this; naturally it would create backlash. The 1966 Congressional elections were a massive reversal of the 1964 mandate for change At the same time we got another war by fiat and indirection (the Gulf of Tonkin incident) which added its own confusion. (The right believed that in wartime, you supported the government; the left believed that it was wrong to support the war). In 1968 – after Robert Kennedy’s murder – a combination of George Wallace and Richard Nixon edged the Democrats out of the presidency.
The result was an intensification of the war between cultures that has poisoned our national life for more than 50 years so far.
What the right-wing and left-wing extremists have in common:
- They don’t think of themselves as being extreme. They think they are protecting the United States from those who would destroy our culture and values.
- They think that in any clash of extremes, they would “obviously” win, because they “obviously” represent the majority.
- They think their own values are being subverted deliberately by one or more conspiracies, and it never occurs to them that their own actions (including their words) may be fueling the fire.
- They feel justified in provoking violence if need be, to “wake people up.”
- They have no tolerance for other viewpoints, and little or no respect for other people’s right to express it. The left thinks it has the right to tell others how to speak (political correctness). The right does too, typically by engaging in violence against those who are too articulate or too prominent. (Someone should compile a list of social commentators who have been murdered by right-wing fanatics.)
- Somehow people can’t understand that fear breeds hatred, and hatred breeds counter-fear and counter-hatred, and the wheel ratchets upward, or rather, downward.
Oh, my country!
The odd thing is that Martin Luther King knew all this, and not only knew it, but helped organize an entire movement around the principle of non-violence. Had the Civil Rights protestors of the 1950s and early 1960s been violent, they would have been repressed by the forces of government at all levels, not merely at local and state levels as they were in the South. Instead, their non-violent examples aroused the conscience of the North and of many in the South, and, helped them carry the day. Kennedy’s wonderful TV speeches explained the moral heart of the issue in a way that would have been impossible if violence had been used by demonstrators as well as their official and unofficial opponents.
Non-violence worked! And as soon as it began to work, other more militant voices abandoned it.
Stokely Carmichael and others I can’t remember now thought non-violence was a manifestation of the Uncle Tom mentality. They intended to force change. Of course, what they did was to call forth a reaction that undercut the forces of reconciliation within the white community. Once Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were killed, where were the effective voices of reason and reconciliation? Where were those who appealed to hope and to our better nature, rather than to fear and our instinct to repress whatever opposed our values?
I have a friend who used to join antiwar protests until one day she realized that the emotional tone of the antiwar demonstrators was exactly the same as what they thought they were protesting. As somebody said, “I won’t attend an anti-war rally, but if you ever have a pro-peace rally, call me and I’ll be there.” Until people see the difference between acting from fear and acting from hope, between thinking they can combat hatred by opposing to it their own hatred, things will only get worse. What else could happen?
The way to pacify a situation is not to give in to hatred but to demonstrate that you have heard and understood the reasons for it. Demonizing does nothing but create more demons. We’ve gotten pretty good at that.
Two words that seem to have vanished from the national consciousness: Repentance, and Forgiveness. One repents not someone else’s sins, but one’s own. (And if you don’t think your side has any sins to repent, you are part of the problem.) One forgives as an extension of asking forgiveness. But neither of these is a popular platform. So much more satisfying to hate others! So much more satisfying to envision their overthrow! And, so puzzling that fear and hatred continue to grow.
Inexplicable, isn’t it?