Hate is a Fire That Consumes

be_this_guyWhen my wife and I decided to adopt a new surname to cement our family, I had wanted to take a name that honored one of our spirit guides, who is Native American. This guide let us know that, while he appreciated the thought, we would do better to choose another name. I admit that my feelings were a little hurt, so I asked him why. He said it was because of what was coming, and that using his name would make our lives more difficult. That’s all he could say. I acquiesced, and we chose the name Hawkesworth, for completely geeky reasons that I won’t go into here. This was in 2004.

It is now 12 years later, and I understand why he told us this. Hawkesworth is a nice, English-sounding name. A white name. Navigating the world as a (white) Hawkesworth is undoubtedly easier, just as I could walk around Bavaria and blend in as a local with a strange German accent. Austrian border guards barely glanced at my passport. The darker-skinned Serbs were not so lucky…

When I was young, I remember learning about things like the Holocaust and wondering how they could come about. I never thought that Germans were simply evil; I have German ancestors, myself. No, it wasn’t that simple. Current events are now showing me how this happened there, and in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda…

I thought about a blog I wrote in 2013, about brainwashing. My father has always been an insecure blow-hard, probably suffering borderline personality, with a strong need to be right. And he has always been a staunch conservative of the black-and-white variety, in which “right” is very clear and obvious, and “wrong” is everything he disagrees with. (For example, all people who are homeless or on welfare are “lazy.” It’s very reassuring to not have to deal with any gray area, particularly when you absolutely have to be right.) My father’s innate insecurity and conservative thought processes primed him for the advent of Fox News, which did a fantastic job of reassuring him that he was indeed right about all of these things, while holding up those who disagreed (“liberals”) as people worthy only of complete contempt. While many media outlets have their own spin on events, most people agree that Fox News has been stunning in its ability to pound propaganda into the brains of people like my father. As a result, the Tea Party arose, with its mantra of “no compromise,” and the ability of government to accomplish anything ground to a halt.

Looking back, I realize how naïve I was. Fox propaganda now seems kind of quaint and harmless, like a rattlesnake with its fangs removed. (Or with its Roger Ailes removed.) While Fox spent many years playing on the very real fears, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism of its base, it did so in a more indirect fashion, with code words and assuring their mostly white audience of its natural superiority. Fox news aficionados like my father could safely follow along and believe themselves to be anything but racist, sexist, authoritarian, or fearful. Goebbels would have been proud. But then came Trump.

When you repeatedly sow a field with turnips, it shouldn’t surprise you when you start to reap turnips. Fox sowed its field, and now Trump is reaping the crop. Gone is the innuendo, the talking in circles, the code words. He is actively calling out the fear, racism, sexism, and desire for a (white) authority to “make America great again.” These elements always existed on the fringes, in the “alt-right” movement. Websites like breitbart.com and infowars.com have catered to these people for years. And now the head of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon, is running Trump’s campaign.

I suppose there is always a percentage of any population that is fearful, insecure, racist, sexist, whatever. It’s not like propaganda or speeches alone can invent that out of nothing. But people who exploit it for their own ends are dangerous. Starting a fire is easy; putting it out is hard.

My father has apparently moved on from Fox to the alt-right media outlets. I stumbled across his comments on such sites while googling to see if he was still alive (I cut off contact with my parents long ago, as I’ve documented). I was dismayed to discover that, if anything, my father had gotten worse, not better. More racist. More xenophobic. More sexist. More anti-LGBT. (The anti-gay comments, in particular, stung.) And I also saw that he was telling quite a few untruths about himself and his family in his comments. There was also a fair dose of what I consider crazy-talk, like calling liberals and Democrats “satanic.” I probably needed this confirmation, somewhere in myself, so that I would understand that, for me, my father is truly dead, obituary or no.

Hate poisons everything. It consumes everything that is good, leaving nothing but ruin and destruction behind it. Hate blinds you to the humanity of those who are “against” you. Hate makes you think terrible things. Eventually, it makes you do terrible things.

Jared Yates Sexton is a reporter who went undercover at a Trump rally recently. It’s worth reading his tweets from that time, because they will scare the pants off of you.

“I heard several people talking about wanting to hurt the press, several mentioning a civil war if Trump loses. This is building in a hurry.”

The rhetoric at these rallies has gotten worse:  the press are the enemy, Hillary Clinton is a criminal, Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization, immigrants are the cause of all your (white) problems. The list goes on. The message is reaching its intended target, which is undoubtedly a minority of the population, but then the Nazi party was a small, marginalized effort, too, one that the foolish Weimar government thought they could control. No doubt the Republican party thinks they can control this fire, as well.

All that is necessary for the forces of evil to take root in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.
~Edmund Burke

Personally, I think it’s a problem when hate groups like the Neo-Nazis and the KKK start to feel empowered and mainstream. Their fundamental purpose is the elevation of the white race over everyone else, and they don’t care who gets trod underfoot in the process. I am afraid for my Muslim neighbors. I am afraid for my Latino neighbors. I am afraid for my African-American neighbors. I am afraid for anyone who dares to look, behave, or think differently than what the alt-right thinks makes a “good American.” Those of us who believe in the power of Love must speak up. We must support each other. We must realize that there is no finite pool of goodies, and that if one group is lifted up, then that means other groups must be pushed down. This is a falsehood. There is enough for everyone. No one has to be diminished.

I get that this is a message that not everyone is able to hear. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” So I say to you, beloved friend and neighbor, speak out for the causes of Love and Justice. Do not let the words and actions of Hate go unnoticed. When it is appropriate, speak. When it is appropriate, act. When it is appropriate, be. Be the Love. Acknowledge the Hate, but do not sit idly by. For more than 200 years, we have lived in a (somewhat) civil society. We have weathered a great deal. It hasn’t been perfect. It may never be. But we are better than this. Let us not sink this low.

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