Recently, I exchanged texts with a young progressive gentleman. Often polite, frequently acerbic, politically devoted. We mentioned the partisan rancor polluting the society, and he offered that he thinks it will go away in the new year.
He expects a calm to ensue, and some resurgence of brotherhood.
I’ve thought about that, and I think he’s mistaken. More, I think that the exact opposite is most likely.
It’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.
Here’s why I think that.
Currently, our politics are defined by hate. As a conservative, I think that comes mostly from the progressives. As a progressive, you might think that it comes mostly from the conservatives. We both are probably right, and we both are probably guilty.
The reality is that where once American politics were driven by a love of country, they are now driven by a hatred of the opposition. We don’t disagree with the other side, we loathe it. That is shouted every night on the evening news, and it breathes out in every syllable of the candidates and senior officials of both parties.
Political hatred is the fire in the belly of Facebook and Twitter, it is the defining element in so many broken relationships. Friends are lost and relatives are estranged, all because of a comment online or a sticker on a car.
Those who disagree with us are our inferiors, driven to their views either by their stupidity or their bigotry. We don’t want to debate those who disagree, we want to silence them. We want to destroy them. And we work feverishly to do exactly that, doxing them and contacting their employers and insisting on their ostracism.
None of this is activism.
All of this is hate.
Activism is merely its pretense. Activism and politics are just convenient excuses to vent the evil cesspool of hate our hearts have become. Hatred has become our drug of choice, the thorn in our flesh, the Achilles heel of our society, the self-righteous justification for evil.
And the results of an election won’t get rid of that.
Rather, they will enflame it.
After the election, one side will be empowered and the other side will be aggrieved. And history teaches us that empowerment and aggrievement do not diminish hate, they increase it.
Those newly empowered will use their power to give rein to their hate. They will use it as a cudgel against the other side. They will claim the spoils of the victor and punish those who have opposed them.
The aggrieved will consider themselves victims and wrap themselves in resentments. They will demand vengeance. They will seethe.
And so, the end will be worse than the beginning.
If we continue on the path we are now following.
If we continue to hate our enemies, tottering to national collapse in the intoxication of that hatred.
Or, we could repent, and do what’s right.
Which is to love your neighbor. To treat other people the way we want to be treated. Not as some glib throwaway, but as a life’s work, a purpose and principle, a commandment kept.
Like this one: “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Those words of Jesus, spoken two millennia ago, are the solution for the division that besets America today. They are, in fact, the only solution. All other efforts are merely different routes to the same hateful destination.
That makes the issue not about them, but about you. About your willingness to recognize the evil of hate and take up the cause of love.
That doesn’t mean you abandon your political principles, or that you disengage from the public discussion and the democratic process. But it does mean that you honestly look in your heart, and decide who you truly want to be.
It’s not a game of use the other person’s failing as an excuse for your own, it’s not a quest to find cause for offense, a reason to be offended and aggrieved.
It’s about looking at the other side as not a side, but as people. Individuals. And it is about loving those individuals. About doing them good when they do you wrong. About praying for the people who may want to destroy you.
That is not weakness, that is strength. Moral strength.
Martin Luther King Jr. said so.
And he was quoting Jesus.
A logical analysis of human nature leads to the conclusion that it’s only going to get worse. A sincere application of divine command leads to a conclusion that can be much better.
We have been brother and sister Americans before, and we can be such again.
But it will take individual reformation and spiritual rebirth. It will involve embracing, no matter how difficult, the principle of treating others the way we want to be treated – not the way they treat us.
It will involve repenting of our evil.