Hate speech and our country


The march in Charlottesville is nothing new. Fortunately, since the inception of the Klan in the later decades of the 1800s, these now generally marginalized individuals have been moved further and further into the fringes of society. The best response to these hateful individuals is to ignore them. They only have power when put in front of a microphone or camera.

I’m troubled by the incident in Charlottesville, of course. But I’m even more troubled by the hateful rhetoric that permeates the news every single day. Charlottesville has simply become the focus for the moment.

I’ve followed politics since I was a boy and I’ve grown to love reading American history. Caustic rhetoric, back-stabbing, and political shenanigans have always been a part of the political system.

George Washington started his own newspaper during the Revolutionary War in order to put out his own propaganda. A famous rift crushed a friendship of many years between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson due to Jefferson betraying his good friend for political gain. This friendship was restored only shortly before the death of both men – ironically on July 4, 1826.

Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter are just a few modern presidents who either experienced the effects of, or engaged in, back-room deals for political gain.

Almost every campaign season sees mud-slinging. It works. In fact, it has been interesting to observe that in the last several presidential campaigns, instead of putting out their agenda for the country, candidates spent far more time courting votes by insisting “I’m not the other guy.”

Pundits and comics have lampooned our leaders since the founding of our country. George W. Bush was relentlessly mocked for getting tongue tied. “People misundersestimate me,” for example. But getting tongue tied doesn’t make him stupid. If it does, we are all in trouble.

The right continues to poke fun at Barak Obama for mistakenly saying he had been to “all 57 states.” If that is the worst mistake a president makes, then we are in good shape. The intelligence of both men were questioned at these points and others, but it is a ridiculous allegation. Both were Harvard graduates and stupid people don’t go to Harvard.

This type of verbal sparring is part of the business, I suppose. But the daily message of hatefulness for political foes and caustic rhetoric has gone beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Words that have been lobbed across the political aisle are such that I couldn’t even print some of them in this column.

Democrats ruthlessly assault President Trump, his wife, his staff, and even his children and grandchildren with cruel words beyond measure.

These attacks are not simply attacks on him, but attacks on the dignity of the office and that isn’t good for any of us.

And it goes both ways. Republicans have been just as mean-spirited toward their political counterparts and in some cases against the president as well.

It has gotten to the point I don’t even want to look at the news. I have no hope whatsoever that I can trust any news agency to present a non-partisan perspective and I’m tired of the fighting.

To political partisans, I have this plea. Please do your job. Whether you are a politician, newscaster, or pundit, name-calling is the stuff of grade school playgrounds and is a lazy use of language.

I understand the passion of each political party. If you are passionate about the country, you can’t help but be passionate about the direction a leader is taking it.

What I don’t understand is how we’ve seemed to lose any sense of civil discourse. One state senator – a sitting senator – actually posted on her Facebook page just days ago that she hopes Trump will be assassinated. What is wrong with people?

We would never allow our children to talk to anyone, ourselves included, the way we have been talking about our political enemies. Imagine your children calling you an idiot, racist, Nazi, communist, or whatever, simply because they disagreed with you. You wouldn’t stand for it and we wouldn’t allow this kind of language from one child to another even if we DID agree with it.

There is an interesting phenomenon that leads to road rage called “depersonalization.” We aren’t honking, tail-gating, or cursing at a person. We are cursing at the “car.” But when we know the car is being driven by a friend or relative, it changes things. It becomes the person, not the car.

Political wrangling isn’t a surprise. That is what politicians are there for. Strong words are fine. But these are human beings with families, lives, souls, and often very good intentions.

It’s time that our political leaders start demonstrating behavior we would expect from children.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]