Dear President Trump,
The WP editorial board published a short opinion piece this evening about the extraordinary stakes involved in the upcoming midterm elections, pointing out that we will collectively learn whether your tactic of bringing out the worst in people is a winning strategy. Basically, the outcome of these elections will strongly signal whether we are on greased skids heading toward the disaster of an autocracy or whether we are putting on the brakes and beginning to right ourselves.
The editorial board calls out how you’re betting that enough people will be spurred on by your “appeals to their worst instincts: anger, hatred, and fear.” You’ll not be surprised that I agree with them. I do, however, wish they’d listed those three emotions in the order I think more accurately reflects how one maximally pits people against one another – 1) fear, 2) anger, and 3) hatred.
At the risk of going over old ground I’m going to lay out how I think this works, not because you need a primer, but rather because I want to clarify for myself again what to look out for and what to resist. First one exaggerates differences between people with some sly questions about whether they really believe what we believe, really care about what we care about. Blow on those little embers of fear and doubt for a while and keep laying in tinder and small bits of kindling. Then start introducing the idea that not only do these others not believe what we believe, but they are taking advantage, getting a pass when we are working ourselves to the bone. These are bigger bits of kindling and small branches that burn hotter. By now the fire is throwing up mesmerizing angry flames that say things like – they aren’t like us, they are other, they are alien, they can’t be trusted, they are cheats, they are dangerous, they are evil. We hate them. ‘Yes, that’s it – go ahead, hate them, you should, you know,’ insists the instigator who can now mostly step back and let loose his frightened, angry, hate-filled posse. And so much the better if those who’ve been forced into the “other” role hate the posse in return and lash out since this gives the instigator license to say ‘see I told you so, they are evil and for your children’s safety they need to be banished.’
May we be safe from manipulative instigators.
May we be happy to look for all the ways we are more the same than different.
May we hold onto healthy ways of being in community.
May we douse the flames of manufactured hatred.