Please don’t grow up to be an ideological demonizer

If there is one thing America has too much of these day, it’s ideological demonizers. Please don’t grow up to be one, Vera.

My views of demonizers of this ilk have changed over the past year. I used to think it was best to ignore them. But I’ve come to believe reasonable people must push back. The lack of resistance emboldens demonizers, I’ve discovered. And before you know it, we end up with a presidential candidate whose perceived strength is his ability and willingness to be as offensive as possible. Worse yet, you end up with a politically dysfunctional country. And who knows what dysfunction might bring down the road? The worst case scenario is that this is the beginning of the end: the terminus of Ronald Reagan’s so-called “city on a hill.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that someone with political views different from mine is an ideological demonizer. Far from it. I have friends, family and neighbors whose political views are quite divergent from some of my own (although probably not all since I do not embrace either party). That’s fine. I have no trouble understanding how people can see the world in different ways and value political positions and policies differently. No, that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s far more serious than that.

What I’m referring to are the people, purportedly on ideological grounds (the purest of the pure, they would contend), who demonize others for their refusal to drink the kool-ade. This destructive tendency has been fueled, in large part, by one of our major TV networks. Unfortunately, the financial success of that network has spawned others that sing a different but equally monotone tune, without any more respect for facts or the truth than the lead perpetrator.

But I don’t put all the blame at any one network’s feet. Propagandizers are powerless without a susceptible audience. In the final analysis, it’s the propagandized that must bear prime responsibility.

So, for quite a few years now, many of our citizens have had to endure the verbal assaults of the purist ideologues who seem to believe they own our country and, therefore, deserve to call all the shots. They seem to believe that anyone who disagrees with them is “unpatriotic,” a traitor or undeserving of residency or respect.

Many of these ideologues contend they are THE legitimate offspring of our Founding Fathers, but in their arguments they reveal their ignorance of history. It would be well if they educated themselves, but education is unnecessary for the ideological demonizers. They are not interested in truth or evidence; rather, they are interested only in spreading their ideology (which, of course, is nothing more than opinions) and in demonizing others. Apparently, they feel better about themselves when they demonize others or put them down verbally. How sad. Indeed, how pathetic.

A product of this demonizing behavior is an extremely polarized country, with legislatures and a Congress that serve as an anchor to our progress. Bridges collapse. Roads deteriorate. Medicines are too expensive to buy. Students pile up over $1.4 trillion of debt. Wall Street leads us to the brink of financial collapse. All of this and more because some of our elected representatives are unwilling to compromise because, as every demonizing ideologue knows, you cannot compromise when you’re right.

I often wonder if they actually believe that or if they’re operating this way purely out of political expediency (it garners votes from true ideologues). I suspect the latter in most cases but recognize the former in some.

Of course, not all ideologues are demonizers. Indeed, some are quite passive. Some are quite respectful. I suppose we’re all ideologues to some extent. But, at least at this point in our history, it seems like it’s the demonizing ones who are driving the national bus.

When we lose the ability, as a society, to debate issues and collectively work towards compromise solutions for the public good, the fibers that hold us together as a community and country tear. The risk is that tears will turn to rips and rips will lead to irreconcilable fractures. I would be sad if we ended up being our worst enemy. I never thought it could happen. I’m no longer sure.

Contrary to what some on the Left might think, smart people can hold very conservative views. And contrary to what some on the Right might think, people who love their country can vote for a Democrat (even a Clinton or Obama!). We would be well served if we stopped demonizing each other and addressed each other as Americans who see the world differently and value different things. There is a middle ground, but it is nothing more than a barren wasteland if no one is courageous and wise enough to travel there.

Is it too much to expect that we can embrace our ideologies without demonizing those who reject them? Perhaps. After all, we are a people who fought a bloody Civil War. We are a people who used to exclude from our elite colleges and other institutions people based on their religion, ethnicity or race. I like to think we’re a better people than we used to be. Today, I’m not so sure.

Whether respectful or at least accommodating collective decision making is too much to expect on a national basis, surely it is not too much to expect that friends, relatives and neighbors would refrain from demonizing each other. But maybe that is wishful thinking, too.

I have a neighbor who has some far right views. Those views lead him to believe some fanciful stories that are untethered from reality. Nonetheless, I’ve always gotten along with him and, in fact, enjoyed our conversations and his company. — that is, until last November’s election. It was then he launched unprovoked attacks my way simply because I supported someone for city council that he didn’t like. He turned ugly. Welcome to 21st-century America.

The good news is he’s moving. He doesn’t want to have neighbors (a decision made well before last fall’s elections). So he bought a large amount of acreage and they’re building a house far from anyone who might have different views or a barking dog or liberal politics or street lights (just to name a few of the things that upset him). Perhaps that’s the answer for some: everyone going into either isolation or communities of like-minded people.

How all of this will turn out, I do not know. Things could improve; they could get a whole lot worse.

What I do know, however, is that each of us has a choice. We can decide to watch or listen to hateful bigoted speech. Or we can turn off the TV (a good choice for other reasons IMO). We can decide to ridicule and demean others merely for their political judgments, or we can hold our tongue and try to understand why others see the world differently and why they might support policies or laws that we deem to be unwise. We can remain passive in the face of racism and bigotry, or we can choose to speak out and resist.

There is much over which we have some degree of control. My hope for myself and Vera is that both of us will have the wisdom to choose well. I know I’ll falter at times. But when I do, I hope enough sense remains that I’ll be able to recognize my pathetic demonizing for what it is and strive to be a better person in the future. That, too, is my hope for my granddaughter. I suspect she’ll be a better person than me.


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