“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King famously said after riots in L.A. following the acquittal of the officers charged with beating him.
Unfortunately, the answer seems to be an emphatic, “No!”
Police in riot gear clashed with protestors in Ferguson, Missouri last night. Tensions ran high as cops with assault rifles trained them on what had been a peaceful protest. Then rocks were thrown. So were Molotov Cocktails. So the police responded with tear gas and smoke bombs.
Heavily armed cops arrested two reporters — one from the Washington Post, one from the Huffington Post. Scenes that resembled the unrest in Ukraine or the recent ground war in Gaza, played out in a St. Louis suburb.
We’re all stunned. We’re horrified.
We shouldn’t be.
I don’t offer political commentary often, but I feel compelled to speak up here. The way we’ve been behaving towards each other in the last 15 years or so has brought us to this sad point.
The dominant theme in American civil discourse these days is hatred. We all hate someone. Some of us hate blacks. Some of us hate Hispanics. Some of us hate whites. Some hate the poor. Some hate the rich. Some hate liberals. Some hate conservatives. Some of us hate Muslims or Jews or Christians or atheists.
But we all hate.We’ve created a culture of hatred.
We define ourselves not as Americans but as whatever sub-group to which we belong. And we define everyone else as The Other. We see other people with differing ideologies as The Enemy. We ourselves are the only True Americans. The Others are wrecking what our forefathers fought so hard to establish. So we hate them.
You see the expression of this culture in Congress. Tea Party Republicans and their Moderate counterparts hurl stones at each other for control of the GOP’s destiny. Both throw rhetorical bombs at Democrats, who return the fire with relish. When the president tries to get around Congress’s self-imposed gridlock, Republicans sue and Democrats hurl epithets in response. both parties want to mobilize they base, so they engender hatred of The Other.
You see the expression of this culture in the media. Fox News and MSNBC trot out a parade of conservative and liberal pundits respectively, whose job is not to offer insight and expertise on issues but rather to paint the other party as evil. They engender hatred of The Other.
You see the expression of this culture on the internet as conservative and liberal blogs report news with the most strident slant possible. You see it as people on Facebook forward memes they haven’t fact-checked that make outrageous claims against The Other. The comments sections are filled with vitriol.
You see hatred on street corners, hear it in church pulpits, and read it in letters to the editor of your local newspaper.
Everyone hates someone. Everyone knows that The Other is responsible for what ails us. And we will believe in The Other’s culpability for these sins despite any facts to the contrary.
We can’t have a civil discussion about racism or politics or faith or education. We can’t all get along.
This has to stop. We can’t keep treating each other like this. We have to change this culture. When we hate, disagreements escalate to violence. People get shot. Frustrated communities riot. Police are forced to go from protectors to oppressors.
This collective insanity that is gripping us drives us to hate each other. It drives us to hate ourselves.
This isn’t the America I was raised to believe in. It isn’t an America I want to live in. I want the ideal I was raised on — America is the Land of Opportunity, a nation of great prosperity and happiness.
But there is no opportunity when we are consumed with debilitating hatred. When we are convinced everyone is The Enemy, we cease to have friends.
This is where we’re going in America today. We shouldn’t be surprised by what happened in Ferguson last night. We’ve been racing towards this level of insanity for years.
It’s time to stop. It’s time to reach and out and try to understand each other. It’s time to agree to disagree when we can’t bridge the gap.
And it’s time to stop hating, to stop loathing, to stop trying to hurt those who are different from us.
We can be better than this. We have to be.