October 29, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hate Is Not Morally Relative

Or it won't be as long as liberals have something to say.

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I’ve always felt that the term “hate” was problematic for liberals. We hear it all the time: “hate speech,” “hate crime,” or, from today’s editorial in the Times, “The Hate Poisoning America.” But “hate” is morally relative—if liberals allow it to be.

Yes, Cesar Sayoc and Robert Bowers are hate-filled, but can’t the same be said of Black Lives Matters, feminism and “The Resistance”? No. BLM didn’t try to assassinate former presidents. Feminists didn’t massacre 11 worshiping Pittsburgh Jews.

That won’t stop conservatives in lockstep with President Donald Trump from trying to persuade a majority of Americans, and the news media, to believe their nonsense.

The Republican apparatus is now an exercise in victimhood. Because victims are objects of hate, not perpetrators of it, conservatives say their critics—including progressives, minorities, feminists and “The Resistance”—are the real haters. Hate speech doesn’t only come from anti-Semites, they say. It comes from liberals, too.

Our news media often plays along. Hillary Clinton was right in saying that half of Trump’s supporters are deplorable. “They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic— Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.” But legit media allowed right-wing propaganda to define the issue, turning Clinton into the perpetrator of “hate,” and “deplorables” into “victims.”

There is another reason I find “hate” problematic. It doesn’t capture the complexity of racism and other forms of bigotry. “Hate” doesn’t fully explain historical evil.

When people defend the Confederate flag, saying it’s not a symbol of hate, there’s something to that. You don’t have to hate people in order to see them as less than human. You don’t have to hate people to create systems designed to humiliate them, cheat them, and rob them of their humanity. Slavery wasn’t built on hate. Jim Crow wasn’t built on hate. Institutional racism isn’t built on hate. All were and are built on asymmetries of power and on seeing the Other as undeserving of justice.

More complex are the intimacies of bigotry.

We’re told Trump can’t be antisemitic, because his daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. Total bosh. Southern slavers had slaves in their homes. Did close proximity mean they weren’t white supremacists? And that’s just a historical example. Better are the many completely ordinary instances of white men (or women) marrying non-white women (or men), rearing biracial children and being demonstrably racist. The mind is an amazing thing. It can make allowances for some while demonizing the rest.

Better still might be this: men have been marrying women for a long time, right? Did being married mean those men weren’t misogynist? I hope no one would make that argument. Yet our news media accepts such absurdities as valid and morally equivalent, thus giving the impression that the right isn’t as bad as the left claims it is, and that the left is worse than you think. Meanwhile, everyone is as bad as everyone else, no one is held accountable for his actions, and justice never prevails.

How do we escape this moral relativity trap? I can’t say I have a solution.

Perhaps begin with frank honesty. “The truth is that people who watch the news within the Republican-aligned media, and listen to Republican politicians including the president of the United States, are being fed a nonstop diet of crazy conspiracy theories and phony scare stories,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein this morning.

… That includes Republicans at the elite level [who] wind up believing a lot of garbage because it’s constantly being talked about by everyone around them as if it were real.

Another way is for liberals to never let conservative complaints about “hate” go unchallenged. Hate isn’t morally relative. Criticism, opposition and protest are not hate. And hate is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the larger banalities of evil.

Cesar Sayoc failed to kill. Robert Bowers succeeded. Both heard the president’s messaging from the White House—that they are the real victims and that something needed to be done. Meanwhile, Trump blames the news media for “hate” as the news media gets get played by conservatives into believing one kind of “hate” is as morally bad as another. It isn’t, and it won’t be. Not as long as liberals have something to say.

In case you missed it

(Subscribe now and you’ll never miss an edition!)

Civility Isn’t Dead. It’s Just on Vacation
A consensus on public behavior will return after the battle is won.

Voting and the Practice of Liberal Virtue
Voting matters even if your vote isn’t counted.

Never-Trump Republicans, Please Pick a Side
When the president marks people as the enemy, there is no center.

Yes, We’re All Fighting. But That Doesn’t Matter
What matters is what we’re all fighting for.

Propaganda Is Scarier Than Bombs
Right-wing media is to blame. So is legit journalism.

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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