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Why We Shouldn’t Let Resentment Define Us

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Why We Shouldn’t Let Resentment Define Us

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Trump voters

So this driver is stopped at an intersection. A pedestrian is dawdling in the crosswalk. Driver leans out the window and yells, “Get out of the street, you damned liberal!”

It’s been years since I read that in a magazine. I can’t remember if it was a true story, though I think it was. But even if only apocryphal, the picture it paints of American acrimony in the post-millennial years is true beyond mere facts.

As such, it leaves me questioning the likely impact of two recent well-intentioned pleas for ideological outreach. Joan Blades, co-founder of the liberal activist group Moveon.org, wrote an essay for The Christian Science Monitor, asking progressives to stretch beyond their left-wing comfort zones and “love thy neighbor.” And New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof warned the left against a tendency to “otherize” Donald Trump voters.

I’ve got no real argument with Kristof or Blades. It’s a noble gesture they’re making. It occurs to me, though, that none of this addresses a question that has come to seem obvious: What if the problem is simply that we just don’t like each other?

As I’ve said often, our acrimony is not political. It’s not about tax rates, government regulation, or even abortion rights. No, this is elemental.

This is about the city versus the country, higher education versus a mistrust thereof, Christian fundamentalism versus secular humanism. And it is about social change versus status quo.

Consider for a moment how often in history that change has been forcefully imposed on conservatives. It has been done by statute, by court decision, by executive order and, once, by war.

This is not an apology for that. In every instance, force was necessitated by the intransigence of those who defended that status quo because they were not ready for change.

If change must wait until all parties are “ready” for it, then change will never come.

So no, the foregoing is just an observation: Resentment is the residue of forced change. And this particular resentment is old, deep, and festering. Worse, it is useful. Republicans have found the maintenance and exploitation of that resentment to be a political gold mine. For instance, it helped elect Donald Trump.

But resentment is not identity. Or at least, it never was before. These days, people seem to wear their resentments — and more to the point, the ideological labels that give them voice — the way they wear gender or ethnicity, i.e., as an immutable marker of self. Suddenly, “conservative” is not about what you believe, but what you are. Small wonder the feud between ideologies comes to seem as mindless — and about as amenable to amicable resolution — as the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Then you see a George W. Bush cozy up to his friend Michelle Obama and it stirs some vague, vestigial hope, some reminder that none of this is destiny, some realization that we must resolve this hate — it is not too strong a word — if we want to continue as one nation, indivisible. You see them buddied up across their vast ideological divide and you wonder why we can’t all be like that.

Still, with due respect to Kristof and Blades, I don’t know that progressive outreach alone can get us there. I find it noteworthy that I’ve seen no prominent conservative columnist or activist issue a similar call to the political right. Maybe I missed it. If so, I look forward to the correction. It would be a hopeful thing.

Because it’s a fallacy to believe progressives can fix America’s acrimony by changing their attitudes. I am all for reaching out.

But it helps to have someone else reaching back.

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during his “Make America Great Again” rally at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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22 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 13, 2017

    I must agree that resentment is not healthy, and that tensions are a way of life for human beings. There have always been, is, and will be tensions between individuals, but the danger is when humans allow themselves to coalesce into groups defined according to “limited unities like political party/ideology, race, etc., and then allow tensions to arise and percolate to a boiling point simply on the basis of difference of opinion. Rather than resort to the nobler form of problem-solving and reconciling differences based on respect and the possibility that one’s position might be based on false assumptions, and the use of the method of consultation, as defined by Baha’u’llah, which encourages a “clash of differing opinions so that ‘spark of truth’ would come forth”, for both sides to agree on the”truth” arrived at, with both sides committing to allow the decision to be applied to see if it’s correct, and if not, then to rescind the decision, start the process over, perhaps “clash” some more in a respectful and amiable manner, that perchance the next “truth” proves to be applicable to the situation in question.

    Now, regarding force being imposed on conservatives, consider Mr. Pitts assertion “…Consider for a moment how often in history that change has been forcefully imposed on conservatives. It has been done by statute, by court decision, by executive order and, once, by war.”

    This isn’t true in many cases. If we look back at the lives and encounters each Messenger sent by God to different “nations” or tribal conglomerates, we find such Messengers challenging the status quo for that era, i.e., the “conservatives”. Since each Messenger appears as a result of necessity for change as prescribed by that “Unknowable Essence”, each One was vehemently opposed to the change required.
    But rather than impose change on the conservatives, each Messenger allowed for the people to respond on their own—often after generations—before the Message was accepted.

    Both Surah 11 in the Qur’an, and Baha’u’llah’s “Kitab-i-Iqan”, clearly reflect this dynamic of vehement resistance, followed by gradual acceptance after the Messengers appeared and exhorting humanity to change prior customs and outmoded opinions. The same circumstance is being played out today, as I type this, in Iran, and recently in Yemen, against members of the latest in this latest appearance in this paradigm called “Progressive Revelation”, namely, The Baha’i Faith.

    That humankind and groups aligned along certain points of “limited unities” have been unable to resolve varying points of tension in America and the rest of the world, is due to applying “medicine” intended for a prior Dispensation” to a problem no longer able to respond to the earlier “medicine”.

    Reply
    1. dbtheonly March 14, 2017

      Aaron, you are, as always, correct.

      But what are we to do when a group of people seeks to harm us and our loved ones?

      You will, again rightly, remind me that Jesus would have me turn the other cheek.

      But can we not use legal means to object and resist? Must we be willing participants in our own destruction? Must we sit idly by while everything that made America great is destroyed?

      Forbid it Almighty God!

      Our parents got beat up protesting segregation. We ended a war by opposing it. We have a positive duty to oppose Trumpism in all its manifestations.

      Keep America Great.

      KAG!

      Reply
      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 14, 2017

        You are far too kind. I don’t like to think of myself as ALWAYS, or sometimes right, because as soon as I do, then that is kind of death knell. Rather, I prefer to think that I just have a perception that needs to be offered with some humility, in order to help dissipate some of the confusion that has enveloped all humanity. We’re all trapped together, you and I, and its our responsibility to do the best each of us can, each according to their own unique abilities and life experiances, in order that you may assist me, and vice versa.

        As for turning the other cheek, this applies to someone personally attacking me, but that I have a duty to respond back with a resolve minus the malice, and on some occasions to ignore the slap on the face. But when you or anyone else is assaulted verbally or otherwise, it is both a duty and a privilege to come to your defense and that of others when I get wind of the assault—again, in a polite but firm manner.

        Reply
        1. dbtheonly March 15, 2017

          Okay, you’re right, “you’re right as always”, is an exaggeration”. ‘Cmon, you walked right into that one, and one of my failings is the inability to resist a good straight line.

          More seriously, it is important for you to know how highly you are regarded.

          Striking the balance in life, when to fight, when to walk away, when to care, when to cut loose; these are the ultimate questions of life. I don’t know if there are ultimate answers. Perhaps the journey is the goal.

          Reply
  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 13, 2017

    Also, note the “Blacks For Trump 2020” signs. The sign holders are members of a cult known as “Yahweh ben Yahweh”. This cult refers to themselves as “Black Hebrews”, and they refer to “God” using the Hebrew word “Yahweh”.
    The leader assumed the name “Yahweh”, which would imply by the cult’s name that he’s “Yahweh, son of God” in effect. Anyway, he had the dangerous delusion that members could join by being “initiated”—that is, by killing white people.

    Who said only the KKK, Bannon, and Richard Spencer, could be exclusively delusional, misanthropic, and/or murderous?

    Lord have mercy—“What is we going to do?”

    Reply
  3. Thoughtopsy March 13, 2017

    Give up.
    50% of the people who voted for Trump don’t want to hear anything you have to say, do not require facts or evidence for their beliefs, abhor knowledge and critical thinking, and hate you simply for existing.

    Luckily the other 50% of Trump voters held their noses and can still be reached.
    Concentrate on those.

    Reply
    1. Daniel Jones March 14, 2017

      I have held, repeatedly, that you can’t work with people that refuse to work with you. The do-nothings that tried to strangle the Obama Administration were certain proof of this.

      The bitter joy of this situation is that the Republicans have a clear majority in all forums. There is no way in Hell they can avoid taking the blame when they predictably and inevitably sell out the public to the Corporate Sponsors.

      When they do, the spurned middle class will regain a sense of identity, perspective, and (I hope and pray) sanity.

      Reply
      1. PrecipitousDrop March 14, 2017

        The bad news, Daniel, is that there won’t be a middle class after the GOP completes the sale.

        Reply
      2. Dapper Dan March 14, 2017

        Let us hope and pray that our country doesn’t collapse as we patiently await next years midterm elections. With the GOP aiding and abetting a mentally ill man who’s closest adviser Steve Bannon has vowed to crush the state time is running out. I genuinely fear we’re at the start of a Civil War as friends and families are being torn apart by the madness occupying Washington and racism and bigotry is openly being flouted

        Reply
    2. Melindaccarter March 14, 2017

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      Reply
  4. plc97477 March 14, 2017

    I believe that anyone who would vote for the pussy-grabber is a traitor to my country and, as such, I no longer have republican friends until the assure me they did not and would not vote for the idiot-in-chief.

    Reply
    1. PrecipitousDrop March 14, 2017

      I am presently estranged from my only surviving brother because I did NOT vote for Trump.
      We are old men. I hope we both live long enough to get over this acrimony.
      It is such a waste.

      Reply
      1. plc97477 March 14, 2017

        I am sorry you are having this issue with your brother. My family are mostly very liberal but I do have ex-friends who are not.

        Reply
      2. stcroixcarp March 14, 2017

        My brother is into Alex Jones and keeps on emailing me all these batshit conspiracy theories. But I did find out that George H. W. Bush was responsible for killing JFK. Who knew?

        Reply
        1. plc97477 March 15, 2017

          Did he help cruz or did they both do it at different times?

          Reply
          1. stcroixcarp March 15, 2017

            cruz was in on that Bay of Pigs thing. So was G.H.W Bush. The most damning evidence was that Daddy Bush had a boat in the Gulf that was named, get this, Barbara! That proves he was a CIA operative. Or something like that.

            Reply
    2. stcroixcarp March 14, 2017

      What pisses me off the most is their religious bigotry. I used to call myself a Christian, but I won’t anymore because the wingers have stolen Christianity and even worse, Jesus. trump has his council of evangelical advisers, but he doesn’t have a single person who represents my denomination advising him. When his “christians” talk it is racist, sexist and damned mean. This healthcare business is just the latest in hate your poor neighbor policy. I AM resentful. Thank you for letting me vent!

      Reply
      1. plc97477 March 15, 2017

        I now consider myself an agnostic because I refuse to believe in the religion of the christianistas.

        Reply
  5. I of John March 14, 2017

    Why should only one side need to be reasonable and polite. Conservatives don’t play nice and they tend not to be reasonable. If this poltical climate is to be readonable, both sides must be amiable. Both sides must give.

    Reply
  6. Budjob March 14, 2017

    There is NO WAY,I intend to be reasonable to these Fascists/Nazis/RACISTS!Everyone that is a fucking republican can kiss my hairy ass!

    Reply
  7. Steve Wood March 15, 2017

    I think that outreach to conservatives and the far right is futile. What ever happened to Republicans like Mark Hatfield, Bill Scranton, George Romney and Nelson Rockefeller? What is not futile is raising the level of debate. We of the left and center must speak and write carefully, concisely, literately and truthfully. On issues, polls show Americans are in general center or left of center. If we do not stoop to the level of the Trump administration in stating our positions and bending the truth, we will eventually embarrass them with those who supported Trump over Clinton, and convert these independent centrists into Democrat supporters. I point to Trump’s ridiculously low approval ratings as the proof.

    Reply
  8. dpaano March 20, 2017

    I agree that all this resentment causes major stress in our nation, and I’m not sure how to fix it. We used to be able to be friends with people with different political views, and I think it’s because the Republican views and the Democratic views were almost the same. But, nowadays, the differences are so far apart and so “against” the other party that there’s no way to reach across the aisle any longer! I have friends that I can no longer talk to any longer because their beliefs are so diametrically diverse from mine that you can’t have an intelligent conversation without the hate coming through.
    Personally, I think this all started back when Gingrich was the Speaker and told all the Republicans that they could no longer socialize with the Democrats or they would be censured by their party. Since that time, the act of compromise went by the wayside and the divide got wider and wider! As I said, this stress from all the resentment in this country is getting deplorable. People can’t pick up a newspaper and read it without oftimes breaking into tears at all the perceived injustice that is being done by our current administration. No one can seem to just sit down and negotiate any longer…..have we lost that ability? I would certainly hope not, but I don’t know what can be done about it. It certainly doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and the only way around it could be another civil war! I’m sure there are both Republicans and Democrats that still have a degree of sensibility and who really WISH that things could go back to the way it used to be, but not sure where they are or why they haven’t stepped forward.

    Reply

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