By Tim Rymel
Sometime in July I lost hope in humanity. I disappeared from social media and fell into a funk. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. One poll said 80% of people backing Donald Trump were scared of Hillary Clinton and 62% of people backing Hillary Clinton were afraid of Donald Trump. CBS News Political Director John Dickerson said, “That’s why this election feels so depressing to people, because it’s a referendum on the other person – how bad they are.”
Like most liberals, I was horrified at the crass, racist, and dehumanizing statements from the Republican nominee. While I’ve done enough research at this point to understand why people follow him, and I don’t believe a majority of his supporters are as prejudiced as Donald Trump, there is still an underbelly of white supremacy and vitriolic hatred of “others” embodied in his candidacy.
Humanity has a long history of creating an “other” class of people. As much as I would like to believe we’ve moved forward, the rise of nationalism across the globe proves we haven’t. The Brexit vote, most agree, had less to do with economics and more to do with “a protest by those who are inherently uncomfortable with the social changes in Britain in recent decades, particularly with immigration…”
Social changes have come fast and furious in the United States in recent years. The Supreme Court’s approval of same-sex marriage against the will of nearly half the country rubbed people the wrong way. Most states still have laws allowing for discrimination against LGBT people in housing and employment. “Religious Freedom” laws allowing for discrimination showed up all across the country. And then there’s Fox News stoking the fire on a non-existent war on Christians. (Over 70% of Americans identify as Christians, including over 90% of congress and the president himself.)
David Livington Smith, author of Less Than Human, told NPR, “We all know…that it’s very difficult, psychologically, to kill another human being up close and in cold blood, or to inflict atrocities on them.” To get to that place we need to first dehumanize people. We create an ‘us vs. them’ mentality, which removes emotions, making people something besides human beings. We stop thinking of our ideological nemeses as people with families, hopes, dreams, thoughts, ideas and experiences similar to ours. Instead, we think of them as animals, incapable of human emotions.
Whether it’s whites against blacks, Christians against gays, or nationalists against immigrants, the first step is always dehumanizing, devaluing, and disenfranchising “those” people. We assign attributes that clearly portray them, in our minds, to be something besides people, which mentally justifies our actions, attitudes, behaviors, and discriminatory laws against them.
Thomas Jefferson, who publicly opposed slavery, yet had hundreds of his own, said in his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, that there is an “innate incompetence of blacks” and they “are inferior to the white in the endowment of both body and mind.” As long as Jefferson could make himself believe his slaves were intellectually and emotionally subordinate, he could justify the horrific abuse they received from him and his plantation managers.
The United States is changing. While we have always been a country of immigrants, some are increasingly uncomfortable with the changing look and feel of the new demographic. It was predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau that Caucasians will become the minority by 2044. Pew Research says 18% of the U.S. population will be immigrants by 2065, and immigrants and their children will then represent 36% of the population.
Unfortunately, research also shows that with the increase of non-whites in the population, a perceived anti-white bias has been created for some. The Washington Post noted, “Indeed, research points to people’s pervasive fear that they will end up on the bottom of the status pile — a fear called ‘last place aversion.’” The unfounded belief is that improvement in the quality of life for others means a loss of something to everyone else. This was a reason many religious groups opposed marriage equality leading up to the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2015.
Anti-LGBT group, Family Research Council, lists 10 reasons on its website why gay marriage is wrong. One of those is that it “would undercut the norm of sexual fidelity within marriage.” In reality, same-sex marriage has no bearing on the behavior of heterosexual couples. The perceived notion that husbands and wives would suddenly cheat on each other because same-sex couples were allowed to marry is based in irrational fear. Again, “last place aversion” implies that if one social group gets equal treatment, another social group will pay the consequences.
There is nothing wrong with nationalism, per se, which is merely a patriotic feeling towards ones country. To use psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor, “you love your spouse because she or he is yours, not because you think your spouse is superior to all others.” The problem is when someone crosses the line from nationalist to supremacist, but that’s not a huge leap.
In September 2015, Hungarian camerawoman, Petra Laszlo, famously tripped an asylum seeker and his young son who were fleeing from the police. Though she claimed not to see the man was carrying the boy, she said she was “trying to help police.” Laszlo was certainly aware of the crisis these refugees faced, yet without empathy or compassion for their plight, the man and his son became criminals to be stopped.
For better or worse, the 2016 election has uncovered the fact that we are a scared nation. We want to run and hide in our corners, or come out shooting at anyone not like us. Tolerance – putting up with someone you disagree with – has not worked. If anything, it’s made us less tolerant, angrier and hopeless. An “us vs. them” mentality is really nothing more than the abject failure to recognize someone as a fellow human being. Can we do better? I truly don’t know.
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post
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