America’s Hate Problem

Marcus Chewning

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

–– US Senator Carl Schurz, 1871

Several reckonings are happening in America right now. There is the lack of response to the climate crisis resulting in the wildfires blazing across the west coast. An invisible virus, and a similarly apathetic administration, affecting human death tolls above two-hundred thousand. Centuries of racial discrimination and violence erupting into a great many protests in cities across the nation. Last but not least, the continued transgressed human rights of immigrants, house evictions, and many more. At first, these issues seem to be distinctly different from one another, but at their root lies a peculiar commonality: a lack of empathy.

At best, America lacks a sense of empathy or, at worst, is actively hateful. This country is, quite literally, built on hate. I know that will rub quite a few the wrong way, but history does not lie. America’s founders espoused values like “all men are created equal,” while in the same breath owning enslaved Africans and dispossessing Native Americans of their lands. That is not to say America has never strived towards valiant ideals like those once so eloquently stated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. However, looking at the current predicament, it seems to not have done enough to actualize those ideas.  

What exemplifies America’s lack of empathy is the upcoming presidential election this November, between President Donald J. Trump and Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. There is not much to say about Trump that has not been said already– it is a rare week when a new book about him does not reach the New York Times bestseller list. Even still, Trump is one of the most representative figures of American wealth, greed, and apathy that I have ever witnessed. Trump, like America, is developed in all ways economic (except for the multiple bankruptcies, business failures, etc.) but lacking in all ways to do with sympathetic emotion.

It is for this very same reason–and the only one that I think of–that I appreciate his presidency. It revealed the dark, putrid side of America, even though the country often comforts itself by denying its existence. 

The years of Barack H. Obama’s presidency was once such time. During this time, America drank itself to oblivion on the idea that America was somehow post-racial– even while effigies of Obama were hung with nooses and birtherism theories prevailed. Trump proved that to be utterly false. America was not only beyond nothing, but racial relations had gotten even worse. The election of 2016 proved that Obama, for a lot of white American voters, was only a salve to ease a pang of collective guilt, and that, maybe, voting in a Black president––while it felt good and eased the conscience––was going a little too far. And the reaction was racially visceral. In this sense, Trump is, as Ta-Nahisi Coates described him, the “First White President.”  

Like with any disease, you do not blame the symptom, you trace them to identify the root problem. While I do believe Trump is definitively despicable, he is not the boogeyman that the media often portrays him to be. Do not get me wrong– Trump is dangerously ignorant in his promotion of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and so on. Conversely, he is smart enough to exploit these prejudices inherent in the underbelly of American society for personal gain. This country has a hate problem. Many political analysts, researchers, politicians, reporters, and even the former president have stated this before. I am not saying anything new.  

One of the main problems is the ‘normal’ American way of life and thinking itself. While the root issue cannot be summed up in one article, American capitalism and exceptionalism have a lot to do with it. I would even argue that a lot of the lack of empathy in American society is a byproduct of its style of capitalism. The rugged, individualistic capitalism, as it is known in America, is taught in schools, displayed on myriad television shows and movies, and is passed down throughout the generations as “hard work” and “lifting yourself by your bootstraps.” In this system, narcissistic, dictator wannabes like Trump are given societal platforms from which to elevate into positions of power. It is of little surprise that a terrifying number of CEOs display psychopathic traits. American society provides this rise to power; actually, it actively encourages such behavior in people.

This mindset is exponentiated by the blindingly patriotic belief, driven by Trump and his ilk, that America is somehow the best country in the world and has no fundamental flaws. Ironic given that, according to the 2019 Human Freedom Index, the United States of America does not even rank in the top ten (it is number 15). Hubris makes dust of great kingdoms. I do not say any of this with any sort of malice or hatred towards my home country, even though I have become extremely disillusioned by it. Ultimately, I want the country to find its soul, and no, not again, but truly for the very first time for all of its people.

In an article for The Atlantic in 2017, Biden stated that what we were facing was “a battle for the soul of this nation.” However, I would argue that America does not have a soul and never had one to begin with. I wish I could be sentimental enough to say that America is even trying to find any semblance of a soul in this election, but if that were the case, our choices of president would not be between two old white men with sexual allegations attached to their names. 

To the country, Trump is like poison and Biden is comfort medicine. And while comfort medicine (Biden) is not necessarily a poison, it will not help much with the country’s current ailments. I could point out how Biden voted for the 1994 crime bill; the number of immigrants that were detained and deported while Biden was acting as vice president under Obama; or his many slips of the inappropriate tongue, but I will still be voting for Biden– whether I am enthusiastic about it or not. The stakes are too high. That is not to say that Biden has not done virtuous work in his career, for he has. Despite this fact, the horribleness of a politician’s opposition does not cancel out the valid reason to question and critique the politician themselves. 

Overall, if history is any teacher, I do not have much hope for the future of America. Biden favorable position in recent polls notwithstanding, Trump has a good chance of being reelected this upcoming November, and there is the chance of him not relinquishing his position even if he is defeated. I am also aware that many Americans would prefer to recede into the political narcolepsy they enjoyed during the Obama years. Biden himself is riding on the idea that people simply want a president they do not have worry, hear, or agonize about. Some of us cannot afford this luxury.  

No matter who is in office, there is a lot of work to be done. Voting, while important, is not an all-curable vaccine for America’s ills. There will be racism after Trump; there will be sexism; there will be xenophobia; there will be homophobia; there will be transphobia; there will be hate, there will even be politicians more extreme than Trump, and it must be actively fought against. Silence is impermissible.