America the hateful

I think we all knew that this presidential election would be a big deal.

There’s a lot at stake, what with the ongoing war in Iraq; the saber-rattling of the Bush administration (and the McCain campaign) against Iran; the cynical and systematic shredding of our Constitution; the fact that America is now known and despised as a country which tortures; the open, active and disdainful contempt of our Republican leaders for the law of the land; and now, finally, the sudden, shocking implosion of the economy.

Those of us with open eyes and minds saw all this happening years ago. We warned there was trouble ahead, and we were put down as “unpatriotic” and even “treasonous.” But I’d never have believed that so many of my fellow Americans would embrace hate.

And yet, I saw with my own eyes the result of hatred in the booming bedroom community in which I edited the local newspaper. A young Iranian-American man, born and raised in California, opened a small hair salon in a nice, local strip mall. A year later he was gone, hounded out of business by anonymous individuals who pissed all over the door of his shop, left dripping red, spray-painted hate messages on the plate glass windows, and left threatening, recorded messages on his answering machine. It had happened several times when the owner got in touch with me. And of course he’d reported the attacks to the police.

They responded, took his statements, saw the evidence, commiserated with him, and promised to keep a close eye on his salon in the hopes of catching the vandal(s). But of course, nothing came of it. “Hate-crimes,” I was told by one of the investigating officers, are notoriously difficult to prosecute. They’re hard to define, and it’s easy to accuse others of them. He said it’s tough to catch vandals who do their dirty work under the cover of darkness. And of course, our local police force was woefully overworked and under-staffed, with only three officers in cruisers to cover an area of about 25 square miles every night.

I wanted to write and publish a story about the hateful vandalism the salon’s owner was enduring, figuring that most people in the community had no idea such a thing was happening right there, under their noses. I thought that if they were informed, this sort of thing might be stopped. It was nice, upscale community, growing quickly, attracting many well-to-do young families from Southern California and the Bay Area who’d relocated there because it was less expensive, had such good schools and seemed a quiet, safe place in which to raise their children. I thought that many of them would be as appalled at this sort of crime taking place within their community as I was.

But the salon’s owner wouldn’t let me write the story. He was afraid – and perhaps rightly so – that publicizing what was happening to him would only make it worse. This was going on about 18 months after 9/11, and “hate crimes” against the “other” were becoming more and more common. He said that since looked “foreign,” with dark skin and hair, he was fearful of being further singled out. He expressed his fear and frustration to me, but insisted that it was all “off the record,” hoping that as a member of “the press” I might help him by bringing his plight to the attention of the local police once again.

But when I did, I was told that his was the only business in the area under “alleged” attack. To my surprise and disappointment, my contacts within local police force were unhelpful, even curt.

I talked to his fellow shop owners in the strip mall. Those who’d met him said they liked the salon owner, but they’d never seen anyone “suspicious” hanging around after dark. Most of them closed shop by 6 p.m., though, and their own businesses hadn’t been vandalized. A few of them didn’t know that there was even a problem.

Without statements from the victim or permission to print his name or the name of his salon, and without anything of substance regarding the crime from the police, I reluctantly dropped the story. Not long after that, the salon closed its pee-stained doors and the salon owner left the community. I felt bad about it. Helpless.

And now I read that Sarah Palin has been whipping up the crowds during her campaign appearances, using hate as a weapon against Barack Obama.

Am I surprised? No. Palin has proven herself an unrepentant liar, a closed-minded, rigid fundamental Christianist, and more than a little stupid. The campaign has kept her well away from the press unless the circumstances are tightly controlled, and she’s the only Vice Presidential candidate in memory who hasn’t held a press conference to take unscripted and perhaps uncomfortable questions from reporters. We know very little about her but we’re expected to elect her as the person who’d take John McCain’s place as president if he were to be incapacitated or die in office, both of which are dangerously likely given his age and medical history.

I’m not surprised that unbridled hatred has entered the ugly Republican McCain/Palin campaign, but I’m saddened that my country has come to this dark place. And I’m chilled that my fellow Americans would embrace, with such rage and glee, this naked hatred and fear-mongering, reacting to it with enthusiastic bloodthirstiness and even more hate.

I find myself thinking more and more often of that hapless Iranian-American salon owner. I wish I’d written and published that story.

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8 Responses to “America the hateful”

  1. The News Writer Says:

    Y’made me cry. I’m preparing to cover tonight’s debate, and I wonder what’s the point? The candidates will repeat all the usual talking points, they’ll be polite and smile a lot, meanwhile out in America, Mad Dog Palin is rilin’ up the base.

    And my colleagues ignore it.

    I sure understand your salon owner’s reluctance to go public. Too many times I’ve seen the ones who stand up and say “no” subject to even more hatred and abuse, sometimes even death. Why would anyone want to put him or herself in that position?

    The regressive conservatives like to pretend that they can’t control what their followers do. But when you’re in the middle of, say, a rally, with the speaker talking about, say, the evil media, you really can’t disavow what those followers hurl at the media in their midst.

    Years ago, I was at a “rally” for a Christianist minister who was going on about the homosexuals. He was saying things about loving the sinner but hating the sin. We in the media were on the inside of a large semi-circle of followers, between the followers and the minister. Trapped, essentially. And while the minister talked about loving the sinner and hating the sin, the followers were talking about “f-ing queers.” And while the minister was talking about how the media had mischaracterized his position, the followers were talking about “f-ing liberal media pigs.”

    It was a little unnerving to say the least. And now? It’s much worse now.

  2. Larry Jones Says:

    This is the kind of stuff you do when your campaign is failing, out of money and out of ideas. Mobs are different (more? less?) than the sum of their parts.

  3. I think (and I’m sure I’m not the first to have thought it) that the hate itself is not just rooted in fear of those things that are different from what people are used to/comfortable with, but actually made worse and then validated by more recent events, like the economic struggle we’re going through.

    Right now people aren’t just afraid of what they don’t understand or accept, they’re afraid of the everyday things like making ends meet, so that anger is at the forefront of people’s minds and reactions. We have so much thrown at us as a largely Christian society abotu how anger is bad, however, that we feel guilty for being so snippy.

    Those who like what they hear from people like McCain and Palin may then find an “acceptable” outlet for that fear and anger: Homosexuals, the media, big corporations, outsourcing – you name it. If it’s controversial in any way, it fair game to get pissed off about.

    And the combination of fear and unchecked (seemingly encouraged, even) anger often leads to hate. Fear without anger can be studies and the fear recategoriezed accordingly. Anger without paranoia can be calmed before it’s too late.

    Hate breeds on its own ingredients, becoming ever larger and more vile and, due to such support from high-standing people in the limelight, it feels good, too – almost like to hate is to rid oneself of fear (although it doesn’t, really).

    It’s a scary thing, and scarier still to see people succumbing to it so easily, as if they don’t want to think it through anymore.

    As if, maybe, the lack of thought that hatered encourages is a relief when there are too many other, scary things to think about, that you can’t do anything about except wait and hope.

    My hope is that people findthe courage to start thinking again, no matter how it terrifies them, no matter how many sleepless nights it may bring. Hate will not solve anything; it will only make everyday life that much worse not only for the people doing the hating, but for those who, like your Salon owner, bear unjustly the brunt of that hate.

  4. Your post is on point and quite frightening. That news piece was truly something I thought I’d never read, but then again, I never expected someone like Palin as a candidate.

    I’m glad you wrote this one.

    (Larry’s comment, however, eased my fears a little.)

  5. The News Writer Says:

    I’m hoping folks find the courage to start thinking again, too, Larry. And to be honest, I think they will — I’m just not sure how many and how fast.

    I believe that truth — and reality — have a liberal bias, a progressive bias. We humans are meant to grow and learn, I think. Change is inevitable. But we progressive types are often on the leading edge of the curve — I like to say we have mainstream views, it’s just that the masses haven’t caught up to us yet.

    By definition, conservatives are regressive, fearful of change. And the closer we get to a point of real change, the harder they’ll dig in and try to stop it. And they don’t have very many options of how to do that — anger, hatred and violence are their best bets, because they cannot appeal to logic and reason when they’re fueled by all that fear.

    Progressives can get caught up in fear too. I fight mine daily — the fear I feel for this country, for my friends, for myself, for everyone, if we have another regressive conservative administration. But I’m not afraid of change. I welcome it.

    Anyway, one day, sooner or later, there will be more people actually thinking than not.

  6. MichaelBains Says:

    The trick that Obama needs to figure out (and he’s not doing so bad at it) is how to make peops think about not only their Own perspective, but to do so while including that of others. He’s Got To sell the concept that we are All in this together and that thinking about others’ perspectives does NOT mean giving away our own.

    Wish you could’ve wrote the story, as well. I dig where he was coming from, but … {sigh} Whatchyagonnado?

  7. Newswriter: Blaming the “liberal media” for the world’s ills has been going on for so long, but I only really started noticing it after I returned from working abroad in 1992. I’ve been fortunate, in some ways, to have worked since then in a small town setting, so I haven’t seen a lot of that outright animosity personally. Of course, since 2000, blaming the “liberal media” for everything has fallen sort of flat, since the media we get our information from on television, radio and the newspapers has been pretty much in the conservative’s pockets. I have a feeling that after this election, our media will move more toward truth and neutrality in its reporting, which is where it should be. Thanks for the comment.

    Larry: You’re right, of course. My concern is that those “parts” might someday inspire more than epithets and threats, and someone will be badly hurt or lose their lives. At that point, the trouble could spread quickly. I still feel that the McCain/Palin campaign should be called on this sort of ugly incitement quickly. Such things disrespect and dishonor all of us. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

    Sketch: That was a very thoughtful post, full of calm and solid truths. We’re all fearful right now, you’re so right. No one really knows how our lives will be a year from now, except that we’ll have much less to get by on, and our futures may be different than we anticipated. I share your hope that we’ll conquer our fears and find ways to help one another through the hard times.

    By the way — ever considered running for President? ;o)

    Lucy: You know what’s strange? I never thought I’d ever write a post like that one. The McCain campaign really is beyond the pale and, should they win, our world really could change in far worse ways than we can imagine now. I don’t, however, think they will. They’ve gone too far, and we really aren’t as stupid as they think we are.

    Newswriter: Ditto, everything you said. I’m not afraid of change, either, but I am sometimes afraid of the way it comes about, and of course I’d prefer it to be positive change. Either way, I know that I, and most Americans, will survive it and, if they’re thinking people, we’ll also be stronger and, hopefully, smarter.

    MB: I think Obama has done a terrific job of blurring the lines between “us” and “them.” I’d like to see him do more of that, too, and I have a feeling that he’ll be hitting that central idea more and more often as the election grows closer. America has never needed it more.

  8. The News Writer Says:

    I’ve been convinced this whole election cycle that there’s no way Obama could win. Recently, I’ve started thinking that maybe, just maybe he could pull this thing out, but I’m afraid to fully embrace that thought — I’ve been burned by this sort of thing before, and I don’t wholly trust the Republicans not to pull some completely bogus stunt that screws everything up — up to and including some national emergency in the event of an Obama win that the imperial presidency decides requires suspending the Constitution completely instead of simply shredding it one page at a time.

    And I don’t even consider myself a pessimist. A cynic, yes.

    I fear there’s gonna be trouble no matter who wins, but the ultimate winner will determine the type of trouble we have. And how we respond to it.

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