“The price of hating other human beings is loving oneself less.”
Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968
Gilbert King, author of a book titled “Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Loss and Found.” He tells about a Florida sheriff in 1956 who caught two interracial couples at a cabin rendezvous that violated the state’s anti-miscegenation law. He urged his deputies to help him throw the black men to the alligators and if they tried to escape he would pick off one of them. He claimed “I want to get in some target practice.” He was re-elected to his fourth term of sheriff soon after.
Is our country still living with that kind of rage? There is a high-grade level of fury, from my perspective, and it might not be easy to snuff it out for another half century unless we can find a way to risk putting our citizen lives on the line. For some reason, we have likely never detected the wrath that has been smoldering in our culture since the 1950s.
A long-time cordial friend of mine revealed his fury toward Obama as soon as he was elected president. At that time we both had returned home from vacations. He said he only had a flat tire while driving his rig to an Alaskan round trip. I mentioned I had just heard on NP radio that the President’s limousine had a flat tire in front of the White House and Obama stepped out of the car for a bit.
My friend’s facial expression went from a gentle mood into an outburst and bellowed “I wished a Mac truck had come along and mowed him down!” I was dazed. Then he gently said to me “So, how was your trip to Norway?” I could not respond, I was speechless until I could ask “Are you serious about that?” “Yep.” We just parted company.
For years I have gone to a favorite donut shop. I started out with a few donuts a week but in my old age I now just have a cup of tea daily. A group of elderly conservative guys my age hold forth at the end of the counter. An ex-Marine leads the band of six and they tend to keep their rants down rather quietly.
The lead guy is nice one-on-one but when he is with his buddies he and they manage to vent their ire about politics while chewing donuts. One day they seemed to have gone from anger to rage. That day I decided to ask if they might let me listen. Jim learned from the owner that I was a liberal pastor.
I asked “Tell me what you’re talking about today.”
“You don’t want to know what we’re talking about now.”
“I guess I want to know because you guys seem louder today than ever.”
“OK, I’ll tell you. I want to get that damned President in an alley and beat the shit out of him up with a two-by-four.”
His buddy added “Me, I’d like to beat the bastard with a four-by-four!”
It was another stunning explosive outburst for me.
A week later Jim asked if I would walk outside with him. I’m thinking he might be going for a woodshed out back with a two-by-four. I’d rather be up against that than a four-by-four. I told him I would buy him a donut. He declined. Hey, I’m not stupid. We walked outside and turned a corner of the shop. He stood quiet for a bit then he said gently “I’ve not told anyone that my wife of 42 years just left me and I think its forever.”
Another stunning moment. This was the first time I liked the guy and I think he sensed it. I believe he knew over the few years that we had respect for each other but politics can blows us apart.
Is it helpful to try to turn each other’s views around right away? Maybe, but if there is some respect that emerges and keeps us from hating from a distance that might help a bit instead of yelling from afar. Did I tell him he should give up fantasizing beating up a president so we could have a better friendship? Did I ask him to get rid of the two-by-four idea? No, and no, partly because he is still in the heated mode and perhaps if I were to wait awhile there will be a chance to draw closer about our politics but he moved out of state to live with his daughter. My hunch is he hated so much he may have loved himself less and lost his wife over it.
What if those who dislike racists begin to hate them? Will there be a deeper rage remain for decades to come?