“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There’s hate speech, and there’s grossly offensive speech. Both depend on the social acceptance of hatefulness.
Both types of speech are fast becoming the norm in our national dialogue — and in the one we’re having here at home.
Some Republicans running for president — and many folks locally — don’t make the distinction between hate speech and offensive speech.
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Regardless, they’re being hateful, weaving pernicious speech into a national tapestry of meanspiritedness, usurping the fabric of civility that’s bound us as a society and a nation for generations. It taints our daily dialogue and influences how we treat each other in public.
This might help explain the rise of Donald Trump — American Il Duce — advocate for a fascist utopia free of undesirable people and Constitutional strictures. If we’re to stop the hatefulness — and the people who promote it — first we should admit it’s a problem.
The American Bar Association recognizes hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”
Calling hateful speech “politically incorrect,” on the other hand, is a defense mechanism for offensive speech, a put-down, a dismissal of the offended person as overly sensitive. Tagging someone as “politically correct” is an assertion of free-speech rights while questioning the listener’s right to complain about what’s said.
Hateful speech is plain-old nastiness. It’s now the predominant language of the commentariat on this newspaper’s website and other local purveyors of news and chatter, both online and on air, and at public meetings. Open malice is now acceptable in San Luis Obispo County, the “happiest city in America,” as it is known nationally.
For example, under a recent piece I wrote about terror and courage, an online commenter accused me of fictionalizing a cross burning in my childhood. Without knowing me at all, she dismissed the entire point by calling me a liar. Nary a letter or editorial comment in this newspaper is posted online without a personal insult in response.
As well, the local Democratic Central Committee recently posted to its own Facebook page a resolution opposing the Phillips 66 oil train project. The page was soon overwhelmed with vile remarks. Most committee members apparently were too intimidated to defend their own resolution for fear of being attacked on their own page. As if suddenly poisoned by vipers, they were paralyzed into silence.
Hateful speech is employed to offend, marginalize and ostracize. It’s replaced reasonable persuasion by those too lazy or ignorant to be thoughtful.
The goal of the hateful is to attract attention to themselves. Like Trump — cynically calculating each abomination for maximum media attention — local hawkers of hate seek to be the central character in conflict and wallow in its mess.
It’s dangerous speech under cover of First Amendment protection, provoking brutishness from followers unable to distinguish fact from political rhetoric, beating protesters and torching mosques. Speech that incites violence may not be protected under the First Amendment, but that hasn’t stopped Trump.
Yes, we’re under threat from ISIS, Daesh — whatever. And we have to deal with it, but not by turning on one another, as Trump encourages. That just hands ISIS victory by inflicting evil upon ourselves.
Hateful speech is everybody’s problem, not just those on the receiving end of it. It’s an infection that leads to fever and derangement, which metastasizes to mosque burnings, rally beatings and whatever comes next.
Railing against it isn’t enough. We might also consider loving one another, even those with whom we disagree, including our “enemies.” Martin Luther King Jr. paid for this principle with his life, but he left a legacy of effectiveness.
King might suggest today the antidote to hate speech is “agape,” what Christ advocated: unconditional love for every person, regardless of race, religion or political beliefs, whether they’re just or unjust, even if they hate and abuse us.
Defining it as “Christian love,” King incorporated agape into the nonviolent movement for civil rights, empowering thousands of people to engage in transformative, direct action by accepting pain and suffering without retaliation — returning good for evil.
“I have decided to stick with love,” King once said. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Tom Fulks is a former reporter and opinion writer whose three-decade career included positions with The Tribune, Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder and New Times. He has been a political campaign consultant for many local races. His column appears twice a month in The Tribune.
Wanted: Conservative columnist
The Tribune is seeking an unpaid freelancer to succeed conservative columnist John Peschong, who is running for county supervisor. This is an opportunity to share your views on a variety of topics of concern to San Luis Obispo County residents. Interested? Contact Opinion Editor Stephanie Finucane at 805-781-7933 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.