Anger, fear and hate in American politics

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Politics has generated strong emotions historically around the globe. Wars, insurrections, military coups and even our own Civil War stand as evidence of the intensity of feelings generated by politics.

It is true, of course, that countries with democratic governments are far less likely to experience violent transitions in governmental leadership. This is because we use our right to vote if we wish to change our political leaders, whether at the municipal, state or federal levels of government.

Anger, fear and even hate are normal human emotions and we see and experience these emotions in many facets of our lives. However, it is my contention that there is something unique and potentially cataclysmically dangerous in today’s politics.

Racial issues have existed in America since our founding fathers settled this country in the early 1600s. It is true that we have made great progress in civil rights. African-Americans can vote, own their own homes and businesses, achieve a college education, marry someone of another race or culture, become CEO of a large corporation and even become president of the United States.

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But the story does not end there. Yes, we have made progress, but racial discrimination, prejudice and intolerance still exist in our society. A disproportionate number of minorities are poor, fill our jails and prisons and are apprehended for motor vehicle violations.

Most minorities in this country, historically, have been subjected to anger, hate and discrimination. The list includes the Irish, Italians, African-Americans, the Japanese in interment camps in the 1940s and, currently, the Somalis and others.

Today’s intransigently partisan and destructive politics are fueled primarily by racial fear and hatred directed at President Obama. For those of you who doubt or question this conclusion, consider the evidence:

The meteoric and unprecedented rise of death threats against President Obama following his inauguration, as reported by the Secret Service.

A huge increase in the development of militias, anti-government groups and hate groups after the president’s election as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A surge in the purchasing of weapons by individuals across the country.

Individuals interviewed on television saying “I’m afraid of Obama.”

During “town hall” meetings in the summer of 2009, we saw on television people bringing guns; pictures of Hitler and swastikas; people yelling, “Kill Obama.”

Several prominent Republican politicians opposed the president’s legislative initiatives saying openly they wished to destroy Obama.

One could claim that this is simply the result of political differences.

Really?

Just this past week there were acts of vandalism, death threats, a brick thrown through a window, faxes sent to politicians with drawings of a noose. Ex-governor Sarah Palin said to the Tea Party Activists “don’t retreat, just reload.” Rush Limbaugh called the politicians who voted for the health reform legislation “bastards.” Glenn Beck intimated that it was time for a “revolution.” A recent poll revealed that a majority of Republicans continue to believe that President Obama was not born a U. S. citizen.

Recently, I received an e-mail with a message saying, “Don’t pay your insurance premiums. Free health care is here. The doctor will see you now.” Followed by a picture with President Obama’s likeness dressed like a “witch doctor,” with bones protruding from his nose and the caption underneath written “Obama Care,” with a hammer and sickle very prominent within the words.

These examples of conflict and disagreement are meant to incite the public. They represent more than everyday politics.

Let there be no doubt about it, the president’s race is a focal point of this anger.

Unfortunately, discrimination is still alive in America. If you disagree with that, remember to take a stand when you see or hear things that are said or done to foster hate or ridicule against anyone.

The solution to anger, fear or hate in our society is tolerance. Many of us over the past generations have taken great pride in the “melting pot” aspect of our country.

Unlike most countries, we have had a great mix of races, colors, religions, nationalities, belief systems, etc. The meaning of tolerance is not difficult to grasp, in theory, but it is much more difficult to live our lives with an attitude of tolerance on an everyday, pragmatic basis.

We all need to achieve a greater degree of insight and understanding of our underlying feelings, attitudes, biases and prejudices. We must also learn to understand and accept the differences between us as individuals and to also learn how to incorporate an attitude of tolerance toward others in our lives.

Ronald K. Melendy, MSW, LCSW, of Auburn is a retired licensed clinical social worker with 50 years of experience working in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient community mental health centers.

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