By Brett Youtsey
Tolerance is a crucial value in any democratic society. One facet of tolerance is social progress, but even more important is the right to disagree. Giving opponents access to political action is the agent of peaceful social change. When polarization dominates politics, people begin to lose respect for the opposition’s rights and dialogue takes a back seat to domination.
One of the products of the contentious political environment today is a polarizing form of rhetoric that categorizes people as either loving or hateful. This love-hate dichotomy harms democracy.
Extreme tolerance does not mean tolerance for everyone. It means doing everything possible to shut down those who are intolerant. No one can be a true champion of love without hating hate. Love and hate are extreme terms which call for extreme action.
But what is the problem with rhetoric that invokes extreme action? First, it further polarizes politics. If the opposition is the embodiment of hate, there is no moral reason to compromise. Democracy loses a critical tool for its function.
Compromise promotes mutual understanding, which lowers the chance of political violence. It also a useful tool in times of crisis. A day may come when Republicans like Donald Trump are considered moderate, and working with them will be essential in preventing even more radical factions.
Second, the moral absolutism of the love-hate dichotomy warrants infringing on other’s rights. Many, who favor extreme activism, have no qualms with shutting down hate groups. Stopping a rally might be a positive, but the biggest consequence is an escalation of violence.
There is an attitude in activism today that disregards backlash. This attitude makes perfect sense in a love-hate dichotomy. To many, the actions of love should not fear how the hateful might react. However, in reality it is essential to consider the actions of an opponent, especially when that opponent holds absolute power. Radicalizing politics puts lives in danger. The more violent opponents get under Trump, the more excuses he has to be oppressive in response. Extreme action causes extreme reaction, something activists should always consider.
Lastly, who decides what is loving and hateful? As society changes, so does its values. What is hateful may be agreeable now, but not so much in the future. Even the most progressive egalitarians from a century ago fall well below the standards of what is acceptable today. Activists may presently use the love-hate dichotomy to promote social progress, but if this mentality becomes entrenched in the establishment, politicians would be armed with a powerful emotional tool to solidify injustice in the future.
Not all dissent may be valid, but respecting the rights of all views makes society a fertile ground for new ideas that better the world. If a establishment is willing to shut down opposition, these ideas will either die or explode in violent bursts of revolution.
The love-hate dichotomy nurtures the destructive qualities of extreme rhetoric. The result is a hostile environment for genuine democracy. Moral absolutism creates a world where compromise is seen as making a deal with the devil, and disagreeing with the norm makes you complicit in hate. In this world it seems as though there is no room for the mild actions of democracy, only mutual hate and reciprocating violence.