Stunned by the summer of hate: accepting the reality of the culture war

A few years ago, one of my favorite British ’80s bands, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, released a comeback album. The killer single was called “I Loved the Summer of Hate”, and it was as exuberant and singable a bit of pop punk as you ever did hear. I listen to it quite often on my iPod.

But I can’t say I share the sentiments of the song title. Though my family and I have had a wonderful summer (working on a book, trips to France and Israel, seeing friends and family), I’ve been increasingly worried and depressed by the tone of American political discourse. In the arguments over the health care plan, gay marriage, “birthright citizenship”, and above all, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, the rancor has hit a level of ugliness I haven’t seen in my life. My political memory goes back about thirty years or so, and I’m enough of an historian not to substitute my recollections for the entire American experience, but still — I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve deleted Facebook friends whose anti-Obama, anti-Islam rants became too incendiary to bear; I’ve had more political arguments since Memorial Day than I had in the previous three or four years. It has felt to me very much like a “summer of hate”, and I’ve found it all deeply disheartening.

The mosque controversy has encapsulated all of the nastiness for me. I’ve tried, and failed, to understand the arguments of those who do not want the Park51 project built in lower Manhattan. I’ve noted with bemusement that many right-wingers (including loads who’ve never set foot in New York) speak of the area in which the mosque might be built as “hallowed ground”, a reference that stands in sharp contradiction to what Jill Filipovic (in her wonderful post on the controversy) describes as New York’s usual reputation in the conservative mind as “Sodom to San Francisco’s Gomorrah.”

I have thought this week of my many Muslim students. I thought, for example, of Farah, a young Muslim worman who dropped out for a semester after being repeatedly verbally assaulted on campus in the aftermath of 9/11. I thought of Karim, a young man who worked hard to reconcile his homosexuality with his faith, and who turned me on to Al-Fatiha. I thought of Djamila, who came a semester after Farah and about whom I wrote in this post. I thought of the religious studies courses I TAed in 1991 and 1992 at UCLA, and my many friendly meetings with the splendid Maher Hathout who so often came to speak to my students. I have thought of these folks, and I’ve gotten very angry.

I’ve never before felt so clearly that we are indeed in a “culture war.” The phrase was originally Pat Buchanan’s, and when he first uttered it (I think at the 1992 GOP convention), I dismissed it as rhetorical overkill designed to stir up the shock troops of the religious right. But eighteen summers later, I’ve come to see Pat was on to something: we are in a battle to determine what America is and will be, and what role that America will have in the broader world. I’ve insisted for too long that I’m not a combatant, even though my sympathies clearly lie with the left, with pluralism, with cosmopolitan toleration and with social justice. But after what I’ve heard this summer directed at President Obama, what I’ve seen happen in Arizona, and after what I’ve witnessed from those opposed to the Park51 project, I can’t claim to be on the sidelines any more.

I don’t hate conservatives. But I do hate the vision of this country offered by the right; I do hate the claims of swaggering American exceptionalism, the claims that Islam is somehow not part and parcel of the best aspects of the Abrahamic tradition, the claims that those who are born on this soil ought not to be offered all the protections of citizenship if their parents arrived here illegally. I am no great patriot, but I love America enough to fight against those whose vision for it is so small.

I’m a father now, of course, and as a consequence spend a great deal of time thinking about my daughter’s future. Though Heloise may not choose America as her home (her multiple passports will give her options), she will be raised here. And I want my multi-racial daughter to grow up in a nation that is open, tolerant, just, and compassionate. Not in my memory have I heard so much invective from those whose vision for our collective future is so radically at odds with those values. And so, as this summer nears an end, I’m a bit stunned, a bit depressed, a bit angry — but mostly, I’m a lot committed. If I wasn’t before, I’m a footsoldier in the culture war now, and my time and my prayers and my money and my sweat are going to this very real fight.

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0 thoughts on “Stunned by the summer of hate: accepting the reality of the culture war

  1. Yeah, a month ago I thought this “ground zero mosque” BS would never rise above the level of, say Michelle Malkin–or maybe Glenn Beck. That is has the ‘legs’ it does is staggeringly depressing. How quickly I’ve come to yearn for the tolerance and decency of George W. Bush, who’d never have encouraged this nonsense. I’d forgive him no less than 17% of the awful things he did when in power if he’d say what he really thinks of this nonsense.

  2. I know you and I disagree sharply on some specific gender matters, Hugo, but I agree with your post here. The misaligned economy is the powderkeg (Ian has many of the important details), with enormous numbers of people essentially consigned to the dustbin despite the country’s desperate need to restructure for domestic consumption and the utilization of renewable energy. Unfortunately, the wealthy elites that have overseen the leeching of the lifeblood from the American economy have no intention of allowing this to occur, and Obama and most of the Democrats have been unwilling and/or unable to challenge their domination.

    Frustrated by stagnation and the failure of the democratic process, many Americans will turn to the Republicans as an alternative, despite the fact (or in some cases, because) many of them ultimately offer little more than violent ignorance and an enthusiasm for scapegoating people. We’re not quite here yet, but it sure feels like we’re getting closer.

  3. I love your blog-post, Hugo. For me, this is a chance to be aware of how the adversary, even war, begins. I see that it begins with me. I get so angry at the thought of persecution occurring on our soil; doesn’t that only happen elsewhere? I realize that it’s people getting angry that is the problem.
    While I will fight this ugly movement on a personal, face to face level, with everyday people, I know that if I act out of anger rather than love, I’m only fueling the hatred. Social injustice sounds like a righteous thing to get angry about, but in practice, it’s just more anger. My “fight” must begin within myself.

  4. I am on the opposite end of the political spectrum as in pretty conservative (not a total radical but pretty out there sometimes) and in some ways this summer has really bothered me too in my nice polite way of thinking. But ultimately I wouldn’t have it any other way this is the United States of American we have rights to free speech and political expression I am happy to see people on both sides of the issues using them. I would argue that though we may like a polite discourse the reality of a truly free society is pretty down and dirty sometimes. I would much rather have name calling and “hate” spewing from both sides freely than a deafening silence of politeness. Oh yes and I am a foot soldier in the culture war too and will be fighting for a good but different vision for my beloved country.

  5. Hi, Gayle. You write:

    I would much rather have name calling and “hate” spewing from both sides freely than a deafening silence of politeness.

    Goodness, you’re not a WASP. ;-)

    Seriously, I think that’s a false dichotomy. There is a third way: serious, civil, impassioned disagreement that honors the good faith of those on the other side.

  6. The tea partiers cannot claim to be “civil,” “gracious losers,” etc. when they hold up signs that say “Spay and Neuter Liberals” at multiple events, and fail to denounce these signs (even if, to their credit, they have denounced a number of other signs–although it took 10 months for them to do anything about Dale Robertson.)

    Additionally, they cannot say they “are America” or are “mainstream” when they represent only the rightmost of the right.

    Moreover, it is peculiar to see them call for “freedom and liberty” when they call for such anti-liberty measures as sodomy laws and mandatory gun ownership.

  7. Oh, I think the nastiness has been around for quite awhile–there’s lots to go around and no one’s cornered the market on it. It just appears to be escalating. It’s all over the Internet, even rearing its ugly head on comments in this blog. People are just getting ruder and louder. I see it everywhere–even today while reading customer reviews at Amazon, especially towards a book and the movie which was recently released.

    “I’ve been increasingly worried and depressed by the tone of American political discourse.”

    Join the crowd. Given the state of the economy it’s hardly surprising is it? People losing jobs, homes, pensions, healthcare, etc., creates a lot of stress. You have a steady job as a tenured professor and that provides you with security that few people have. I wonder if you can empathize with how serious it is for many of us given your situation. Everyone I know has suffered or is suffering the effects of this economy and most of these people were/are hardworking who made good choices. Still, it doesn’t seem to matter.

    Yes, it’s disheartening. Few people I know where I live are convinced that the economy is on the rebound. The situation creates a lot of worry and stress–at least it does to everyone I know, and I do know a lot of people who have lost their jobs, homes and businesses.

    You haven’t seen this in your lifetime and neither have I, but we didn’t live during the Depression era either, which our current situation is compared too. The third way you speak of in your response above is something I seldom see from and by anyone.

  8. Well, unemployment in early 1983 was 10.8%…quite a lot higher than the current 9.5%. I was only born about then–what was the discourse like then?

    I know, from reading, that there was a lot of “blame Jimmy Carter” from the right, and blaming Reagan from the middle and left (in fact, Reagan’s approval fell all the way to mid-30s–quite a lot lower than Obama’s. Perhaps this was more deserved, not only because 10.8 > 9.5, but also because Reagan had two years to fix the economy, while Obama has had just over 1 1/2.)

  9. anonymous,

    I think you may have posed this question to Hugo. I’ll respond that unemployment numbers is not the only issue–it is never just about numbers. The current economic situation is complex–too much to delve into for this forum. Suffice to say that our economy is different from the early 80′s and vastly different from the Depression era. Notably the loss of manufacturing from the depression era. Yes, it’s a brief response, but a complex lesson isn’t suitable for this forum and on that note there are always diverse and conflicting opinions on the subject of economics as well.

  10. I agree that it is a complex topic.

    But on a similar note, one other example of right-wing hate that’s flared up recently is directed at some of those who do have jobs–namely, that left-of-center/left-of-far-right people, if they do have jobs, don’t do “real work.”

    They often claim that jobs like malpractice lawyers, bureaucrats, and professors, which they feel don’t create new wealth, are held by the left, where as the right consists of businesspersons who do generate new wealth.

    Those are fighting words…I dare them to say that to Warren Buffett’s face. (On that note, when people on the right do delve into left-leaning professions, they expect to have these stereotypes thrown out the window just for them. Look at Victor Davis Hanson* railing against all of the great free market of Hollywood–in other words, literally biting the hand that feeds him as a California professor–along with talking about how John Edwards didn’t have a “real job” as a malpractice lawyer, and on top of that playing the persecution complex by talking about how “lonely” it is to make it as a conservative academic.)

    *I always saw VDH as a sort of mirror image of Hugo–both are California professors, but one is a liberal Republican, and one is a conservative Democrat.

  11. Anonymous, I’m delighted and flattered with the comparison to VDH, whose work as an historian has been so extraordinarily prolific, whose love for this state is undeniable, and whose politics are so unfortunate. I think his Carnage and Culture was a very valuable book, and I agreed with much of what he had to say. (And I’m a sixth generation Californian, and he’s only a fifth, so there.)

  12. No problem–my criticisms of him were in no way meant to detract from his intelligence, and long heritage in the state.

  13. anonymous,

    “…if they do have jobs, don’t do “real work.”

    “They often claim that jobs like malpractice lawyers, bureaucrats, and professors, which they feel don’t create new wealth, are held by the left, where as the right consists of businesspersons who do generate new wealth.”

    That’s an old agrument too. “Real work” meaning that they do not generate new wealth? I know a lot of business people who would agree with that assessment and yes, they are not fond of bureaucrats or cetain types of attorneys either. In fact, few people that I know or am acquainted with admire bureaucrats, and quite frankly some have very good reasons not to like them. I’m highly suspicious of them too as they tend to misuse power. In my state several bureaucrats are under investigation for embezzlement, lying and all of that stuff, etc., etc., not that business owners cannot be just as dirty.

    And as for malpractice attorneys well I don’t know too many people singing them praises either. They’re a necessary evil in our society. An attorney I sought admitted to me that he made money off of other people’s pain. As far as professors go I took classes from several who I strongly believe should not have been granted tenure and many of my classmates felt the same and I will leave it at that.

    I don’t run around making sweeping generalizations though using words such as all and every–at least I try to refrain from such problematic statements.

    “On that note, when people on the right do delve into left-leaning professions, they expect to have these stereotypes thrown out the window just for them.”

    I think this behavior is true of most people–they expect others to look the other way, while at the same time feel entitled to criticize others for indulging in the exact same behaviors that they accuse others of.

    I grew up in California and still have family there. I don’t like what is happening–it bothers me to see the downward spiral of the economy. My current state of residence is really not that much better–the population density is less, but the problems are compounding and many.

  14. Yeah, but I haven’t heard Warren Buffet complain much about how hard it was to advance in his career due to his world view.

    Nor do you see left-leaning people who are in the aerospace, defense, petrochemical, etc. industries publicly complain much about how hard it is to make it in their field (part of this is that if their views were publicized and discovered, they’d likely be fired.)

    If the academic world was as oppressive to the right as people said it was, you’d see Liberty U, Bob Jones U, etc. be drastically more selective than they are, and have much higher enrollment. As it is, numerous young conservatives are *choosing* to enroll in colleges that one would think are oppressive to them (see Ben Shapiro at UCLA, Michelle Malkin at Oberlin, Ann Coulter at Cornell, etc.)

    Surely the criticism of malpractice attorneys can be extended to corporate attorneys?

  15. “…(part of this is that if their views were publicized and discovered, they’d likely be fired.)”

    I’d say this is true of most employement situations, except tenured professors. I’m hard pressed to think of any other situations which offer the same kind of security that they enjoy. Few people I know would be outspoken in social situations and cultures when their views would be unpopular and not appreciated. Why would they want to rock the boat when they need a paycheck and speaking your mind could threaten your security. They would go along, but it tends to breed resentment over the long run.

    Some people do thrive in environments of conflict and controversy. Yes, criticism can be extended to corporate attorneys as well. When it comes to attorneys and criticism I wouldn’t stop there…be generous.

    Behaviors which encourage oppression are often subtle. Because something is hard to detect doesn’t mean that it cannot be felt as oppressive and limiting to someone who may not share your views.

  16. “As it is, numerous young conservatives are *choosing* to enroll in colleges that one would think are oppressive to them (see Ben Shapiro at UCLA, Michelle Malkin at Oberlin, Ann Coulter at Cornell, etc.)”

    There could be a host of reasons why they chose to enroll in those colleges, despite the political leanings. Many of my professors held polictical views and values which differed from mine, however my focus was on obtaining a degree in my chosen field–it was offered at that college and I was accepted there. One learns to try to make the best of their environment if their goal is to graduate. Likewise, what would the point be in arguing with people, in this case professors, who could through their own personal bias, lash back in subtle and hard to detect ways, or who routinely dismissed and de-valued my viewpoints because they didn’t reflect theirs. That is a problem most people face in work environments as well as other areas in their life. People in positions which are considered more powerful than others, often misuse their power. I’m thinking of some experiences that occurred, however this is Hugo’s blog and it is not the forum for discussing it.

    I’m acquainted with many people whose viewpoints are dissimilar to my own–they don’t hear, listen and they make up things as they go along with very little or next to no information. I say acquainted, because they do not know me. One can be around people everyday and sitll not know who they are–not because I’m hard to get to know, but all due to their constant need to project. People talk of being so open, but in reality I know few people who are. Most seem pretty intolerant of hearing the other sides viewspoints.

    Take feminism for example. I’ve been interested in the subject on other forums, but noticed that the discourse was limited and didn’t encompass many of my beliefs, views or experiences. I did try to bring up subjects that were of interest to me and relevant to my life to no avail and was invited to go elsewhere. Attitudes like that don’t help their cause, and in fact turn off people who may otherwise be strong supporters or good allies. Why would I feel compelled to support their cause or help them politically when they behave in non-productive ways. Actually, I’ve had more than a few experiences like that, yet I don’t and wouldn’t provide them here in this forum.

  17. Here is something that made things very clear to me that Femisex.com posted.

    “I shake my head. The Left has totally LOST it on this one.
    This country has deep respect for religious freedom; we also have a deep sense of what is right. It is in no way the right thing to do to build tribute to Islam on the site where those intent on stamping out religious freedom in the name of Islam killed a lot,– a whole lot of people. Do they (the 19) speak for all Muslims? NO, but that is beside the point. The KKK did not speak for all Southerners, but the history of hatred to blacks was rooted in the South as Islam of late has a significant history of hatred/disgust for the freedoms Americans give to other religions and our women. This is not a hard one folks. No freaking mosque where a memorial to ESTABLISHED tolerance should stand.

    Want a laugh. See what Obama has to say about building a Confederacy Cultural Center next door to the site of the Birmingham Church Bombing that killed four innocent children. Such an undertaking would be repugnant no matter how many times one said it was intended to build bridge between black and white. ”

    This post hit home to me and made me realize what a one-sided president we have. I know in my heart that Barack would never say to African Americans that it is “essential” to build a Confederacy Cultural Center next door to the site of blasphempy in Birmhingham. I trust him as a member of my heritage to get that right and by God, he would not screw that up. So, it is easy for me to see the reason the mosque should not be built, aside from my desire to back up my man Barack on this issue.

  18. Appears we are on the same page regarding different kinds of attorneys. There are many cases where it’s more of a human nature issue than a right or left issue.

    But my point with the comments about Warren Buffett and the right-leaning industries is that the left-leaning political anomalies mentioned never felt a need to form large publicly known “support groups” for themselves, the way that there seems to be a huge “Hollywood conservative” movement, for one.

    The reasons for this may, again, be too complex to discuss here. Sometimes I wonder if it would benefit the left if they acted more like the right in this regard–it seems like the right puts individuals like John Hughes, Drew Carey, Michael Crichton, etc. upon pedestals as much because they go against the political grain of their professions as because of anything else.

    Indeed, support of all or most Democrats is considered treason by much of the petrochemical industry primarily because of cap-and-trade, for instance, but many of its employees might not buy entirely into conservatism because of social issues, foreign policy, etc. Just because someone’s good with numbers, logical skills, and the like that would make them excel in the industries mentioned doesn’t mean they should also have to fit into a political straitjacket. (On that note, it is insulting that some on the right say that it proves that only conservatives think logically due to their domination of the profession.)

    This should be a two way street, of course; regarding Shapiro et al. I understand that their abilities likely pulled them towards those schools, among other reasons, and their political views may not have been developed yet. (Moreover, I’m not sure Shapiro would’ve fit in at a school like Liberty, Steubenville Franciscan, etc. simply because of his religious views.)

  19. Anonymous,

    “The reasons for this may, again, be too complex to discuss here. Sometimes I wonder if it would benefit the left if they acted more like the right in this regard–it seems like the right puts individuals like John Hughes, Drew Carey, Michael Crichton, etc. upon pedestals as much because they go against the political grain of their professions as because of anything else.”

    How could acting a way that you don’t feel and believe be beneficial? Yes, there are people who are quite adept at acting to to manipulate an outcome and so yes, this can be beneficial in the short-term. It also creates hostility and resentment–not exactly great for morale.

    I also don’t know the reason–maybe they feel overwhelmingly outnumbered in Hollywood–this can also impact getting projects made. It’s well known who Hollywood’s target audience is and basically all products are marketed to the dominant audience as in all consumer products–that is the God they serve. I’m only speculating about reasons. I don’t buy into much of the reasons people offer for what they do period. Do they place those people on pedestals anymore than who the left worships? Everyone has their vices.

    “Just because someone’s good with numbers, logical skills, and the like that would make them excel in the industries mentioned doesn’t mean they should also have to fit into a political straitjacket.”

    I agree, yet I find this is common in most professions and elsewhere. Most people say they are “open”, etc., but I find that untrue. It’s just human nature, regardless of your polictical beliefs. It all has the potential to turn into cults, ostracizing people who do not fit the mold. People love controlling others.

    “This should be a two way street, of course; regarding Shapiro et al. I understand that their abilities likely pulled them towards those schools, among other reasons, and their political views may not have been developed yet.”

    I would emphasize among other reasons. Fitting in due to religious views would be a secondary consideration and a minor annoyance when the goal is obtaining your degree, etc. As with most beliefs, etc., political views may have their roots in family, but are developed over time.

    As for attorneys, well I’ve met quite a few who became disillusioned and wound up in other professions. Most of those people were probably idealistic before realism smashes them in the face.