I know him. When he was a teenager, I crawled around in his head as his English Teacher. Sadly, months ago, his wife of many years died unexpectedly. A man in his 70s, he fell into a well of grief so deep he considered joining her. I held my breath as he struggled to find his balance.
Recovery came by inches, but it came. Eventually, I could stop worrying. Still, reading his comments on social media, I wondered if the residue of his grief had turned to hate.
He’s not a bad man nor a foolish one, but he seemed to need a reservoir of anger to contain his misery. Like our 45th President, Donald Trump, he focused on immigrants. They were criminals and rapists, he said, echoing the words of the former president.
I told him my mother was an immigrant. But he refused to connect the dots between his trust in me and my Costa Rican parent. She takes no offense. She’s dead.
I could tell him that as the child of an immigrant, his prejudice offends me. But that’s not true, exactly. I’m not diminished by his bias. Instead, I feel pity for him, aware that his hatred burns inside him like hot tar and that he’s injuring himself more than those he wishes to harm.
Self-torment is a condition common among most haters. Over time, their fury drives out other emotions. Compassion lost, they cling to their malice like voyagers tossed overboard at sea. Hatred becomes their ballast and their North Star. It distracts them from their disappointments. It explains why fame and fortune have eluded them. When they hear the word welfare, they are quick to retort, “Nobody ever gave me a handout.”
The statement is false, of course. These malcontents received a free education. Their water is drinkable, and their roads and bridges are maintained.
True, these benefits come from public taxes. But federal money isn’t shared equally. Some parts of the country receive a larger handout than others. Conservative states tend to be low-income states, and they pay less in federal income taxes, while people who live in those states are more likely to benefit from government support programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or SNAP, a nutrition assistance program.
My former student who is white and others of his ilk enjoy additional benefits as well. They can sit at a lunch counter or use a public bathroom without fear of attack. The employment they seek comes with the promise of advancement, while Immigrants take jobs so poorly paid, they must work more than one to put beans on the table.
The source of white contempt isn’t the absence of privilege. It’s fear. Forced to live cheek-by-jowl with foreigners, working-class white Americans …are more worried that they or their families will become victims of violent crime…they are more likely to live in neighborhoods with higher levels of social disorder… are also much more likely to believe that their families will fall victim to terrorism.
What’s lost to their understanding is that immigrants share these fears. Yet rather than join hands for the betterment of all, those who are native-born chose to pledge their allegiance to the superrich. Donald Trump never knew a door that wasn’t open to him, unlike them. Yet somehow, he’s convinced these followers that he feels their pain and that he stands as a bulwark against systems that oppress them both.
One of his supporters recently smiled into a television camera to say he’d take Trump’s autocracy over the ballot box any day. “Sometimes people need to be spanked,” he avowed.
Spankings aren’t meant for people who think like him, of course. They’re meant for people who believe in equality, diversity, and inclusion. He can’t envision a time when he might need a system of laws to protect him.
His ignorance makes democracy fragile and joined with the ignorance of others, he encourages enough civil unrest to invite tyranny. In this world, democracy has few friends, already. Even Nature abhors it. With few exceptions, democracy scarcely exists in the wild.
Even so, my eighty-seven years on the planet have convinced me that though imperfect, democracy is the best way to protect the individual from the tyranny of the powerful. E. Jean Carroll and her suit against billionaire Donald Trump is an example.
Who doubts that absolute power corrupts absolutely? Those who seek it are the least to be trusted. As individuals, we accept the yoke of government as part of a social contract, relinquishing some rights in exchange for greater collective benefits. To this end, democracy best suits the individual’s purpose. Founded on the notion of equality, it entitles everyone to keep an eye on everyone else.