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Spreading intolerance

Americans can’t let bigotry rule a nation founded in liberty


This is a disturbing moment in American society as emerging forces seem intent on taking us down a dangerous path toward intolerance. It’s a destination we must avoid.
We know that feelings of anger, bias, and intolerance lie to some extent within all of us. Yet a healthy society, through influences like education and peer pressure, honest opinion writers, clergy, elected officials, and other role models, helps all of us keep the thought lines open to our better angels— and to keep the darkness of intolerance and bigotry tamped down, stuffed in a box, hopefully never to emerge.
It’s a continual process. Building tolerance is like growing a garden. The flowers and the vegetables need constant nurturing while the weeds need to be nipped in the bud before their hateful seeds can spread.
America’s garden has grown more diverse over the years and it is easy to recognize that despite occasional steps backward, we have made progress over the years. We’re a more tolerant society than in the past. That’s undeniable.
Yet the weeds have been making a comeback. We have seen a rising tide of intolerance in recent years, targeting vulnerable groups, based on things like religion, sexual or gender orientation, or political beliefs. Even ideas and history are coming under assault by a kind of American Taliban whose vision is antithetical to the kind of tolerance that is so critical to a large and diverse nation as our own.
While there has always been a backlash, of sorts, to America’s social progress, for the most part the forces of tolerance were able to keep the zealots away from the mainstream. That ended the day that Donald Trump descended his golden escalator and opened the floodgates to bigotry. For most Americans his words were at first shocking and seemingly disqualifying in an era when few politicians were willing to wake that ugly beast. But Trump, who cares little of the harm he leaves in his wake, was speaking to a portion of white America that was looking for scapegoats for the things that had gone wrong in their lives and their communities and who were happy to hear Trump confirm that someone else was to blame. Here was a demagogue who wasn’t willing to play by the rules of a healthy society. He wore his intolerance and his prejudice on his sleeve, like a bloody shirt, and his followers cheered him all the louder for it. He was the voice for what they secretly believed, but rarely spoke outside the privacy of their own homes. Society had told them such views were harmful. Trump told them they would give them power, but only if they truly gave into them.
Trump’s election in 2016 was soon, and probably inevitably, followed by Charlottesville. Trump had opened the box in which modern American society had stuffed its uglier elements and they soon emerged, like zombies, with their Nazi imagery and white supremacist views to carry their torches, chant their lunatic slogans, and commit mayhem.
While poor, brown-skinned immigrants were first in line for Trump’s abuses, the line has grown longer since, and today includes Jews, Muslims, Chinese, gays and lesbians, and the transgender.
The weeds, meanwhile, have continued to grow and spread, until finally the flowers and the vegetables are accused of being the problem. Tolerance itself, dubbed “wokeness” by the many mini-Trumps now sprouting across the Republican landscape, has become the disease, not the cure, in the minds of a shocking number of Americans.
And the line of those under attack is constantly expanding, as is always the case with intolerance. In state after state in the past year, particularly in the South and middle West, librarians and teachers, writers, and books have become targets. Even private businesses that wish to provide a supportive and inclusive work environment for their employees are now under attack.
We’ve seen where this mentality leads, and it’s a very, very dark place, a place that most Americans don’t wish to go. Most of us still understand that freedom for all, the very foundation of the American ideal, can only be achieved in a society of mutual respect and tolerance.
Which means it’s time for the vast majority of us to begin to take a stand, to begin the push back against those who would target the vulnerable for political gain. It’s time we remember the flowers and begin to recognize the noxious weeds for who and what they are.