Starting last April, for some mysterious reason, I began receiving emails from President Trump’s reelection campaign. I’ve gotten a barrage of more than 1,100 of them so far in less than six months. All of these involve some kind of request for money and many offer up spiffy Trump merchandise for sale. My favorite so far is the personalized Trump doormat with my name on it.
But more striking, and more important, is how almost all of them open with some capitalized version of: “THE LEFT HATES AMERICA!! THEY HATE YOU!!”
This is a charge repeated by Trump and his supporters a lot these days, in social media and even in a recent letter to the editor in reply to one of my recent columns: “Well, maybe that's because when you give the message that you hate everything about America, want to tear it down and rebuild it completely different, that is a good indication.”
Calling people you disagree with America-haters has a long history in the United States. Abolitionists were called America-haters because they thought that black people should not spend their lives as slaves. Suffragettes were denounced as America-haters because they thought that women should have the right to vote. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was condemned as an America-hater because he had the audacity to call for equal rights. To many, just having a different point of view makes someone an America-hater.
But what does it actually mean to love America?
Loving our country is not just about hanging a red, white and blue flag on a front porch, or hugging one for television cameras. That’s easy. The United States was founded on a set of noble promises, like “all men are created equal,” promises we broke right from the start. Our country’s entire history has been about brave people taking action, often at great cost, to demand that those promises of equality and justice to be kept. If you don’t understand that change is at the heart of America then you really don’t understand what our country is about. As Thomas Jefferson (not an America-hater) wrote, “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy.”
So what are these radical leftist ideas on the loose in 2020?
One is that everyone should be able to get medical care if they are sick. Another is that Black mothers and fathers should not have to live in worry that their child will be shot and killed by police for a broken tail light. It is the demand that we take action on climate change based on actual science and not leave our children a decimated planet. It is about dealing seriously with a pandemic that has killed more than 210,000 Americans, and not telling us that it will “just disappear like a miracle.”
Loving your country is about wanting it to be better and leaving it a better place than we found it.
The respondent to my column used this metaphor: “If I told my wife that I love her dearly, but I hate everything about her, she would know that I was either crazy or lying about loving her.” I’m sure that’s the case, but it’s the wrong metaphor. If you tell your teenage son to put down the video games and pick up his math homework, that’s not hate, it’s love. The same is true if you have a family member who has an alcohol or drug problem and you press them to get help. And the same is true with the movements of 2020 that are calling on America to address our challenges as a nation.
I understand why the chant of “They hate America!” has such power. Our country is changing quickly and that change makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Gay people can marry. The nation is more diverse than it used to be. Work is less secure than it used to be. The young have a different set of attitudes. People comfortable with the old ways worry that the country they knew is being replaced and Donald Trump has made a political career by stoking those fears, denouncing as evil anyone who disagrees.
Many activists on the left are only making it worse. They’ve become trapped in an echo chamber of the like-minded and can’t hear how slogans like ‘defund the police’ make other people feel threatened. Reform of policing in our country is long overdue, but no one is getting rid of the police.
One of the things that I am grateful for, living here in conservative western New York State, is that I do not live in an echo chamber of people who all think like me. I know people whose politics are right wing, left wing, and no wing. And I know that we all love America, even if we see it in different ways. Democracy, that most precious of our national treasures, is supposed to be how we work out our differences with respect, and move forward.
The real danger of all this demonization of other people is that it eliminates our ability to solve the hard problems in front of us. In 2020 the most loving thing of all that we can do for our country is to look for the ways that we can work together.
President Lincoln famously said in another time of national division, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Nor can a community, or a nation
Jim Shultz is a resident of Lockport, New York, and the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jimshultz.