For most of my life, I wasn’t allowed to say I hate. My parents are Christians, and pretty devout, and saying that you hated another person was about the same as saying you wished they were dead. Most of the time that they pointed this out to me, during years of adolescent angst, I wanted to respond, “Well, yeah! Exactly!”
When I was a young adult, first making my own way in the world in my early twenties, I got a little more comfortable with saying, “I hate bananas,” or “I hate the Red Sox.” Every time the word passed through my lips, I felt a twinge of something. Guilt, maybe. I thought it was residual from my parents, the fear that if they, and possibly God, knew I was saying these things, they’d be so disappointed in me.
But it never really went away. To this day, I still struggle with saying that I hate another person. Even during the 2008 and 2012 elections, when the Tea Partiers in my life emerged from the woodwork to fill my newsfeed with accusations that Obama was a communist, a Nazi, an anarchist, a Muslim, or the devout follower of a Christian preacher who they decided was racist against whites, whose dark skin and last-name-ending-in-a-vowel was evidence that despite having produced every version of a birth certificate requested, he was not born in the U.S., even then I found it hard to say, “I hate them.” or “I hate Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Glenn Beck, Ted Cruz…” insert name here.
I get that this is my issue, my thing that I struggle with, but the truth is…it used to be more universal. I don’t mean using the word hate. What I mean is, we used to keep our hate under wraps in ways that have now gone the way of the do-do. (That is not another Sarah Palin reference). For a long time, even when we politically disagreed with someone, when we despised their religious ideologies, we kept it to ourselves, or voiced in small groups, to our spouse in a sort of vituperative pillow talk that rarely got repeated in a public forum. The shouting and banner waving racism characterized groups only on the very extremes of American society, your Klans marching on the Mall, your burning crosses, your neo-Nazi skin heads in jackboots, poo-pooed as the outliers of society that was polite, and at its core had the potential, always the potential, to progress, to improve.
Now, we say, I hate you, I hate them, like its the punchline to a knock-knock joke that can be told at cocktail parties, across the dinner table, typed into Facebook status bars, spotting our Twitter feeds. Knock, knock, who’s there? I hate you. I hate the poor. I hate the Muslims. I hate the Jews. I hate. I hate. I hate.
I hate it.
I get regularly accused of going on “carebenders,” which are exactly what it sounds like. I think I saw enough violence and anger growing up with my devout Christian step-father, the one who didn’t let me say hate, but who showed his hatred for me with the back of his hand. I saw drive-by shootings, and shattered windows of cars on the way to school. I saw girls pull each others hair out nearly by the root, teeth bared in school quads. I grew up amidst violence, and all the while I thought it was a thing that was happening now, but once I grew up and got out, it would become a thing that happened then. It would get better. Things would never go back. Sometimes I think the carebendering I do is my last ditch efforts to get some semblance of that belief back, that it really will get better. That we will grow up and go forth. That we won’t always hunker down, clutching our material things to our chest, saying “Mine!” the way the bratty kids in first grade did with the good crayons.
But it hasn’t gotten better. It’s gotten worse. Now I hear people say they oppose universal health care because why in God’s name should they spend any of their money to help others who are poor, when it is their own fault they are poor. As if millions upon millions of Americans don’t have healthcare or a means to improve their lot in life because they gave up a job at the mall at 18 and instead, summered in Monaco, fritting their dollars away like the grasshopper who played too long and too hard, and had nothing to show for it in the end but cancer that was a death sentence because it was a pre-existing condition. Now, I regularly hear self-described Christians demand to know why in God’s name is it my responsibility to do for other people?
I must have missed that verse where Jesus said to do unto others as you feel like doing unto them. When he charged them for loaves and fishes. When he said, “Strap your guns and screw the poor.”
Recently, I heard someone say that the new healthcare laws, and others like them, are going to change the American we know for good. He lamented this. I applaud it. Because the America I know today is mired, not in political division and economic disparity, not in religious strife and the denial of rights. The America today is mired in hate. It festers beneath the surface of the superficial shell of our Netflix queues and Macy’s charge cards. It spreads sickly and tumorous beneath the mask of low APRs, of seatback TV screens and SUVs, and the false face of one nation under God. Hate eats away at the core of this country, and it will continue to do so. We look out to fight our foes, see the demonic in our enemies. We turn our faces away from the truth: the downfall of this nation will never be single-payer systems, gun regulations, or a Bachmann-style end times scenario. The downfall of our nation will be the war within, the pre-existing condition of selfishness, as we fight to grab for all that we want, or the courage to open our hands and extend to others, and to ourselves, what we need.