Apparently, Ben Gran, a writer at Paste, believes that there isn’t enough hatred in the world. I mean, how else to explain the opening paragraph of his temper tantrum hit piece on President George W. Bush?
In his opening paragraph, Gran declares his hatred for President Bush seven times, including a declaration of hatred for Bush’s children. In fact, kicking off the theme of unbridled hatred, the article’s original title was “George W. Bush is Not Your Cuddly Grandpa. George W. Bush Can Rot in Hell.” Paste has since altered the title and added a note explaining that the title “has been amended because in an Internet environment where many people only read the headline, it came off more mean-spirited than we intended.”
Well, Paste editors, if I may direct my comments to you for a moment, it came off as mean-spirited because the article is mean-spirited. Altering the title doesn’t change the fact that Ben Gran wrote, “Ever since I can remember, for pretty much my entire adult life, I’ve hated George W. Bush … I hate his whole sick, twisted family. I even hate his children.” The opening paragraph, and the article in its entirety is, in fact, mean-spirited. Your completely transparent editorial shell game is only going to fool those who only read the headline to begin with.
For the rest of my readers, Gran’s article is simply rehashed liberal vitriol that attempts to twist an already dried up rhetorical pretzel into a new point. Unfortunately, the mess left behind simply adds to the existing mess that has been choking off actual dialogue for several years. And therein lies the biggest problem with Gran’s article.
Painting President George W. Bush as the archetype for evil is as unhelpful as painting President Barack Obama as the archetype of evil. I disagree with basically every policy position that President Obama pushes, but that doesn’t mean that I’m privy to his motives. Assuming entrenched evil in President Obama would be arrogant on my part as well as detrimental to my ability to helpfully argue with those who support him. For example, circling back, why should conservatives pay any attention to Gran’s arguments, past or future, when he has staked out such a hardline position that seemingly doesn’t allow conservatives to even approach him without being branded minions of Satan?
There’s a lesson in this for conservatives, too. If we want people to actually listen and engage our ideas, we can’t allow our emotions to control our tongue to the point where we’re spewing hateful words that may irreparably divide us from our neighbors. Echo chambers are not a good thing; Gran’s article illustrates that.
We conservatives, however, are not guiltless when it comes to charges of constructing vacuum sealed echo chambers. Thankfully, in my life, at least, thoughtful conservative voices helped my transition from a diehard liberal to a conservative. I believe that’s still possible, albeit more difficult now.
In late 2002 and early 2003, I was protesting the Iraq War before there was even an official Iraq War. My liberal buddies and I saw the handwriting on the wall and, like Gran, we believed that President Bush was determined to protect his daddy’s legacy at the expense of things like legality and morality. In fact, during that time I, too, hated George W. Bush and thought that he was the epitome of evil. I was foolish and wrong.
While still not entirely sure of what I think about the Iraq War, having had private conversations with friends who were high-ranking officials in the Bush White House, I’ve come to realize that not everything is as simplistic as the media pretends. For starters, I’ve learned that George W. Bush is a compassionate man who agonized over the war and its resulting carnage. He met with any family members of slain servicemen and women who requested a meeting. My friend told me that many times President Bush would quietly and humbly allow family members to take out their anger and pain on him. Evil dictators do not do that, and neither do unthoughtful, greedy, and opportunistic presidents.
As far as the motives and reasons for invading Iraq, it was common knowledge that Saddam Hussein had used chemical warfare on the citizens of his own country and that he was actively pursuing WMDs. At the time, no one outside of Iraq knew for certain what Hussain had or didn’t have. Anyone who claims otherwise is simply doing so with the glasses of hindsight smugly resting on the bridge of their nose.
Among other things, it was also known that Hussein had repeatedly tried to assassinate President Bush. As a madman with a lust for power and a willingness to enact acts of extreme violence on his own people, Hussein was not only a threat to the region, but was also a threat to the entire world. By all means, let’s argue about the implementation of the war, but it’s naïve to pretend that President Bush wasn’t acting in what he believed was for the best interest of the country based on the information that he had at the time.
Of course, none of what I wrote in the previous three paragraphs is going to change anyone’s mind. Nor should it. What it should do, however, is open up a spirited yet respectful dialogue. Unfortunately, articles like Ben Gran’s that trade in hatred and division undermine attempts at helpful discussion. Many of those on Gran’s “side” will view me as evil, at worst, and an idiot who unwittingly defends pure evil, at best. Those on my “side” will be tempted to respond in disgusted defensiveness because of Gran’s article. Giving in to that impulse is not helpful and will only serve to contribute to the trading of hate.
But hatred induces clicks, and clicks line the pockets of publishers. With Gran’s article, Paste, like many other websites, traded moral responsibility for gain. The social cost, however, has yet to be fully reaped.
In large part because of social media, in which every individual, if he or she so chooses, has the ability to publish hot takes, it’s increasingly difficult for people to have meaningful conversations about differing beliefs. When paid pundits gleefully pour rhetorical gasoline onto the epistemological and dialectical dumpster fire that the internet has largely become, well, we may as well board up the windows, stock canned goods, and learn how to milk goats because society as we know it is not long for this world.