“Love Trumps Hate” isn’t a safe space for bad ideas

Last Sunday there was a rally.

It was sunny but windy and cold; we huddled together to keep warm. There were 1,000 of us (not bad for a place with a population of a half-mil), and we were multi-racial, multi-national, multi-abled, multi-oriented, multi, multi, multi.

It was pretty awesome.

My family came with me. My son is 9. He carried a sign he made, wobbly letters painstakingly etched in brand-new cursive:

LOVE OUR COUNTRY. HATE OUR HATE.

He thought of that himself.

My daughter is 13. She was there. That’s sometimes as good as it gets with a 13 year old.

 

I carried a sign, too: Love Trumps Hate.

There were lots of Love Trumps Hate signs. Some were professionally printed; I remember seeing them in the Hillary Clinton web store.

One was made with a large sheet of heavy poster stock, with fancy writing in multiple colors and even glitter (if there was a Pinterest board for protest signs, this one would be on it).

Mine was made in five minutes before we ran out the door, because that’s just how life goes some days. A rectangle of cardboard; simple, block letters in black Sharpie.

The beauty of Love Trumps Hate is that it is just as true, just as important, just as valuable, no matter what the sign looks like. The sign is not what matters. The words are.

 

People who voted for Donald Trump say we are not treating them with love if we don’t respect their opinions. 

This is the “intolerance of intolerance is intolerance” quagmire.

The argument goes something like this: “You say we should be accepting of all people and opinions. But because you don’t like my opinion, suddenly you’re not “accepting.” And that makes you a hypocrite, and it means your message is a lie.”

For a lot of people on the left, who define not only their political position, but their very selves, as being inclusive and open-minded, this is a painful charge. And it’s hard to respond to, because Love Trumps Hate is such a conceptual thing. There’s a moral compass many of us operate from but never quite had the words to explain… when Love Trumps Hate came along, it filled that blank space in our vocabulary.

But then how do you explain the phrase that’s used to explain what you couldn’t explain before?

You see where this gets messy.

Now put all this in the midst of a charged debate (or outright argument), and it’s no wonder it can feel like a dead end.

 

The best way to explain Love Trumps Hate is to make it concrete.

And this is actually easy, once you know to do it, because Love Trumps Hate is about PEOPLE.

You know what it’s not about?

Opinions.

 

Love Trumps Hate is: A political commitment to defend the rights of all people.

Love Trumps Hate is NOT: A promise to validate someone’s opinions or feelings.

Love Trumps Hate means:

– I see you.

– You are entitled to the same rights as any other person.

– I will fight for your rights.

 

THAT’S IT.

Love Trumps Hate is not some neo-hippie-liberal personal affirmation. Love Trumps Hate is political. It grew from political means, and is a guide to a political end.

Being accepting is a philosophy that shapes the way we think about the freedoms people should have: in short, that all people are entitled to the same sets of rights, regardless of what color they are, who they love, where they were born, how they pray, how they move in the world, and how they identify. There are limitations on these rights – we have freedom of speech but cannot use that freedom to threaten people, for example – but those limitations are also applied equally and fairly.

This is a philosophy of people, not of ideas. Bad ideas – in the form of rules and laws – find no safe harbor among the accepting. Being accepting means protecting people’s rights to have bad ideas and talk about them. It does not mean allowing those people to use their bad ideas to infringe on the equal rights of others.

 

Love Trumps Hate doesn’t seek to change individual minds. It influences systems.

I would argue that our goal should be to change racism, not racists; bigotry, not bigots; white supremacy, not white supremacists.

I’ve written about how I think unity is overrated. Societies full of decent, educated people have been idle in the face of atrocities before. Things that were shocking to learn in history class – the Holocaust, slavery, etc – unfolded before the eyes of people who had families and friends and jobs and moments of kindness. And those people, no matter how good they were under the right circumstances, either engaged or were complicit in heinous acts.

So, frankly, it would be naïve to think we’d ever get millions of people to agree to be decent. We challenge those individuals: we do not stand for their hateful language and we don’t allow their beliefs to go unchecked. In this process, we may even be able to change the minds of a few.

But Love Trumps Hate is not a call for unity. It says so itself, plainly. Love Trumps Hate: one wins and one loses. There is no unity here, no grand kumbaya moment around a national campfire.

Love Trumps Hate is the expectation we hold for the way we are governed.

Love Trumps Hate…

… politically.

… systemically.

… societally.

Love Trumps Hate says that, in these arenas that shape our everyday lives, we demand that love – in the form of dignity, inclusion, and equality – mold the letter and spirit of the law. And when we see the forces of hatred and division infiltrate these frameworks, we confront it and do not allow it entry.

 

So when someone says, “Love Trumps Hate means you’re supposed to be open-minded, but you’re not open-minded with me,” here’s what you say:

“I am open-minded to YOU. This does not mean I have to be accepting of your IDEAS.

 Let me explain what Love Trumps Hate means: 

Love Trumps Hate means I recognize all people as deserving equal dignity and rights. This includes you.

It means I don’t think any person is lesser than another, even if they have beliefs I don’t agree with. This includes you.

It means that I will defend every person’s Constitutional rights, regardless of whether or not I like what they do with them. This includes you.

It means that specifically because individual people can have biases and wrong ideas, I expect the systems of our government to represent all people, and defend our rights equally and fairly.

Love Trumps Hate doesn’t mean I won’t disagree with you or challenge you.

What it means is that, just like I would fight for your rights, I will also fight for the rights of people you think don’t deserve them. That includes my own right to say what’s on my mind, even if you don’t like to hear it.”

 

That is actually quite a lot of words. You don’t have to say them all.

But I hope they helped you think of what you will say.

 

Love Trumps Hate is bold and strong and powerful, and you are all those things, too.

Don’t get discouraged by individuals who try to pull you down. Remember that when we change systems, we change lives today… and people tomorrow. Old ways of thinking have a way of dying out when the systems that sustain them break.

And if you ever need a reminder of what we’re fighting for, I think my little boy nailed it pretty well:

LOVE OUR COUNTRY. HATE OUR HATE.