Haters Are Hurting the World’s Democracies

“We’ve gotten to the point where hate is such an acceptable norm that we not only believe it’s inevitable but we try to overtly market its benefits — and exploit hate for profit.” This sentence, from the book “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity” by CNN political commentator Sally Kohn, aptly describes the difficulties that have developed in our global society. Not long ago, hate-filled behavior such as cyberbullying, aggressive driving, bad customer behavior and inflammatory speech cropped up everywhere in our lives, becoming the new normal.

When it comes to profiting from hate, President Donald Trump knows best how to disseminate hate to consolidate power. The New York Times collated his tweets from Jan. 20, 2017, his first day in office, to October 2019. Of the more than 11,000 tweets, 5,889 attacked certain people or events, 2,405 attacked the Democrats, 2,065 attacked the investigations into political scandal, 1,308 attacked the press, 851 attacked vulnerable populations and 570 attacked immigrants.

Trump also likes to use his Twitter account to express his approval. While 4,876 tweets praised certain people or events, 2,026 tweets praised himself. Moreover, 1,710 tweets promoted conspiracy theories, 758 praised Fox News and other conservative news outlets, and 132 praised dictators.

Is promoting hate effective? The answer is yes. In mid-November, the U.S. House of Representatives held impeachment hearings with much fanfare. Witness after witness revealed in their testimony Trump’s ugly behavior around the Ukraine call. The latest CNN poll, however, reveals that 43% of Americans still support Trump and feel he should not be impeached.

Haters currently hold the power. They didn’t obtain it through a military coup, but rather through a democratic election. During the Cold War, the collapse of three-quarters of democracies was due to coups. In “How Democracies Die,” Harvard political science professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt warn that democracies now die at the hands of elected leaders. The presidents elected in the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey and Venezuela have all established dictatorships under the guise of democracy.

In “How Democracies Dies,” the authors write, “This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy — packing and ‘weaponizing’ the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence), and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing field against opponents. The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy — gradually, subtly, and even legally — to kill it.” This passage not only applies to the U.S. under the Trump administration, but also to the development of democracy in Taiwan over the past few years.

Hate is a highly potent and illegal drug distributed by haters during elections and includes vilifying opponents and fabricating an imminent crisis in which the country is being attacked. Hate excites supporters, causing them to overlook or even acquiesce to the harm haters do to ethnic groups, generations, cultures and ecosystems. Regardless what our political positions are, we must refuse to be mobilized by haters and must not become haters ourselves. Hate should not be the foundation on which voters cast their ballots.

The author is an associate professor in the department of sociology at Soochow University.

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