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Loving Those Who Hate Us

September 9, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

I haven’t checked with reputable theologians to determine if the way I deal with our Lord’s directive that we “forgive our enemies” and “love those who hate us” is sound. But I think it is. What I do is interpret Jesus’ words as a requirement that I not wish ill of those who wish me ill. I wish them good health and happiness in this world and the next.
But I don’t go beyond that. I do not think I am required to like them or to make them part of my life. Nor do I think I have an obligation to forsake the appropriate criminal and civil punishment for their misdeeds. “Loving our neighbor” does not mean being a chump. I want murderers, for example, to spend a long, long time behind bars — where I hope they find the Lord and save their souls. And if I had invested with the investment embezzler Bernie Madoff, I’d be first in line to take him to court.
But there is another angle to this issue, isn’t there? Don’t we have a moral right to ask why those who hate us hate us? We have no moral responsibility to solve that problem, of course. It is their problem. But it is an intriguing question nonetheless. It makes a difference if those who hate us do so with malice, or because of an inaccurate caricature of our motives established through no fault of their own. The answer to that question will determine the nature of the Christian “love” and “forgiveness” we will extend to them.
Why are there people who see the world so differently from the way we do, so much so that they boil over in anger when they hear our position on the issues of the day? Why do they assume the worst about us and barrage us with charges of — you know the drill — racism, sexism, and homophobia?
Where am I going with this? I came across a column in The Washington Post on August 5 by Richard Cohen about Richard Nixon. Cohen asks in the column what it was that made Richard Nixon “a skunk”? Seeing as how I voted for Nixon for president twice, and do not regret my decision, I would imagine Cohen would consider me a skunk, too, or something close.
Cohen’s column focuses on the so-called Southern strategy that Nixon used to woo Southern whites from the Democratic Party in 1968. He calls it an appeal “to racism against African-Americans,” a promise to racists “that they had a point and welcomed them into the party of Lincoln” with the assurance that the “GOP would not do a damned thing for African-Americans.”
In contrast, Cohen continues, “The Democratic Party showed racists the door,” while the GOP welcomed them and, of course, their fellow travelers — “creationists, gun nuts, anti-abortion zealots, immigrant haters of all sorts and homophobes,” an “aggregation of bigots and fools.” Egads. If that were Nixon and the Republican Party, I’d hate them too.
Where to begin? Cohen is correct: Nixon and his team in 1968 did work to attract Southern whites to their side. But listen to Patrick J. Buchanan describe Nixon’s motives. Buchanan was there, an aide to Nixon during those years. He quotes from one of Nixon’s speeches in his engaging and insightful new book about Nixon, The Great Comeback. Nixon speaks of “the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans — the non-shouters, the non-demonstrators. They are not racists or sick. . . . They are black and they are white — they’re native born and foreign born — they’re young and they’re old.
“They work in America’s businesses. They serve in government. They provide most of the soldiers who died to keep us free….They’re good people, they are decent people; they work, and they save, and they pay their taxes and they care.”
And they looked at America in those years and saw “cities enveloped in smoke and flame.” They saw “Americans hating each other; fighting each other, killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish: Did we come all the way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?”
ixon was seeking to rally Americans — including many in the South — who were revolted by the coarseness of the counterculture, the unfairness of wealthy liberals busing someone else’s children to achieve racial balance in our schools, the use of racial quotas in college admissions and business hiring, the coddling of criminals and the handcuffing of the police, the derision of a place the protesters called “Amerika.” The people who responded to his message were not skunks. They were good people looking for an alternative to the society being concocted by the liberal elites of the era.
The strategy worked: Nixon won in 1968 and was reelected in 1972 in one of the great landslides in American history: carrying 49 states and 60.7 percent of the popular vote.
Were there “racists and gun nuts and immigrant haters” who responded favorably to Nixon? Sure. Just as there were assorted Marxists, black revolutionaries, drug dealers, pornographers, and layabouts looking for government handouts who flocked to the Democratic Party. Neither party deserves to be judged by its lunatic fringe, as Cohen does Nixon.
How should those who backed Nixon and the Republican Party refashioned by his Southern strategy react to Cohen’s hatred? I don’t know the origin of the saying, “Even God cannot forgive an unrepentant sinner,” but it makes sense to me. Forgiveness requires contrition from the sinner, and a determination to change his or her ways.
It is a guideline that applies to Cohen. Does he really believe what he says about American conservatives? If he does, we can cut him some slack. It would mean that he is an example of a person afflicted with what St. Thomas Aquinas called “invincible ignorance.” He is slandering Nixon and his backers, but sincerely does not know it.
If, on the other hand, Cohen is seeking to destroy the reputation of those who disagree with him through a deliberate and calculated misrepresentation of their motives, he deserves to be called out for his dishonesty. If that is what he is up to, I do not wish Cohen ill. I wish him good health and happiness in this world and the next. But my respect and the hand of friendship I would extend to a fellow American who, with the best of intentions, sees the world differently from the way I do, can wait for another time.

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