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Bigot — a person who is intolerant of people with different opinions or innate characteristics than their own.
Given this basic definition, what is the most pervasive form of bigotry in the United States today?
I am not asking for the most nefarious, egregious or atrocious form of bigotry. I’m not asking for a hierarchy of bigots or a rank of the rankest forms of intolerance and moral depravity. I’m not asking how certain forms of prejudice affect certain individuals more than others or have done so historically. These are all important questions that have been researched and answered, but that’s not what I’m asking.
I’m simply asking: what is the most pervasive form of bigotry in America today?
What force in America most drives people to be uncharitable and duplicitous towards one another’s diverse views? What American ritual spurs people to call each other idiots without hesitation simply for slightly disagreeing? What American pastime most makes enemies out of people who won’t conform to the same news accounts, let alone fundamental values?
Racism? Sexism? Homophobia? Antisemitism? Islamophobia? Ageism? Class conflict?
While all of these are certainly present in America in an insidious way, they don’t seem to be the most widespread forms of bigotry. Despite racial and gender disparities, despite the terrible existence of fringe hate groups, despite snipping between baby boomers and millennials, despite different class idiosyncrasies and power inequities, there have been remarkable advances on all these fronts with further progress still to be made toward a positive peace.
Rather, I contend that the most pervasive form of intolerance towards people with different views in America today is political, partisan bigotry.
Political Bigot – a person who is intolerant of people with different political opinions than their own.
Politics is too often a competition between bigots or, at least, is swift to make people bigots who think they are fighting bigotry when they are simply fighting over honest disagreements and different sets of non-rational values.
It’s almost as if bigotry is a virtue in politics — that political power turns us contemptuous and resentful towards one another. Rather than an enlightened and measured debate over complex issues, what passes for political discourse in America is often nothing more than dishonest advertising with a dose of insult comedy, absent the humor.
Well, I suspect it is easier to mobilize people for this or that political cause when they are told they must fight some great evil. I suspect, if you want people to fight fervently for your cause, you must make them believe you have the moral high ground while branding the opposition as morally depraved and ignorant. You must make your cause more than an abstract argument over ideas, but rather a matter of identity and personal pride.
Sometimes it is true that people really do have the moral high ground, but even when it is not true, inciting intolerance in the name of the greater good is still used for regimenting political movements. This only serves to confuse the issue of when a cause is actually just or when it is merely being used for cynical political ends.
War propaganda is, of course, the most virulent form of political bigotry; its purpose is to dehumanize the adversary in order to make people forget they are, in fact, killing other human beings. But, short of war, political bigotry endures. For instance, rather than simply deescalating and neutering the worst forms of bigotry (such as racism), politics can often play up the threat of intolerance for the sake of riling up the party base. Again, this only serves to confuse the issue, whereby folks falsely accuse one another of being bigots only to show themselves to be bigots despite their good intentions.
Indeed, “partisanship” might as well be synonymous with “bigotry,” which makes the term “bipartisanship” all the more absurd. Who on earth would want to have “bi-bigotry?” How does that work? You get some to empower some of your intolerance while the other side gets to empower some of their own?
Of course, I understand calls for “bipartisanship” are actually appeals to drop political intolerance and partisan posing for the sake of productive compromise, but most political compromises usually fail in this endeavor – solving little of substance while merely giving the opposing sides new ammunition and time to recharge their intolerance towards one another.
Put simply, it is easier to raise the ghost of Marx and Stalin to get the right to oppose Democrats rather than make a technical argument about the inefficiencies of, say, single-payer healthcare; it is easier to raise the image of Hitler and the KKK to get the left to oppose Republicans rather than make a technical argument about the harms of, say, restricting immigration.
All this hyperbolic political bigotry and partisanship aside, let us not fool ourselves when it comes to political bigotry and intolerance. There does come a time to take a stand and pick a hill to die on, a time to be pig-headed in your own way in the face of some other guy’s pigheadedness.
This is, in part, why political power should be limited as much as possible.
Politics is innately a matter of division and picking your particular form of bigotry.
Though I try not to let my own political bigotry destroy my sense of prudence and moderation, there does come a time to fight for what you believe is right. But just remember, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple,” and if fighting for what is right and true was so simple, evil would have been wiped clean from the world long ago.
If only we allowed ourselves more liberty to persuade one another absent the threat of political force, maybe the complicated truth of justice would be easier to glean — a just city built with love and understanding rather than intolerance and imposition.
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and currently, the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback please email email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.