There are trolls lurking among us. Humanity’s ancient enemies — prejudice, greed, the authoritarian spirit, nihilism — have been resurrected in modern forms and threaten to tear our country apart.
These elements sometimes manifest themselves in a crowd of angry young men waving tiki torches, in other ways through a caucus of smartly dressed politicians, cackling after passing legislation to take away health care from millions.
Every generation must ask themselves a question: What do we do with such forces? How can their influence be minimized and kept away from the halls of power?
Today’s progressives seem to have settled on the solution of cancel culture, the system where personal behavior is intensely scrutinized for flaws, and when a mistake is detected, the offending individual is promptly banished from polite society.
The theory behind it all is by making an example of the sinners among us, we will send a message to the rest that they better not sin, which will serve as a deterrent and improve the morals of society.
Yet this approach is deeply unsatisfactory. People are so infinitely complicated, so full of equal parts courage and cowardice, grace and cruelty, kindness and judgement. The notion that we can reasonably decide who to banish and who to keep is a faulty one. It is simply beyond our capacity to separate the angels from the ne’er-do wells, especially when most of us occupy both roles at different times in our lives.
So the cancel culture is foolish when it comes to human beings. By indulging in such nonsense, progressives are likely making everyone so angry and afraid, our cause becomes weaker, not stronger as a result.
However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action to uphold moral standards. The best way of doing so is by attacking ideas, not people.
For, unlike with individuals, you can measure the precise impact of an idea and figure out if it aligns with our shared values of equality and justice. Everything that falls short of fulfilling those things should be promptly tossed to the wayside and forgotten.
Xenophobia is a perfect example of this dynamic. We can take that ideology, put it under a microscope and discern its impacts.
President Donald Trump, while in office, implemented policies that were deeply imbued with this bigotry. He saw migrants as an existential threat to the nation and took action to treat them that way.
For instance, as reported in the New York Times, Trump instructed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to incarcerate everyone who crossed the border illegally, whether they were a part of an innocent family or a drug smuggler. Whereas under previous administrations, distinctions were made based on national security — asylum seekers and children, for example, were allowed to live in the U.S while waiting for an immigration hearing — the government was now instructed to lock everyone up.
Such a policy response was unprecedented. ICE detention centers started operating at triple and quadruple their capacity, to the point where officials simply couldn’t fit more bodies in the cells. The government incarcerated more migrants than at any time in American history. Consequently, conditions deteriorated to the point where visiting medical professionals referred to these sites as “torture facilities” that would inflict severe, lasting harm on their inhabitants.
Since Trump’s approach was utterly devoid of goodness, it does not deserve intellectual respect. No attempts should be made to prevent people from expressing support for his policies in newspapers or other media — for that would be un-American — but as a whole they must be rejected with boldness.
Now that is not the same thing as believing we should cancel those with anti-immigrant beliefs. Plenty of nice, decent folks get fooled into thinking those desperate souls crossing the border pose a genuine threat to their families. So they support xenophobic politicians like Trump, not out of malice, but through the sincere belief they need to in order to protect themselves.
For these people, we should not mistreat them. They deserve as much kindness as you or me. At the end of the day, sometimes folks just choose the wrong point of view; that doesn’t make them deplorable, it only means they’re human.
In this way, we can split the baby between civility and righteous anger, the need for unity and the demands of conscience. Save your heat for the awful ideas percolating among us. Unjust visions deserve no mercy, and must instead be put down like the moral poison they are.
As support for this political approach, one can cite the King of Kings when he said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
If someone believes migrants pose such a threat to America that it is right to imprison them en masse like some enemy army, I’ll still share a beer with them. For my conflict is not with any individual, but rather the fallen Angel who resides in hell and sent that perspective into the world.
And for him, there can be no civility — only a hit upside the head with a shovel.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.