There comes a point when “Unity” makes no sense. There’s a point where democracy has to lay it on the line, even if the other side is threatening civil war.
Look – it’s all very well to go full-on Pollyanna and say that we need to understand other points of view, and that the only way towards reconciliation is kindness.
In a perfect world.
This world is demonstrably not perfect.
You can’t reason with people who would prefer you dead. You can’t reason with people who refuse to believe any evidence over their fondest imaginings. You cannot cajole, flatter, empathize, or understand them into civility.
Because they think that stuff is weakness. They think you are weak, and should be killed, and they are eager to do the killing.
The only way to deflect them from the goals they seek – and yes, admittedly, this is only a temporary detour, at best – is to make the cost of their beliefs so high that they get scared and retreat.
Look, a lot of what drives most people is to feel that they belong. That what they say is approved of by those around them. That they are superior to those who aren’t part of “the group”.
And what are they to think, if all kinds of media and organized religion tell them that whites are better than “others”, that immigrants are stealing their jobs, that the Democrats are evil, and that the election was stolen?
It isn’t even that they actually believe these things. It’s that for the last forty years, they’ve paid no penalty for these beliefs, but have, in many senses, been rewarded for them.
Not in money, of course: many of them are demonstrably poorer as the result of the austerity measures they vote for so enthusiastically. But socially, they’ve garnered praise and admiration, at least locally in their own communities.
Their pastor tells them they are virtuous for saying those horrible things. Their neighbors applaud their “courage” when they do those rude things, like refusing to bake a wedding cake or brandishing a gun at a black toddler in a park.
And if, as a result, they lose a little revenue for their business, or even become unemployed, they’ve generally made out like bandits by setting up GoFundMe pages and collecting far more money than they lost or could have ever hoped to earn.
Before we can reconcile with hateful people, we need to convince them to be less hateful. Before we can convince them that their opinions aren’t worth airing, we need them to see those beliefs as unpopular and out of step with their own communities.
And the only way to do that is to make them accountable, in the most extreme way that law and public opinion can muster.
You won’t change their minds, of course. At least some of them will remain unrepentant racist pieces of refuse to the end.
But there are two things that severe justice can accomplish.
One is that their children will know better, and an awful lot of them will grow up thinking far differently from their parents.
The other thing that punishment will accomplish is this:
They’ll mostly shut up.