Hatred, whether it’s targeting someone’s race, religion or sexual orientation, doesn’t grow in a vacuum.
It needs air and nourishment. It needs encouragement. Hatred thrives on anecdotes and stereotypes. And it gains ground where people remain silent.
This week, The Washington Post joined a growing chorus calling on Gov. Paul LePage to resign, citing the governor’s “unhinged racism and unhinged ravings.”
The Post goes on to chronicle the governor’s damaging behavior, threats and lies, including his claims of a three-ring binder that proves most of the drug dealers in Maine are people of color or Hispanic.
LePage has constructed a world that fits his point of view, a world in which black people or people of other religions or national origins are the enemy and that white Maine must be protected. Truth be damned.
The binder was the last straw for The Post. The paper says the governor really should move on “by resigning and seeking help, in order to spare the people of Maine more of his wild-eyed ramblings.”
To draw the attention of the editorial board of The Washington Post speaks to the level of indignity and outrageousness LePage has brought to the office of governor.
The Post warns: “Mr. LePage threatens to remake his state’s image from a vacation paradise of surreal natural beauty to a hotbed of hatred.”
As his tall tale, lies, blunders and dangerous rhetoric build one upon another, he has become a national disgrace.
No doubt the hardest core of his supporters will remain loyal, attack the media once again and dismiss it all as just the governor fighting against “political correctness.”
But for anyone interested in the facts, the indictment against the governor is overwhelming.
While the governor would like to change the subject from his racist behavior and words, it’s clear that his misdeeds will follow him for the remainder of his time in office — however long that might be.
But there’s a larger worry than the ravings of one “unhinged” governor. We see similar ravings from Donald Trump, who’s just one step away from being president.
Trump, who echoes the worst of LePage with a bigger megaphone, continues to draw support from the extreme right wing and white supremacists. Just last week, his son, Donald Jr., used social media to compare Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles.
He posted an image that read, with a picture of the colorful candy, “If I had a bowl of skittles [sic] and I told you just three would kill you. Would [sic] you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”
He followed the image with this wisdom, “This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”
There’s so much wrong with this, it’s hard to know where to start.
The analogy, however, isn’t new, and it comes from a much darker time in world history. Naomi LaChance at The Intercept uncovered the origins of this libel.
In 1938, LaChance wrote, a children’s book called “Der Giftpilz,” or “The Toadstool” was published by Julius Streicher.
In the story, the mother compares Jews in the community to a toadstool among edible mushrooms, saying just one can destroy the country.
Streicher also ran a newspaper that ran anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-communist and anti-capitalist propaganda, LaChance found. The paper called for Jews’ extermination.
After the war, Streicher was hanged for crimes against humanity.
To be absolutely clear — so there’s no chance for confusion — I’m not comparing the governor, Donald Trump or Donald Trump Jr. to the Nazis, nor are their sins anywhere in line with the Holocaust.
But violent, hateful rhetoric from political leaders is dangerous. It gives air to some of the ugliest impulses in society.
Comparing refugees to poison, blaming black people and Hispanics for a drug crisis that knows no color or community, and excusing violence against people you disagree with have the potential to put us on a dangerous course.
On NPR before this week’s presidential debate, Steve Inskeep interviewed a voter from Georgia. A Trump supporter, the man predicted a civil war if Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected.
As unsettling as it was to hear, this guy is just following the lead of people like LePage and Trump, who have done all they can to divide us against one another, to turn neighbors into enemies and to ride a tide of animus into political power.
If we don’t continue to speak out and to hold them accountable for both words and deeds, someone is going to put their dangerous ideas into action. And when they do, we’re all to blame.