The moral response to evil


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Gregg Mumm

This submission protests Tom Holmes' essay "Empathy for white nationalists?" appearing in Viewpoints, Sept. 4. Rev. Holmes calls on us to respect, reason with, and have empathy for the white nationalist. In effect, there's no cause for moral indignation.

But if not now, when?

Incredibly, it is apparently necessary to begin with the proposition that white nationalism is outright evil. Not "merely" evil, but evil of a magnitude that is devastatingly historical in its effect. Evil that is not in any way connected with empiricism, reason, logic, or enlightened sensibility; thereby, typically, unalterable in those possessed by it.

How utterly absurd that one would "think" that skin pigment or other physical feature is somehow related to character or one's potential to be a valued member of our society and nation. And 45 said it himself regarding the enduring quality of this bigotry: He could murder ("shoot") someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any support; in effect, characterizing his supporters as moral idiots. The KKK, in its publication The Crusader, celebrated his MAGA candidacy; American neo-Nazis, his election. 45 earned it.

Just from our own country's history: The treatment of Native Americans, the anti-immigrant stance of the Know Nothing Party, slavery, the slaughter of the Civil War, Jim Crow segregation with KKK terrorism (lynchings and church bombings), violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950-70s, and presently the cruelties inflicted upon refugees at our border with Mexico by an administration that ran in 2016 advocating the reintroduction of torture. All of this incredibly dark history born from, and sustained by, "white nationalism."  

Then too, considering history beyond our own borders, what, ultimately, is the theoretical distinction between "white nationalism" and 20th-century European fascism, with its hostility to democracy itself? 45's transactional adulation of murderous dictators, utter disregard for Russian interference in our elections, combined with his roiled relationship with the leaders of western democracies, establishes conclusively that for the first time in our history we have a president who not only will not protect our constitutional design, but is actually on a course to degrade it, if not collapse it altogether.

So what is the proper response? Empathy, with respect and an attempt at reasoning and compromise? Following the lead of the ministers who wrote to MLK in the Birmingham jail instead of his letter in response? Neville Chamberlain, instead of Winston Churchill? Even the futility of the open-minded, "let's reason together" approach is well established in the very book that Tom Holmes references: Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, which asserts that reasoning is typically a post-hoc rationalization of a judgment already reached through emotional triggers and intuition.

The moral response to evil, of course, is lawful resistance. Suggested minimal resistance: vote (and don't throw it away on some third party candidate of any stripe — there was no equivalency in 2016 and there surely won't be in 2020). Augmented and refined resistence: read Jill Lepore's This America. Augmented plus resistance: targeted shunning and social ostracism.

Gregg Mumm is a resident of Oak Park.

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