Today’s issue of The On-The-Other-Hand News comes to you via author Frank Bruni’s Opinion piece in The New York Times Sunday Review from August 11, 2019 and the follow-up Letters to the Editor in The New York Times from August 14, 2019. The title of the article is: “Hate is So Much Bigger Than Trump.”
Frank Bruni, I love you. It takes a man of immeasurable courage to write a piece like this one; it takes even more courage not to retaliate against those who have arrayed themselves against you, and you didn’t. I’m so glad your mama was proud of you, but she’s not alone—there are plenty of us who stand with you. On the days when you’re feeling all alone, or scared about your eye, remember the myriad, varied hearts you have touched with your words and your courage. Rest assured, sir, that we remember you.
That said—because it had to be—Frank Bruni’s Opinion piece on hate is quite literally terrifying. Haters, no matter what you or I do, are gonna hate. They are, and it’s no use putting our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. Hate ... is.
And whether it’s Mr. Bruni who’s a type, or RuPaul who’s a type, or my high femme self with the trans husband who’s a type, or any other type you can name, typing anyone strips that sacred being into a singularity out of the divinely created complexity that is a human being. How dare someone do this?! How dare they? How would they feel if someone did it to them?
Well, one of the reasons they dare is because hate is getting louder and louder in our civilization. Because it has explicit permission.
Hate is also getting easier and easier in our civilization. Because of our wretched, technology-fueled disconnection.
Hate is also, as Mr. Bruni, so beautifully wrote paraphrasing the elegant Emily Dickinson, “Well, hate is the thing with tentacles. It holds people tight and refuses to let go.”
What about the rest of us? The readers who wrote to Mr. Bruni supporting him and claiming him as a teacher? Those of us who do what we can not to hate? What can we do to heal it? Anything?
I had a boyfriend years ago who was determined to wean himself and everyone else from using the word hate. Every time someone said, “Dontcha just hate that?” which was common parlance for the time, he said, “Ouch.” No matter who was talking. Public. Private. Strangers. Friends. Sermons. Speeches. Celebrities. It was a one-man anti-hate campaign.
That’s one thing we can do. Tell the truth about hate.
Hate, as a concept, let alone in speech ought to make us feel ouch. It’s not so much farther a step to say it aloud. What we’re saying is Ouch. Hate hurts all of us. And for as long as we are bearing witness to hate, and not challenging it for all we’re worth, we’re implicitly condoning it.
We need to switch implicit to explicit—to match the permission that’s already been granted from the White House on downward.
The next time you hear someone speak of hate, stop them, and tell them it’s hurting them—and you. Ouch.
For those whose hate masquerades as any of a dozen -isms, speak up. Shall I name them? Racism, Classicism, Sexism, Genderism, Agism, Ableism, Religionism, Nationalism, Patriotism, Economic Disparity-ism. Discriminations all. Remember after 9/11? If you see something, say something?
Well, if you witness hate masquerading in -ism clothing, you don’t have to start a war, but you can ask quietly, “Am I understanding you? Are you speaking hate into our world? Ouch.”
Don’t get into it. Plant a seed. Pray for that person. Pray for all haters. They need it, and so do we. The reason is so that we can remain as strong, as brave, as solid as Frank Bruni. When we don’t address the hate around us, we turn ourselves into haters.
And, explicitly or implicitly, we certainly don’t want that, now do we?
Hate Is So Much Bigger Than Trump
Just look at history. Or at my inbox.
By Frank Bruni
Opinion Columnist Aug. 10, 2019
Some of the country’s most knowledgeable physicians can’t tell me with any certitude why I ended up losing sight in my right eye and am in danger of going blind, but one of my column’s readers figured it out. It’s because I’m gay.
“You have openly discussed your homosexuality,” he emailed me two weeks ago, and, perhaps to his credit, he attached his name, which enabled me to determine that he’s not a fundamentalist preacher from a deep-red state but an engineer living in the New York City suburbs. “That is why God could not help you. You were living in flagrant violation of his Law.”
That email was especially mean but otherwise routine. Just a week earlier, a woman who teaches at a college in Manhattan wrote: “Is it really true that you are a homosexual? I hope not. Columns written by homosexuals inevitably have their own homosexual agenda and viewpoints and cannot be read with the belief that they are impartial. I do hope that the rumors about you are not true.”
Rumors? They’re facts, though she has obviously encountered them in corners of the internet where being gay is regarded as a prompt for secrecy and a source of shame. There are many such corners, and they have plenty of denizens.
In movies, songs and greeting cards, I’m always hearing or seeing that love is forever and that it conquers all. Well, hate may be even more durable, and it has the muscle to fight love to a draw.
My inbox is proof of that; the evidence stretches back decades. And I’m talking in this case not about irate and sometimes foul-mouthed readers who dislike my opinions. All columnists encounter that, and given the privilege of our megaphones, we should. I’m talking about readers who detest the very fact of me, who I am, independent of any person or issue I lift up or tear down.
They’re strangers. They’ve never met me, never taken the measure of my generosity, kindness, loyalty or lack thereof. For them I exist in a category, as a type. That type is all they see, and that type is contemptible.
This is the kind of hate that President Trump counts and draws on, the kind of hate that motivated the gunmen in El Paso, Pittsburgh and too many other places. But we’re having a discussion too limited — and indulging a mind-set woefully naïve — when we make those massacres principally about him. He’s a gardener tilling soil that’s all too fertile.
It was there before him. It will be there after. And while gentler words from the White House and a better president may affect how much grows in it and how tall, the ugliness will always take root and always flower.
If you live in a certain category — black, brown, Jew, Muslim, gay, trans — you know this, and you experience events like those of the past week not just as chilling reflections of the political moment but as sad testaments to human nature. You register some of our gauziest bromides as well-intentioned delusions:
If only every white American knew and interacted with more black Americans. If only every straight person was aware and took stock of his or her gay relatives and friends. If only there were more mingling of Christians and Jews, of Jews and Muslims. If only the right leaders and the right thinking could reach and teach more people. If only, if only, if only.
Well, some people are beyond reaching and teaching. Some are hardened, not softened, by exposure to diversity. As best I can tell, a few of these gunmen were plenty exposed. It didn’t dim their righteousness or dissuade them of their rightness.
It’s easy to lose sight of this, to focus instead on the hearts and minds that have been changed, on the progress that can be made. I’ve been surprised and moved by the arc of L.G.B.T. Americans over my lifetime: I’m inexpressibly grateful for it. According to a recent poll, 63 percent of Americans now support same-sex marriage.
But that leaves 37 percent who don’t. And while most of them are above the age of 50, some are below 30 and — for whatever tangle of religious, cultural and psychological reasons — cannot bear the likes of me. They will be around for decades to come. So will their hate.
I note this to ward off complacency, which kicked in to some degree under our previous president. Barack Obama’s election told a narrative different from Trump’s. He symbolized the possibility of hatred’s ebb. But it was biding its time, waiting its turn. It always does.
That’s not to say that we should give in or get used to it. No, precisely because of its awesome stubbornness, we must do all we can to prevent its unleashing and weaponization. We must change overly permissive gun laws, take on a largely unregulated internet, push back at a public dialogue that abets the most destructive tribalism. We must punish acts of hate fiercely, not just to declare our values but also to make the haters think twice and to keep them in my inbox, armed with only words, and not in your child’s high school, armed with an assault rifle.
Meantime those of us who are hated will figure out how to muddle through, with what measures of wariness versus openness, bitterness versus grace. I wrote an email back to the professor, saying that if she had a problem with my homosexuality, she could and should stop reading me. Of course that didn’t shut her up.
“I will pray for you and may God forgive you,” she responded. “A life of perversion can be no fun, and the hereafter is sure to be disastrous. I will also pray for your mother. It must be awful to have a homosexual son.”
My mother died almost 23 years ago, after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer. She knew I was gay and took no less comfort from me because of it. She loved me no less. I didn’t tell the professor that. Instead I informed her that I was activating my spam filter and would never again see an email from her.
A colleague suggested that I report her to her school’s administration, because she must have L.G.B.T. students. I won’t. If her bigotry was a force in the classroom, her students would most likely pick up on that and rightly complain. Otherwise, I’m not the thought police. She didn’t do anything to me. And I don’t know her personal story: what demons she harbors, and why. If I did, I might feel more sympathy than anything else for her. The same goes for the God-fearing engineer, whose name, like hers, I’ll keep to myself.
The two of them are a reminder that hate has no particular profession, no education level, no ZIP code. Its sprawl is as demoralizing as its staying power. Emily Dickinson wrote, gorgeously, that “hope is the thing with feathers.” Well, hate is the thing with tentacles. It holds people tight and refuses to let go.
Words of Gratitude and Comfort for Frank Bruni
Readers offer support to the Times columnist after reading about his eye disease and the hate letters he has received. Also: Endangered species; the Democrats’ progressive “squad.”
Aug. 13, 2019
To the Editor:
Re “Hate Is So Much Bigger Than Trump” (Aug. 11):
Reading Frank Bruni’s column was painful. The engineer who presumes to diagnose Mr. Bruni’s eye disease as being the result of his sexual orientation or the college teacher who contends that because of Mr. Bruni’s homosexuality his columns “cannot be read with the belief that they are impartial” are clouding hate in the verbiage of religiosity and holy concern.
I am a straight 65-year-old man who will continue to read and learn from Mr. Bruni’s columns. They are informative and enlightening, and I look forward to seeing them in The Times.
I consider Mr. Bruni to be one of my teachers, and I am grateful to have him in my life.
Huntington Beach, Calif.
To the Editor:
I was so saddened to read about Frank Bruni’s worsening eye condition, and the response by a reader who can so smugly, so callously pass judgment on him. I appreciate his making public this hatefulness directed toward him as I think it accurately reflects the ongoing fight for dignity for the L.G.B.T.+ community and, more generally, all minorities.
Mr. Bruni, my prayers are with you as you face the challenges ahead.
To the Editor:
Regarding Frank Bruni’s excellent column, I am reminded of the words of Tom Lehrer, the brilliant musical satirist, introducing a song for National Brotherhood Week in the 1960s. He made a paradoxical pronouncement that I think many of us share in the Age of Trump: “I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings, and I hate people like that.”