Early Sunday morning, a deplorable man massacred 49 people in an Orlando gay club in what, it is universally accepted, was an “act of hate.” Perhaps that’s true. It’s also irrelevant.
At First Things, editor Rusty Reno explains why “terrorism is not hate”: The accusation of “hate,” Reno says, “directs our attention to strong emotions and abnormal mental states. It distracts us from the fact that our enemy has formulated a rational, political judgment — namely that humanity is better off if an Islamic form of government, rather than the United States, dominates the world.” Terrorism is a political act. From Ted Kaczynski to Timothy McVeigh to Mohamed Atta, an act of terror is the manifestation of a political judgment.
That’s a helpful heuristic for understanding why, in the wake of Orlando, the Left has leapt to talk not about terrorism, but about . . . Republican politicians. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern scoffed at “the sight of GOP politicians . . . sympathizing with the very people whom they have long bashed in a bid for conservative votes.” At Vox, German Lopez published a list of “the members of Congress who voted against protecting gay people from hate crimes.” And Zack Ford, of ThinkProgress, rebuffed Baptist leader Russell Moore’s call to “weep together after Orlando.” “As terrified as we might be from the destruction wrought on our brothers and sisters in Orlando,” wrote Ford, “we’re still just as terrified of Moore and those who follow the anti-LGBT beliefs espoused by the SBC and plenty of other Christian denominations. . . . Why should he be trusted to provide comfort to the gay community when he has a reputation for doing just the opposite?” By the end of his column, Ford demands that Christians renounce their most deeply held beliefs about sexual morality; only then might Dr. Moore and the families in Orlando be able to weep together.
By the end of his column, Ford demands that Christians renounce their most deeply held beliefs about sexual morality.
There is much more to be found in this vein, and every bit of it relies — implicitly or explicitly — on the premise that conservative opposition to same-sex marriage, to various laws pertaining to transgenderism, and the like are examples of hate, and those who support those positions are purveyors of “hateful rhetoric.” This is, of course, begging the question. But it’s effective.
Following Reno, we see that invocation of “hate” has become a way of dismissing opponents by suggesting that their beliefs are beyond the reach of reason. You can’t debate someone who hates, because hatred precludes thought; it’s in the bones. If Republicans are motivated by “hate,” then they are not legitimate political actors, because political life cannot be predicated on irrationality. Reason is our common ground.
But if opposition to same-sex marriage, to transgender laws, and so forth are arguable positions, if those beliefs are rationally defensible, if they are amenable to debate by reasonable people, then opponents cannot be dismissed, and counterarguments are necessary. Needless to say, this is a far more precarious position for people such as Zack Ford: They may lose the debate. Better not to have to debate at all.
Arguments against same-sex marriage and many of the Left’s pet causes exist, though. The work of Robbie George and Ryan Anderson and many others — whether or not they are persuasive — cannot simply be dismissed. Yet doing so has been the preferred course, because it’s easier than engaging those arguments.
This should be disturbing to anyone dedicated to a functional political life. The reduction of political beliefs to emotional impulses makes living together impossible; all that’s left are permanent tribal clashes. When the possibility of consensus, which depends on persuasion, is abandoned, because one side decides that the other is beyond persuading, the only recourse is force. As it applies to the contemporary Left, that should sound more than a little familiar.
Simply put: The failure to consider the possibility that political opponents might be rational actors is making our national politics significantly nastier. And the failure to consider that terrorists might be, too, is making our nation less secure.
— Ian Tuttle is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at the National Review Institute.