Essay: Hating

July 12, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


CLARENCE PAGE: Lying, Mark Twain lamented, is a high art recently degraded by amateurs. In my view, a similar fate has happened to hate. Where I grew up in the Midwest, hating was nothing to be trifled with. You simply weren’t supposed to do it. “There’s a little bit of good in the worst of us,” mother used to say, “a little bad in the best. Look for the good,” she would say. Give to the world your best, and the best will come back to you.

Hating was something associated with hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, who hated others because they really hated themselves. “Don’t be a hater,” we were told by Martin Luther King and others, “or you will drag yourself down to their level.” We reserved hating for those who were truly beyond redemption. Like Hitler. Or the communists. Or whoever convinced the Dodgers to leave Brooklyn.

SINGING: One way or another I’m going to find you.

CLARENCE PAGE: Yes, in the world of sports, hating has taken on a comic tone, except perhaps between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees. Yankee hating sometimes feels like a national sport all its own. And Detroit basketball fans openly display “official Laker hater” t-shirts as if being an un-official run-of-the-mill critic of Los Angeles basketball team were not enough.

But it was in the hip-hop world of my teen-aged son’s generation that I first heard hating downgraded into the truly banal: “Don’t be hatin,” they say, meaning, please, be tolerant. Or, “don’t hate the player,” they say on the streets, “hate the game;” meaning, don’t blame the street hustler for the world in which he is caught up, as if he has no personal responsibility for his own condition.

I always thought everybody had some personal responsibility for their own condition, born low, try to lift yourself up. But these days on the streets, the mere act of being judgmental is regarded as hating by those who have been judged. For those who have no defense for what they do, playing the “hater” card is a good way to go on the offense. Don’t like what I do? Hey, you must be a hater.

It was about mid-term in the Bush administration that I began to hear “hater” take on a similar meaning in politics. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, the post-9/11 feelings of national unity had worn thin. Protesters began to show up at Bush appearances and there was the beginning of an anti-war movement. Pundits and politicians became more outspoken in their criticism of Bush foreign policy. Ferocious new Bush-bashing books appeared with titles like “The Lies of George Bush,” “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told us About Iraq,” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who tell Them.”

Bush defenders came up with a new label for these new attackers: “The Bush haters.” As in this new book, “Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry, and the Bush Haters” — which leads to an interesting question of our time: Are the Bush haters any more sinister than the Clinton bashers of the last decade, who turned out titles like “Treason,” “Slander,” “Final Days,” and “Dereliction of Duty.”

Mark Twain had another point, if every politician’s spin, fudging, exaggeration or broken promise from a politician is to be branded an out-and-out lie, what word do we have left to call the really big whoppers? The same is true of hating. If every critique of or disagreement with a president makes you a full-blown hater, what labels are left in the language to identify the real bigots. Back in the Midwest where I come from, a man named Abraham Lincoln once said that in his experience “Folks who have no vices have very few virtues.” Or as I say, “hating is bad. Healthy criticism is good.” It might even be the sincerest form of love.

I’m Clarence Page.