Some time ago, I was discussing politics with colleagues at work. One person denounced conservatives as enemies of free speech. I disagreed, pointing to campus speech codes as examples of liberal interference with free expression.
My colleague flew into a rage, calling me a “Nazi” and claiming that people like me “put Hitler into power.” My father’s eldest brother had been murdered in the Holocaust, so this charge was both insulting and ridiculous. How, precisely, did expressing mildly conservative opinions make me a “Nazi”?
How did that make me a supporter of totalitarianism, genocide, aggressive war, and murder of political opponents? Of course, I never expressed anything remotely like that. So where did my colleague get the idea?
On another occasion, I was discussing gun control with colleagues. One abruptly ended the discussion by declaring, “The reason people own guns is that they really want to kill blacks.”
In fact, many African Americans own guns for protection from criminals. In the past, many used guns to protect their families from Klansmen, while racist sheriffs stood by idly. Gun-control laws have an unpleasantly racist history. Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, is on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association. Does he “really want to kill blacks”?
No one present said anything about killing blacks, or killing anyone. Where did my friend get that notion?
These are not isolated incidents. Republicans have been called “mad dogs” and “night riders” who want to “drag us behind a pickup,” referring to the horrible murder of a black man. Republicans are accused of wanting to “starve” children and “take away medicine” from the elderly. Justice Clarence Thomas has been called a “serial murderer,” while commentator Bill O’Reilly has been compared to “Bin Laden.”
Rudy Giuliani has been compared to “Mussolini,” an insult both untrue and racist. One may disagree with these persons, but where does one get the idea that they want to murder those who disagree with them?
Projection is a psychological mechanism in which unwanted thoughts or emotions are attributed to others. In this way, people avoid guilt for these undesirable feelings. Instead, they can look down upon − and blame − others for these very feelings.
Many of us use this mechanism to some degree, but it becomes pathologic when it interferes with our ability to function. Similarly, it’s hardly uncommon to attribute bad motives to political opponents. If this is merely a tactic, it’s dishonest but useful.
But if we come to believe these accusations, the mechanism becomes pathologic. It can silence legitimate debate, just as my colleague cut off our discussion of gun control. It can poison the political give-and-take on which democracy depends.
After all, we can try to achieve agreement with those who believe differently. But how can we compromise with those we think are truly evil − and who are plotting to install some kind of murderous dictatorship?
A prime example of projection is our attitudes toward race. Before the 1960s, a liberal was one who believed that all people are created equal, and who advocated a color-blind society. But since the 1960s, it is “liberal” to push for racial quotas in college admissions and employment.
Why do white liberals believe that African Americans and Hispanics need their help to get ahead, but Asian Americans don’t? Recently racial preferences were removed from college admissions. Black and Hispanic admissions dropped, and white admissions changed only slightly. But Asian American admissions rose significantly.
Why is it “liberal” for whites to discriminate against Asians to benefit blacks and Hispanics? Similarly, why do white liberals believe that whites and Asians can use punch-card ballots, but blacks and Hispanics have trouble with them, despite decades of use? Is poking a hole in a card really that complex?
What does this reveal about the attitudes of these whites toward other ethnic groups? Isn’t it clear that liberal whites believe that whites and Asians are smarter than blacks or Hispanics? Who really are the racists in today’s America?
Of course, no liberals would admit to such racist feelings. These unwanted feelings must be denied and projected onto conservatives. It’s conservatives who are “racists.” They are “Nazis.” They own guns because they “really want to kill blacks.” They think African Americans and Hispanics are stupid.
There are other reasons that people may support affirmative action, racial and gender quotas, or gun control. Conservatives must avoid the faults they accuse liberals of. They must be careful not to project their own feelings onto liberals.
Still, this condition afflicts mainly liberals.
● Have you ever heard a conservative call for the assassination of a liberal member of Congress, the way actor Alec Baldwin called for the “stoning to death” of the late conservative Rep. Henry Hyde, and the murder of his family as well?
● Have you ever heard a conservative call for the murder of the head of a liberal organization, the way director Spike Lee called for the shooting with a “.44 Magnum” of Charlton Heston, then president of the National Rifle Association?
● Have you ever heard a conservative pray for the death of a liberal commentator, the way pornographer Larry Flynt “prayed for the death” of Bill O’Reilly? (Prayed to whom?)
If conservatives made such vicious remarks, the media would rake them over the coals. But liberals get a pass. What does that say about the media?
The Los Angeles Times published an editorial cartoon showing then-President Bush being hanged. The next week it published a cartoon showing Bush being shot in the head. The editors see nothing wrong with depicting a Republican president being assassinated. But what if someone published a cartoon showing President Obama being murdered? Can you imagine how the Times and fellow liberals would scream?
Conservatives tend to see liberals as misinformed, mistaken, and naive, so they want to educate them or outvote them. But liberals tend to see conservatives as evil, so they want to overpower them, control them, and (in the extreme) kill them.
If liberals fantasize killing conservatives, it’s no wonder they believe conservatives want to kill them.
Conservatives are called “racist,” “uncaring,” “homophobic,” “sexist,” “anti-child,” “unconcerned with the elderly,” “anti-immigrant,” “Islamophobic,” and even “fascist” or “Nazi.” A psychology journal published a “study” (funded by our tax dollars, no doubt) comparing Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh to Hitler.
Reagan was president for eight years. Where were the concentration camps and the world war? Rush has been on national radio for 27 years. When did he advocate genocide?
Conservatives have a right to ask, “You so-called liberals are very free with your accusations, but are you sure you aren’t blaming us for your own hostile feelings? Are you sure you aren’t projecting your own racism, sexism, and homophobia onto us? Are you sure it isn’t you who want to kill those who disagree with you? If not, why do you frequently bring up killing and killers when a nonviolent subject is discussed?”
The Bible tells us to look for the beam in our own eye before we criticize the speck of dust in our neighbor’s eye. If we confront our own hostile feelings, we will be less likely to project them onto others − and therefore less likely to choke off legitimate debate and poison the democratic process.
No, I’m not a “Nazi.” Most gun owners don’t “really want to kill blacks.” Justice Thomas isn’t a “serial murderer.” Bill O’Reilly doesn’t resemble “Bin Laden,” Rudy Giuliani doesn’t resemble “Mussolini,” and Rush Limbaugh doesn’t resemble “Hitler.” And no, most conservatives don’t look down on African Americans, Hispanics, women, and gays.
But such accusations give us a window into the mind of the accuser. It’s not a pretty sight.
Tolstoy remarked, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” How about a little less projection, and a little more introspection?
Author’s note: This is the first of four columns in which I attempt to describe the roots of what is now called liberalism.
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