On Being Hated: Politicians, Ethics, and Affect

Sometimes I wonder how politicians like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz must feel knowing that millions of people hate them or dislike them to extreme degrees because of their blatantly hypocritical and inhumane behavior and rhetoric. Anyone who understands how the world actually works–understandings informed by biology, history, psychology, and sociology–is appalled by their behavior.

Politics are at once all about affect (i.e., emotion) and not about affect at all. 

And then I realize that Trump and Cruz don’t care because they have just enough supporters and money to do what they want to do. Trump and Cruz, and many others like them in elected offices, would be glad if you and I died today. Far too often their actions are that heartless and ignorant. Moreover, some people–physiologically–can’t understand why or how others aren’t as successful as them. 

And at the same time I realize that Barack Obama was absolutely hated by millions of people in the United States when he was President of the United States because he has dark skin; because people insist on magical thinking regarding where he was born, regarding what religion he follows (or doesn’t follow), regarding his “true” sexuality and gender and that of First Lady Michelle Obama’s; and because people disagree with the basic worldview of helping other people. I even know of someone who said that he wouldn’t even shake Obama’s hand! As if, in another example of magical thinking, Obama’s essence would destroy him. 

Why is there such hatred in the world of politics? Why are people so afraid of helping others? of someone with Black skin?

I am constantly amazed by the racism that became visible and overt during the Obama years. 

The “hatred” and negative affect in politics really does seem to come down to whether or not we should help other people and whether or not society is, in part, responsible for how people turn out. For more and more of us, the answers are clear–of course we should help people and of course we are products of society and of course nationalism does harm. 

As the forces of Christianity continue to wane in the United States, things will likely continue improving. But it’s a slow process. In ways it’s ironic, and in many ways it’s not, but research across-the-board shows that for most (certainly not all), as their religiosity decreases, their kindness increases. On the other hand, research shows that the more someone goes to church, the less they generally care about helping less privileged and less fortunate people. On the other hand still, the more someone goes to church, the more likely they are to behave violently toward others. On other note–for politicians and for others–the more they invoke aspects of their theology in their promises, the less likely they will actually keep their word.

Any person, especially politicians, will always have people who hate them, but there are times when this extreme dislike is warranted and times when it is based on uninformed or misinformed fear of the Other. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda