My editor wanted to drag me out of the malaise I've been feeling for months by having me write an article about “all the hate Ellen now gets online.” I've been having a hard time writing lately because like a lot of you, I have issues with depression, and despite the romanticism of it, being a depressed writer and comedian doesn’t make you better at your craft, it just makes you depressed.
A major part of that depression was due to the usual loneliness I feel, but it also was coming from a growing frustration with the way we behave online. The first article I turned in on Ellen was an angry, ranting diatribe which my editor balked at and asked me to rewrite, which made me realize that what I was so depressed about had made me angry, and I understood that it was more than just Ellen that I was writing about, but the whole online culture growing around the belief that hate is a virtue.
This realization came when I witnessed people mocking Nancy Pelosi after she became angry that a conservative journalist asked if she was impeaching Donald Trump because she supposedly hates him. She did something that many people who keep up with the news found startling — she stopped in her tracks and laid into the reporter, saying that she doesn’t hate anyone, that she prays for the president, that her Catholic faith teaches her not to hate anyone, and she resents the implication that hate is what’s motivating her. Many on the right said they didn’t believe her, and many on the left proclaimed that they did indeed hate him. The irony that those on the right who have spit vitriol and hate for years didn’t believe Pelosi was no surprise, because people who behave badly often believe everyone behaves badly.
I believe her, though. I believe Pelosi when she said she didn’t hate Trump because I don’t hate Trump. Despite writing several articles outright calling him stupid, devoid of morality, cruel, and even hateful, I don’t hate him. I feel pity for him. A pity that everything and everyone in his life made him this way. I certainly have no love for him; I don’t like him, I often get angry at him, but I don’t have a hatred of him.
That’s what baffles me about the whole Ellen controversy, which most recently ignited after she sat with George W. Bush at a football game and appeared to be on friendly terms with him. People are angry at, or even hate her, for not hating someone (same now with Michelle Obama).
Anger is something I understand. As a child I had an unchecked and uncontrolled temper that got me into a lot of trouble. I still get angry over ridiculous things but have developed methods to cope. Anger is a natural, primary emotion that all psychologists believe serves a valid purpose; experts warn against suppressing it, instead recommending dealing with it in a healthy manner that doesn’t result in irrational, destructive behavior (e.g., try hitting a punching bag, not your wall). Anger can motivate a person to make personal changes and to fight for social progress. Anger can be good.
But when that anger begins to turn hateful is when there's a problem. Every religion, every philosopher has recognized anger as a valid feeling but has immediately drawn the line at hate. Truly, I can’t think of anyone at any time who’s praised the virtue of hatred, at least not anyone who’s not a cartoonish villain. Yet we’ve started to foster a belief in our social discourse that unless you hate someone, you’re not a virtuous person. I truly cannot fathom how that makes sense.
As LGBTQ people we have been victims of hatred all our lives. Our full struggle for equality has been against entrenched hatred that has come to form a part of our opponents’ identities and culture. Their hatred of us defines them. Of course they hide this hatred behind twists of phrases like “I don’t hate them, I just find their lifestyles immoral” in order to spin disdain as a valid moral value and difference of opinion. And now not just LGBTQ people but people of all shades on the left-liberal spectrum are starting to answer this hatred with a “woke” version of hatred that advocates ostracizing others, demeaning them, even entertaining the notion of oppressing these people with disenfranchisement and sometimes violence. Just entertaining the notion that these people might be redeemable or might change their beliefs is anathema, and to even be friendly on a basic social level with such people is denounced.
This belief that hate is virtuous and right truly frightens me. I know that it seems like hating someone who you feel justified in hating feels just and righteous, and that feeling can be used to justify a lot of terrible things. Remember high school history class?
Ellen has every right to hate conservatives. Ellen, long before she was a household name and one of the most visible LGBTQ people in the world, was just another comedian. At the height of her ’90s sitcom, she made the bold decision to not only come out personally but have her character come out too. ABC caved to public pressure and canceled her show, potentially killing her career (she also received death threats for coming out). But DeGeneres spoke up on her talk show last month and said she doesn’t hate anyone; that she believes being friendly and kind to others is the best way to be. The reaction to DeGeneres's defense of herself was swift and negative, and continues to reverberate (see the reaction she received from a relatively innocuous interview with Dakota Johnson). People hate her now because she refuses to hate people she has every right to hate.
I understand being frustrated with Ellen; I get the feeling of helplessness and frustration at the state of the world and despair at what seems to be a never-ending fight against oppression and cruelty. Yet I have seen far too often what happens when that becomes hatred, when it gets empowered, and nothing good ever comes from it. It's just more pain and cruelty, just of a type people justify as righteous. As people who have been victims of this, we should know better. We should be better. I fear, though, that we have forgotten this.