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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Perspective: Tumbling toward cruelty in Georgia

I flew home to Georgia for spring break, but Washington was never far away.

I’d left campus to see my family, friends and dogs, get a much-needed haircut, catch up on some doctor’s appointments, and vote in Georgia’s presidential primary, though not necessarily in that order. So, off I went.

As my flight touched down in Atlanta a few days before the election, I glimpsed Air Force One out of the window. Somehow, I’d missed that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump were both in town — or at least the state — for dueling rallies. They’d each win Georgia, clinching the nominations of their respective parties with a majority of delegates.

Of the more than 872,000 votes cast, I’m stuck on a single one: my mom’s. She’s a college-educated white woman in the Atlanta suburbs who’s pro-abortion rights, anti-gun and supports diversity training while opposing illegal immigration and inflation. She’s voted for Al Gore, Barack Obama, Trump and Biden. Her politics aren’t red or blue, and she’s ready for a change.

“Did you vote for Nikki Haley?” My sibling and I asked her when she got home. We’d thought she’d had her fill of both Trump and Biden, and Haley — for better or worse — represented something new, even if she suspended her campaign a week earlier.

“No, I voted for Trump,” she said, putting her bag on the kitchen table.

Guessing our fellow citizens’ political affiliations is something of a national pastime. In 1941, journalist Dorothy Thompson wrote “Who Goes Nazi?” for Harper’s Magazine. (Just stick with me here.) If anyone knew who had the makings of a future fascist, it was Thompson — she was the first American journalist expelled from Nazi Germany in 1934.

Imagining herself at a party, Thompson scanned the guests: a frustrated intellectual, spoiled brat and tyrannical labor leaders would all “go Nazi,” while a hard-working engineering student, aristocratic editor and observant butler wouldn’t. Why?

“Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi,” Thompson wrote. “Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.”

The problem with Thompson’s self-described “macabre parlor game” is that nice people do “go Nazi.” Or in our time, otherwise upstanding people — friends, family, community members — vote in ways that are anathema to our values.

But I’m not interested in arguing whether liberals or conservatives have a monopoly on morality. Evil is ordinary, and that’s what makes it terrifying. The American electorate isn’t made up of mustache-twirling villains. Real people extend their compassion just as easily as their cruelty; the nicest among us can rationalize death and destruction abroad or shrug off suffering at our southern border.

In a Gallup poll conducted in January 2023, 40 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with immigration levels into the U.S. and wanted a decrease. It’s fine to have that opinion. But what concerns me is how quickly that view can manifest human misery. And what if such cruelty, from razor-wire fences to “negligent” conditions in detention centers, is the point?

Some people readily goose-step into moral oblivion. But most people aren’t national socialist sycophants: they stumble into it, trading their support for the leaders they want — even if they say they loathe the cruelty their policies beget.

For the sake of cheaper groceries, more secure borders or preserving democracy, they can excuse starving the hungry, refusing the stranger or dropping bombs a world away. This is not about one candidate or one party. This is about our politics — it’s about us.

Next Thursday, April 4, will mark 56 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I’m reminded of what Robert F. Kennedy said the day after King’s death in 1968, another tumultuous election year with conflict at home and abroad: “The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of human purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.”

Call it cruelty or hate or just plain meanness, but participating in politics as usual stains our society and ourselves — Mom, me, you, all of us. We are willing to deploy bombs and bullets, to repress and retaliate, to let others wallow in poverty and pain in a desperate search for our own satisfaction.

What Kennedy tried to express, before he also fell to an assassin’s bullet, was that our country and our politics needn’t be so cruel. Doing what is right requires more than voting for any party.

Ethan Benn, a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication, is the opinions editor.

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About the Contributor
Ethan Benn, Opinions Editor
Ethan Benn, a senior majoring in journalism and communication, is the opinions editor.
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