Hey America, we can all have different opinions without demeaning and dehumanizing one another

I am paid to have an opinion about news and politics. 

That’s literally the job of a columnist and commentator, which is the role I played several years ago on Fox News and now play on CNN.  I have strong opinions on public policies and social issues and I express those opinions strongly in my writing and TV appearances.  And I think that having such opinions, and being free to express them, is the cornerstone of an active and free democracy.

AND I think we can all have our different opinions, and believe in them deeply, without demeaning and dehumanizing one another.

In my new book “The Opposite Of Hate: A Field Guide To Repairing Our Humanity,” I explore the dynamic of hate in our society and the world around us — how we have come to historically and habitually treat groups of others as less-than, the science and psychology of why we hate, and what we can do to stop it. And my central argument is that whichever group or side you believe does it worse, we all are part of the problem. Which means we all need to be part of the solution. 

If you agree with me that incivility and downright cruelty is becoming all too common in our culture and politics, then the question is what are you going to do about it?  

The problem isn’t our differences and disagreements. In fact, I think our different opinions and identities should be celebrated — however imperfectly achieved throughout history, the aspiration to have so many different people with different beliefs co-exist within one nation is what arguably makes the United States unique in the world, an aspiration also worth celebrating. 

Our national motto is e pluribus unum — out of many, one. It’s an ideal, if not always a reality, but represents the intended spirit of America — that we come together in spite of our differences, not ignoring them.

The problem comes in how we express our differences and disagreements — and whether we default to treating those who aren’t on “our side” as though they’re inherently evil.  So, for instance, part of the reason I’m a progressive is that I believe that in our interactions as people and in our public policies we should recognize the full equality and equal dignity of all human beings.  And so since the 2016 election, I’ve been dismayed by the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment, Islamophobia and other forms of hate that I believe have been explicitly stoked by Donald Trump through both his campaign and his presidency. And yet I’ve also watched as my fellow progressives have hurled ugly smears about those who voted for Trump, saying that Trump supporters are deliberately and even inherently hateful… and that’s why my progressive friends hate them. 

Do you see the hypocrisy there? Can we all see the hypocrisy when we do a version of this, using the fact that some other group is supposedly hateful to in turn justify our own hatred — as though hate is ever the antidote to hate?

I’m honestly not saying I think all sides are equal here.  For instance, I think there’s a big difference between being a neo-Nazi and hating neo-Nazis. But hate is hate and only begets more hate.  And we look at the animosity between conservatives and liberals, it’s important to note that neither side thinks they are the hateful ones — but points the finger at the other. 

Instead, someone has to take the first step in tempering that animosity and showing how we can disagree without being disagreeable. Or maybe we can all take that step together.

I don’t hate Trump supporters and I don’t hate conservatives in general. I disagree, in large part, with their solutions to what ails our nation — but I don’t think they’re bad people who, by and large, mean to do harm to me or our country. And it’s up to me to convey my disagreements with conservatives in a way that is still fundamentally respectful and kind. Plus to remember that as important as our differences and disagreements are, we all still have so much in common.

We want a better future for our children and, I think, for all children. We want a brighter future for America and the world.  At least I assume we all want those things because I try to assume the best intentions in each of our hearts.

I can’t make every progressive be kind and respectful to every conservative just like I can’t make every conservative be kind and respectful to every liberal but I can try to encourage as many as possible and lead by example as best as I can. And it’s my strongly held opinion that if we all do so more, we will have a more civil and productive democracy and society that we can all feel more proud to be a part of.

Sally Kohn is an American liberal political commentator, community organizer, and founder and chief executive officer of the Movement Vision Lab. Kohn was a contributor for the Fox News Channel, and now regularly appears as a political commentator on CNN.