Us & Them: Enemies

Nov 6, 2015

This episode was inspired after watching one of the early Democrat Presidential Debates, when Hillary Clinton identified Republicans as her enemy.  We thought: Does she really consider half of America as her enemy?

We recalled that Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Today’s politicians ask God to bless America, but in the same breath, they call their political opponents “enemies.” Labels help us organize the world along fault lines, but is this the best policy? In a polarized America, is it possible to love our enemies?

For this show, I spoke with education historian Adam Laats, the author of the blog I Love You, But You’re Going To Hell. His blog began when a student of his at Binghamton University recounted an experience in which her mother had told an elderly woman about her daughter’s living situation with her boyfriend. In the woman’s eyes, this student was “living in sin,” and, in an effort to help her, said in the most caring words she knew how, “I love you, but you’re going to Hell.”

This blog focuses on similarly awkward conversations between school and society, and how, more important than winning an argument over a cultural divide, we should first try to understand the “best version of what people on the other side might mean.” The opposing sides are “us and them.”

Laats’ blog featured a discussion of Us & Them’s first episode, a comment of which intrigued us. The idea of the comment posited that, unless one side, “Americans or liberals” are open to being converted, why waste your time conversing with the enemy?

Laats’ insight allowed Us & Them to further explore the history of the tendency to immediately label opposing viewpoints as the enemy and the effect this policy has on our ability to engage civilly in conversations with whom our perspectives may differ. This concept is not new.  We’ve seen it before between Loyalists and Patriots; abolitionists and slaveholders, but is this our best policy: to characterize our neighbors and countrymen as enemies?

And what is the long-term impact of labeling the opposing political party as an enemy, as Hillary Clinton did? Would a better course be to, as Joe Biden suggested, rid ourselves of the notion that it is “naïve to think we can speak well of the other party and cooperate?”

Us & Them is a joint project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Trey Kay Productions, with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

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