Tonight as I drove home I thought I’d check the AM radio band to see if I could pick up the seventh game of the World Series. Instead I landed on Michael Savage’s talk radio show. I had heard of Michael Savage, but I had not heard him speak. He spoke about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I cannot repeat all that he said, but I can say that his words were profoundly immoral and malevolent. Profoundly immoral and malevolent define evil.
Again and again, Savage called the protesters vermin. In case anyone might misunderstand him, or think he spoke figuratively for effect, he pronounced them rats who must be cleared from the gutter. He said they deserved to be beaten with police batons for their beliefs and their behavior. He spoke with more contempt for his fellow humans than I have ever heard anyone speak before. In fact, Savage does not regard the protesters as human. Therefore, he suggested, we should not treat them as such.
People who have heard Michael Savage know how he speaks. If you have not heard him, you cannot imagine it. You have not heard a man express vile hate in words or tone so even and deliberate. He actually wove discussion of Christian values into his thoughts, as he considered whether Jesus would have joined the protesters on Wall Street. His conclusion: no, Jesus would not, because Jesus was not a Communist. Case closed.
We are familiar with malevolence from Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney. They skillfully express their hate in a kind of understated, slightly euphemistic language that seeks a sympathetic reaction in their listeners. Savage’s speech is more direct and consequently more obscene. You cannot express hatred and repugnance, cold hatred for fellow humans, without becoming repugnant yourself. If you swim in an ocean of hate, you will yourself become hateful.
I’d like to clarify one thing. I don’t respond to Savage this way because I agree with the protesters’ political aims. I do not think their ideas about how to mollify their anger or right their grievances are helpful. Their ideas do not lead in a direction that is attractive, promising, or constructive. I do admire their courage and commitment. I do believe we must use our public spaces to speak up, to challenge fellow citizens to participate, to object vigorously to institutions that have become plainly corrupt.
More observers say now that the United States no longer has the shared consensus that a democracy requires. Here is Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal:
But there is a broad fear out there that we are coming apart, or rather living through the moment we’ll look back on as the beginning of the Great Coming Apart. Economic crisis, cultural stresses: “Half the country isn’t speaking to the other half,” a moderate Democrat said the other day. She was referring to liberals of her acquaintance who know little of the South and who don’t wish to know of it, who write it off as apart from them, maybe beneath them.
Magnify those sentiments of contempt in the last sentence a hundred fold, and you have Michael Savage, except the targets of his contempt are young people from across the country who cannot find work, or who observed the huge fraud committed by Wall Street financiers and saw them get away with it, saw them paid off with our tax money no less. When you hate someone that much, you don’t feel any obligation to figure out why so many protesters have joined this movement. You just want the offensive detritus removed.
Compare the way Savage speaks of the protesters with the way the protesters speak of Wall Street financiers. The protesters don’t like the financiers or what they have done, but the protesters don’t regard them as sub-human rats who deserve to be beaten with police batons. No citizen of a healthy democracy would ever adopt a stance like that toward a fellow citizen.
Savage says the protesters threaten America, a Savage nation he loves. They do threaten his beloved vision. The protesters cherish an America where Michael Savage speaks his mind, and we ignore him. Michael Savage cherishes an America where we unite with him in contempt for people he chooses to hate, where police beat people who do not please him, where no target of his contempt would ever be safe.