Loving ones enemies is the only thing that can salvage the United States from the culture of contempt saturating society, says a leading conservative intellectual who will soon be teaching at Harvard.
In a Friday presentation at the Heritage Foundation, Arthur Brooks, outgoing president of the American Enterprise Institute noted that at present 93 percent of Americans hate how divided the nation has become, though that does not mean they all want to agree. His remarks centered around his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, the title of which is based on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44.
The AEI president recalled an event in New Hampshire at which he spoke before approximately 700 conservative activists in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Brooks was the only speaker present who was not running for president.
His speech was focused on economic policy and he told the crowd many things with which they agreed.
But then, he stressed: "I want you to remember something very important. The people who are not here are, political progressives, are not here because they don't feel welcome and they don't agree with us. I want you remember that they're not stupid and they're not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with us on public policy and our job is to persuade them with love."
That line earned him no applause, he noted.
What did receive applause, however, was when a lady from the audience jokingly said: "I think they're stupid and evil."
As he tried to wrap his mind around this incident and what it represented about the political dynamics and the trajectory they represented he thought of his hometown, Seattle, arguably the most liberal city in the nation. Brooks' mother was an artist and his father a college professor.
"What do you think their politics were?" he asked, to laughter from the audience Friday. Brooks noted that, as a conservative, he is now the "black sheep."
"And let me tell you something about my parents. They weren't stupid and evil," he said, praising his family for instilling good values in him.
The next night in New Hampshire three years ago he asked the audience: "How many of you love somebody with whom you disagree politically?"
Nearly every hand went up, he recalled.
Yet, since the 2016 election, one in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or a close friend because of politics, the author elaborated.
"That is catastrophic," Brooks said. "Why? Because that is a problem of love. That's not a problem of disagreement. That's not a problem of ideology. That's a love crisis. You all know that love is the basis on which we can make progress. It is the nuclear fuels of happiness."
To walk away from a family member in the freest most progressive nation in the history of the world is like what they say in the realm of baseball, "an unforced error," he said.