Sarah Palin announces her “tolerance”

by Brendan Beery

On CNN this morning, Sarah Palin called the GOP “the party of tolerance.”

When I was in private practice, my law partner was an American of Iranian (Persian, as he would put it) descent. His name is Amir and he looks Middle Eastern. He never tried to hide his ethnic heritage the way some people do (like by changing a name from Piyush to Bobby, for example), so he’s been dealing with American buffoonery since he can remember – right up to having a redneck asshole pull alongside him in a pickup truck, point a rifle at him, and tell him to “go back where [he] came from.”

Amir is one funny dude – and charismatic. He more or less owns whatever room he walks into no matter who else is there. People like him and are drawn to him. And since even bigots know magnetism when they see it, they too are drawn to him. That means Amir has heard a lot of this: “Don’t worry. We’re very tolerant.” He has a pat response: “Fuck you.”

You see, Amir is not a big fan of being tolerated. It is true that many well-meaning and good-natured people use the word palinface_1tolerance to mean something good. In fact, wordnik.com provides, as one of its definitions of tolerate, the following: “To recognize and respect (the rights, beliefs, or practices of others).” Even this benign definition has its drawbacks; we normally recognize and respect from a distance, and note the definition’s characterization of the object of that recognition and respect: others.

But I think the more common understanding of the word tolerate, and the one that grates on Amir, is another one provided by wordnik.com: “To put up with; endure.” Were you to ask me what kinds of things I tolerate in life, I might list pain, sadness, Florida’s heat, my own bad habits, ignorant teabaggers, to name a few. These are not things (or people) I hold in any esteem, and in fact they chap my ass. But I will tolerate them in the sense that I will accommodate their existence in my orbit – since I have to.

Now, were you to ask me what I embrace, I would say my dogs, my friends, my nephews, my family, my students, to name a few. Now we are talking about things (or people, or dogs) that I do hold in high esteem; they give my life value, and I need them if I am to feel whole.

I’ll bet that most people would answer these two questions (what do you tolerate? and what do you embrace?) in about the same way. In answer to the first question, you’d list things that cause you to itch or squirm or recoil, and in answer to the second question, you’d list things that make you smile and laugh and reach out.

Therein lies the problem with telling another human being, based on something that person cannot control – like his ethnicity – that you will “tolerate” him. What the listener hears is, “I will put up with and endure you.” And as used by Sarah Palin – and the Republican Party more broadly – this is surely what tolerance means: don’t worry, we won’t kill you, at least not on purpose.

How could tolerance mean anything else to a person who sees Mexicans, Muslims, and gays as somehow lesser than – as somehow corrupted, dirty, or unable to enrich our community? How could tolerance mean anything else to a person who says, “I hate the sin but love the sinner”? I find what you do and who you are repulsive, but don’t fret: I love you. Bullshit. If you are repulsed by what I do or who I am, then the best I can hope is that you won’t kill me, at least not on purpose.

To the extent that we can credit Sarah Palin with not wanting to kill all of us she deems to be other than “Real Americans,” we can say that she is mostly right: the GOP is the “party of tolerance.” The question will be whether Americans prefer the party of embrace.

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3 thoughts on “Sarah Palin announces her “tolerance”

  1. Brendan – at last I hear someone state what tolerance really is. I have always pointed that out to the many people I have encountered who like to consider themselves tolerant and yet have hate as their default stance on other people. Tolerance, as you so perfectly stated it, is not “putting up with”, it is unconditional acceptance of another person’s dignity and human worth before one has even had an opportunity to experience that person’s presence. I have always had a simple definition I hand down when arguing with the intolerant tolerant, as they righteously spew their entirely egocentric demands on the existence of others, that “tolerance is not ‘putting up with’, tolerance is respect.” They usually look at me with that confused expression of sheer bafflement. Somehow, the very statement is recondite. Another related attitude I always feel compelled to answer to is the statement “people always have to EARN my respect.” Again, for the truly moral person, respect is the default of all human contact; it can be, over time, completely lost, but it is not the other person’s to “earn.” I have never considered, when meeting a person for the first time, that the onus is on me to earn that person’s respect. I assume, as he or she I am sure also assumes, that the respect is already in place, as a starting point. If it is not, then that person already has lost much of MY respect. For good reason.
    We live in the age of the supreme “morality of narcissism,” “The Virtue of Selfishness”. I look at recent TV commercials, always a good indicator of what emotions to pander to in order to make profits, and I see the Trumpian stance of sheer shallow armored bluster being associated with a product – the school boy strutting down the hallway, head cocked back with smug smile looking past everyone in his path, especially his peers and the authority figures, his teachers; the women touting their credit scores with brazen impudence as they overwhelm the people they are doing business with into silence and compliance with their every desire; there is a reason Trump is so popular – he epitomizes, he is the apotheosis, of arrogance and narcissism itself. While there is distinct irony in these examples that is pretty obvious, they nevertheless portray the modern geist perfectly. The will to power, Nietzsche’s disturbing and most profound insight into the very base of human motivation and self-esteem, is now more overt in our society than ever. Very few people have real power; but the entire mob can believe they do when they attach their egos to charismatic charlatans and live their fantasies of power through their chosen avatars.

    Thanks again Brenden – I always love it when I see an insight that I myself have carried with me for years, seemingly alone, being articulated from someone else, especially with such persuasive, clear informative brilliance as this article. So glad you are back with the blog; and that your thoughts are spilling out with explosive proliferation – you must have pent up an enormous amount of intellectual energy in the long interim, and now the storm.

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  2. Just one small footnote: I personally use the word “tolerance” strictly to mean the moral concept of absolute pre-acceptence of another human being, and tolerate or toleration to mean “putting up with.”

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  3. Jan, great stuff! Thanks for your kind remarks. I like the idea in your second comment here — I think that’s the way many enlightened people use those words. I doubt whether Sarah has considered it!

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