The Southern Poverty Law Center has taken considerable criticism for the hypocrisy and cynicism of its strategy of smearing as haters those groups that disagree with its far-left positions on immigration and other social issues. The SPLC has coaxed tens of millions of dollars from well-intended donors by crying "Stop the Hate" even as it stirs hatred against ideological opponents. As the Jesuit priest Raymond Schroth wrote back in 2000, "If the problem is nuanced, complicated ... [the SPLC] provides a prism, partly based on fear, through which we can view the issue. The Internet is out of control; hate groups are poisoning the World Wide Web. [The] Southern Poverty Law Center, with your help, will save you."
In 2017, after the SPLC added the Center for Immigration Studies to its hate list, Ben Schreckinger of Politico asked, "Is tough immigration reform really a form of hate, or just part of the political conversation? … At a time when the line between 'hate group' and mainstream politics is getting thinner and the need for productive civil discourse is growing more serious, fanning liberal fears, while a great opportunity for the SPLC, might be a problem for the nation."
Now it seems that Sean Hannity has decided to exploit the marketing possibilities of hate. Last week, in his first program of the new year, the Fox host and close friend of President Trump, announced a new mission statement for his program. In the name of defending our country and our way of life, he pledged to expose the hate that propels the liberal resistance to Trump.
In the first 13 minutes of his super-heated opening monologue, Hannity railed against "hate" or some version of the word — haters, hateful, hating, hatred — 30 times, an average of more than two per minute.
Said Hannity: "Tonight we start our Hannity Watch report on the hateful forces that are determined to destroy Donald Trump and his administration. Let me make it clear. They hate this president. And they also — deep down — they hate we the people that voted for him." And so, he promised, "We plan to expose all the hatred that is out there every day — people that hate our Constitution, people that would shred our Bill of Rights."
Hannity's manifesto identified five major "forces of hate":
- The Democratic Party, with its determination to take down Trump and retake the White House.
- "The Hate-Trump media" and its "non-stop Hate-Trump Fest".
- "The deep state" of Washington institutions that "has been and is out to destroy the president; they hate the president."
- "The weak Republicans" who criticize Trump: "They hate the president. They only care about themselves. They stand for little. They have no courage."
- "The never Trumpers" who have opposed Trump from the beginning. "They hate the president. They just want to say, 'See, we were right you were wrong, you non-intellectual blue-collar, hard-working, tax-paying, law-abiding Americans. You did this to us.' No! They're trying to undermine a free and fair election."
Having identified the forces he says are aligned against Trump, the Constitution, and American values, Hannity declared, "We're going to expose that there really is hate in America — real hate," he said. "And that hate, these aligned forces, are trying to destroy the president. They hate the president and they hate us for voting for him. They hate traditional core conservative values."
Hate is a primal emotion. It stands at the far end of an emotional scale that begins with simple disapproval and progresses through dislike, disgust, and contempt. Finally, it reaches the boiling point of hate, at which tribal passions are primed for mobilization. The SPLC arouses it to raise millions, even as it poses as a brave and principled defender of tolerance. Hannity is using it to raise his ratings, which have slipped since the mid-term elections. As Newsweek reports:
Hannity's show had an average of 2.76 million viewers from the midterms until December 17, a 19 percent drop compared to the previous month, according to the Nielsen company. Hannity's ratings fell 30 percent among viewers who were 25 to 54 years old, which is the demographic most valued by advertisers.
Despite Hannity's thunderous verbal barrage, he claimed to have no provocative intent toward the five forces of hate. "On this show, we're not going to be hating them back," he said. "Instead, every night on this program, we're going to be exposing them and what is the corrosive politics of division."
That line is no more convincing than are the SPLC's cynical, phony, absurd claims to be a defender of civility and decency in American life.