It has become something of a political tactic used daily among our elites to not debate an idea, but to simply demonize, lumping all individuals so identified into a condemned collective.
Once this ad hominem attack is employed, debate is no longer necessary as the “demons” are not worthy of dialogue or idea exchange. The problem with this approach is it doesn’t actually take the issue off the table or resolve anything. Worse, it promotes actions and punishments far outside the bounds of proportionality.
To “demonize” is to attribute total evil to whomever or whatever is so stigmatized. Once identified as such, it’s totally acceptable to do what you will to these demons among us. Burn the witches, incarcerate people of Japanese ancestry, defund the police, and on and on. A major problem with reviling something so extremely is the negative impact it has, not just on the stigmatized group, but on those who engage in the castigation, often without fact or logic.
During the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, the world was stunned by the attending psychiatrist’s statement that Eichmann was “more normal than I am.” It turned out the architect of the murder of millions was thoughtlessly killing, with no conscience, no sense of guilt, no hostility, just cold hard reason as he exterminated millions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and the disabled; people who had been demonized during the post-World War I era of crisis for the German nation.
The brilliant holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt and the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre argued that, not only was Eichmann guilty of choosing to be evil, but those who informed on their Jewish neighbors were guilty as well, an idea that rankled the intellectual class that was so exposed. Apologists for the Germans and for the French who collaborated with the Nazis believed that Hitler’s henchmen were so powerful they could not be resisted. So, individual collaborators could not be judged. Arendt and Sartre disputed this, asserting that evil was an individual choice and, whether an individual was a Nazi or a collaborator, each person needed to be judged as part of the collective evil. .
America’s Founders sought to avoid witch hunts by creating a Constitution denying government the ability to judge groups. The powerful focus on the rights of individuals forces the government to deal with individual guilt or innocence rather than collective guilt. Past demonizing of groups in America, such as the treatment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, required a Supreme Court ruling and nationwide fear; a lesson we have managed to unlearn.
We have now, once again, begun to stigmatize large groups of our own people in ways long unseen. Calling people Fascists, Nazis, racists, homophobes, sexists, and so on, has replaced debate in our nation. Under such extreme rhetoric, the ideas of the “othered” people no longer need to be listened to and their rights no longer need to be protected, and the Constitution becomes an impediment to be circumvented instead of a mandate to be honored.
For instance, rather than looking at the death of George Floyd or Michael Brown as individual incidents that needed to be examined as singular events, the media, the political class, and the intellectual elite all cried that American law enforcement was somehow innately evil. No evidence, no facts, just terrible emotion. Now we are reaping the fruits of such hysteria. The finding that Michael Brown’s death was justified was given scarcely a footnote in the media, and every subsequent critical incident has become a potential tripwire for civil violence, prosecutorial abuse, and extended suffering for the officers involved.
It is time for America to wake up, remember, and follow the Constitution, and revere those who protect and serve. It took our nation a long time to repent over the incarceration of our Japanese citizens. I hope it won’t take nearly as long to repent of the hysteria of demonizing the police through name calling, defamation, and destructive policy making. .
A free society is tolerant of ideas and debate, reveres those who preserve and protect those freedoms, and remembers that guilt and innocence are not collective traits but individual ones. Evil isn’t an abstract concept, it is a concrete choice. As Hannah Arendt warned, evil is “banal”—in other words a common thing among us all—and needs to be resisted at an individual level by each and every one of us.
And when evil does appear, there are those who rush to stop it. We call those men and women, not “demons,” but “heroes.” They are the police.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of “JD Buck Savage.” You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.