How We Got Here: The 2020 Political Crisis and the Future of Social Change (Part VIII)

Part VIII: The Fundamental Origins of Extremist Hate and the Conditions for Demagoguery

Josh Greenberg
5 min readOct 13, 2020
Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash.

This piece is part of a treatise which consists of the following sections and will be published in the form of a series over several days.

To understand how we arrived at our present circumstances — and how the progressive movement may have done better in forestalling this scenario — we also need to more deeply examine the origins of extremist hate.

Most fundamentally, hate does not arise in a vacuum. Hate arises from known conditions, especially severe inequality in a society, which predispose certain populations to extremism. It is these conditions which make a population, or sub-population, vulnerable to exploitation and takeover by a demagogue.

Hate does not arise in a vacuum. Hate arises from known conditions which predispose certain populations to extremism.

It is worth noting that conspiracy theory — which often arises in conjunction with ideologies of hate — follows similar patterns. Although conspiracy theories may seem absurd on the surface, they often reflect deeper truths, experienced realities, and legitimate grievances.

Unsurprisingly, the conspiracy theories that have now taken hold in our society arise from deep political disillusionment, which itself arises from major social inequity that the political system failed to remedy.

In this fashion, we must recognize Trump followers for what they are: they are also victims.

Their interests do not align with those of Trump or his elite friends, but they have been groomed into blind loyalty for his cause. They are victims who have been taken in, deceived, manipulated, and brainwashed by a demagogue.

Ironically, progressives should understand the dynamics of hate well. After all, many progressives like to cite King’s statement that “a riot is the language of the unheard,” in demanding that we focus on addressing the underlying inequities that give rise to riots rather than dwelling on the violence of riots themselves. The same logic applies to hate. Rather than dwelling on the hate itself, we would do better to address its underlying causes.

As I make these observations, let there be no doubt: even if hate has understandable origins, those who commit acts of hate remain accountable for their behavior, and those acts must still be denounced and stamped out from our society.

It remains a problem, nonetheless, that progressives have engaged in little advocacy to address the structural roots of hate or even to mitigate hate after it has taken hold. Not only have progressives failed to respond to hate with love in the course of our political discourse (as explained in Part VI), but they have not drawn attention to the fundamental determinants of hate in our policy discussions.

This fact also helps to explain why merely writing off Trump supporters as “hateful” misses the point — for widespread hate, or even widespread tolerance of hate, is primarily an expression of more complex social ills.

The common theme between riots and hate is that both arise when we fail to create resilient societies.

This dynamic is especially true in a society that contains multiple identity groups, including multiple oppressed identity groups, which can easily be pitted against one another. These observations again illustrate how impactful a concerted effort toward national economic justice would have been (as described in Part IV), both for helping to unify these identity groups and for addressing festering social and economic inequities.

In the end, when we use the common threads of unity to address the common threads of oppression, we build a much more resilient society.

If we wish to keep xenophobia from burning and to fortify our society against the sparks of demagogues, we must not only win the moral battle against hate but also achieve economic justice for all. Only then will we liberate ourselves from the kindling that allows bigotry to inflame our society.

In the effort to move our country away from the brink of violence or to mitigate the damage of war, we must continue to employ humanistic, empathic strategies.

Although this imperative unfortunately requires a much longer timescale than we have in the middle of the current crisis, the short-term response to hate must nonetheless be grounded in an understanding of its long-term causes. In the effort to move our country away from the brink of violence or to mitigate the damage of war, we must continue to employ humanistic, empathic strategies.

Before closing this discussion of hate, I wish to emphasize two key clarifications.

First, I fully understand that our society also contains “raw hatred” — that is, hate simply for the sake of hating, quite possibly with no discernible underlying social cause.

Indeed, our country’s origins were grounded in notions of hate, and the long legacy of white supremacy has infected our institutions to the present day, reproducing hate and injustice over many generations.

However, there is a distinction between the raw strand of hate in our country and widespread, extremist hate. Extremist hate tends to have more discernible social explanations.

In our present circumstances, I would argue that raw hatred now accounts for a minority of the hate in our country, as extremist hate has grown more pervasive and has begun to predominate.

Nevertheless, it is the existence of raw hatred that seeds extremist hate. It is the presence of hateful ideas — peddled in the interests of demagoguery — that allows other vulnerable members of the population to be radicalized into hating as well. This point again speaks to the relationship between the short-term causes of our country’s crisis and the long-term stain of racial hatred in our social fabric.

Second, it may not even be the case that all of Trump’s supporters are truly hateful or subscribe to the form of extremist hate that has spread.

All that is necessary for atrocity is a “critical mass” of extremist supporters and enough others who, although they may not be outwardly hateful, show indifference toward extremism. Some of these indifferent supporters may include those whose deep-seated political disaffection — stemming from any number of issues — led them to vote for Trump in spite of his bad character.

These indifferent supporters are supplemented by another group of citizens: indifferent opposers — that is, citizens from the opposite side of the political spectrum who, although they may not support Trump, also are not sufficiently outraged by violence against Black Americans, given our country’s longstanding devaluation of Black lives.

All of these indifferent citizens still possess a moral obligation to resist hate and harm; my exposition here simply serves to explain how we have arrived at our current state.



Josh Greenberg

Human, activist, scholar. Physician-Economist-in-training @UMich. CEO @proghealth. @FulbrightPrgrm Awardee. I work on anything that matters, locally & globally.