We live in troubling times, and these times require people to speak out. Many have done so over the last few weeks, and some may even criticize Iron Capital for not being faster to join that movement. Our clients have heard me say this countless times: we are human beings and we will make mistakes, but we don’t do anything that is not well thought out.
In that regard, Iron Capital stands firmly against all forms of hatred, racism and violence. One would think that is a universal, uncontroversial statement, but they would be wrong. This week a CEO on CNBC said basically that we can no longer be silent, we must choose a side. It doesn’t matter who said it, it is a sentiment that has been shared often over the last several weeks: We must choose a side.
Must we? We used to say about America that our politics were played between the 40-yard lines. One might tilt a little left or right, but by and large, America was a middle country. We don’t do radical; in fact, we don’t tolerate radical. In my youth, politics was about persuasion. Which side could best persuade the middle? There was an understanding that we all meant well. We all shared similar goals; the disagreements were about how to best achieve those goals.
Our politics have changed. Today it is about divide and conquer. Who can best rally the troops? I had a colleague who served on a charitable board with me who was a retired Army general. He had been a helicopter pilot before being promoted out of the cockpit, and he found civilian work with the Air Medical Services and MedEvac Foundation International. Before one of our meetings we found ourselves sharing some drinks and a pizza, and he lamented how he had spent his week speaking to politicians about some pending legislation and not one of them cared about fixing any problems. They cared about what their side would think and how it would impact their re-election efforts. He did quickly tell me they weren’t all like that, but too many are, and his most recent week had been full of them.
Choose a side. I’m not a fan of Karl Rove, but I read his column from time to time because he often cites helpful polling data. According to his research, this is what the polls say: Well over 70 percent of Americans – I wish it was higher, but still the vast majority – are alarmed by what happen to George Floyd. The same percentage believe that racism is still a problem we need to fix in this country and are sympathetic to the motivations of peaceful protesters. The same percentage, more or less, was against the rioting, looting, and violence against police.
In other words, the vast majority of America is against all forms of hatred, racism and violence. The vast majority of America is right where it has always been, between the 40-yard lines. We have a large silent middle in this country in which most of us live, and we are constantly made to feel as if we are alone. Our media is all about taking sides. MSNBC, CNN, or FOX News, from which side do you get your news? Our politicians are all about sides. Our friends on social media who choose to make political posts are all about sides. There is a perception that the middle is gone in America, but that perception is a lie. That middle has just grown silent. We have all heard the term “silent majority,” but like many good terms in our language, it too has been hijacked for political purposes. I prefer the “silent middle.” It is time for that middle to stand up and tell both sides to shut it.
There is only one force in the universe that can overcome hate: That force is love. Fighting hate with hate just spurs more hate. That is what the sides want. They want to fight it out, winner take all. They want to bully the other side into submission. In the history of the human race, no group that uses intimidation to silence the voices of others have ever ended up being the good guys. Hate is wrong no matter what is being hated.
In the Christian tradition, Jesus told us to love our neighbor. When pressed on who our neighbor is, he said to love even our enemies. If religion makes you uncomfortable, well how about the greatest saga of good versus evil in the last 40-plus years? That is right, Star Wars. What was the emperor’s plan to turn young Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the force? Hate. To whom was that hate focused? The emperor himself. “I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the dark side will be complete!”
It didn’t matter to the emperor who or what Luke hated; hating the dark side itself was enough to turn him to the dark side. Whether it is in the form of racism or self-righteousness, hate is a destructive force which brings nothing but sorrow. We need to remember the words of American jazz musician Thelonious Monk, who said, “They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.”
When we stop applying labels and stop taking sides we may remember that we are all unique individuals. The vast majority of us are good people. The vast majority are with one another right here where we have always been, in the middle. I had a client who used to say about his small staff that they worked on the “justice” theory… it is just us.
It is not time to choose a side. It’s time to understand there are no sides, there is just us, and love is the only weapon we have that can actually defeat hate. At least that is my perspective.
Chuck Osborne, CFA