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Is America losing its soul?

We’ve been grieving over the latest shooting, this time in Colorado Springs. My wife and I vacationed there. We have gay and lesbian friends. I’ve helped in gay rights litigation. Violence against any group – gays, women, Blacks, Muslims, Jews or others – attacks the sinews of a diverse society where most of us cherish living in peace with our neighbors and value each other’s contributions to the world we love, where we’re valued based on our “merit and conduct”[1] – as our pledge says, “one nation … with liberty and justice for all.” We’re each other’s customers, workers, classmates and friends. We’d be poorer without each other – economically, socially, mentally, medically. Some of our towns would collapse. We all matter to each other. Our religious faiths stress peace, justice and brotherly love. It’s tragic that some people feel entitled to circulate blood libels and act out their prejudices with murder.

Some of these extremists use stories of real or made-up misbehavior to condemn innocents. We object to discrimination based on blood, when the misbehavior of some is used to discriminate against innocent Muslims, when the misbehavior of some gangs is used to discriminate against innocent Latin-Americans, just as our own gangs and criminal syndicates say nothing about our character as Americans. The Constitution itself prohibits corruption of blood even for treason. That’s a crucial part of the glory of America and a crucial reason for the pain so many of us feel from the revival of tribal hate in the wake of a former president's twits.

I've publicly opposed much of Israel's behavior and a very large percentage of American Jews do as well. But I don't hate or exclude Jews because of what Israel does, or hate all Irish because some combatants behaved reprehensibly during the "troubles," or hate Persians because the so-called Morality Police killed Mahsa Amini or because I despise the behavior of the clerical regime. I don’t hate all Americans who share skin color, religious faith or party registration with the extremists who’ve put American democracy under attack.

We should hate the crimes and those who kill but never generalize into group libel, whether real or imagined. That puts us all at risk and makes us part of the problem, part of the loss of humanity we’ve been fighting for. America risks its soul in such battles.

Group libel and hatreds also hit home. My ancestors on both sides of my family left the "pale of settlement" in Russia to come to a land free of expulsions and mob attacks on Jews fanned and protected by Russian authorities, known as pogroms. There’s nothing I've loved more about America than its ability to love and welcome people of all origins and traditions.

It hits home that some of the most malicious anti-semitic literature is now being circulated as if it were fact, that objections to Israeli behavior are increasingly used against American Jews, that Jewish houses of worship have been attacked, their congregants shot and killed, and Jews excluded from a variety of wholesome activities who have nothing to do with Israeli behavior, including those who oppose Israeli behavior – without bothering to ask.

But the larger issue is a culture in which some people feel entitled to wreak violence on others. Prejudice, violence and group libel are cancers that could destroy our country. We have to make it stop.

[1] Cong. Globe, 39th Cong., 1st sess. 3148 (1866) (June 13, 1866).

Steve Gottlieb’s latest book is Unfit for Democracy: The Roberts Court and The Breakdown of American Politics. He is the Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Albany Law School, served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board, on the New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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