Hannah Arendt, who observed the trial of Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann many decades ago in Israel, coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe crimes that were anything but banal. She was actually referring to what kind of person was capable of committing these horrific acts, not the acts themselves.
Sadly, while evil clearly exists, it is not so easy to figure out who is likely to be its architect. Eichmann, as Arendt wrote, could be considered an evil person because of his ability to simply ignore the humanity of the victims he condemned to death.
Conversely, there is nothing “banal” about the virtue that we find in unexpected places. The kernels of kindness strewn among our normal social interactions are becoming more and more uncommon these days, and when we happen on them, it is like water in a desert.
I was able to observe both forms of humanity or lack thereof, last week as I watched the reaction in my native Philadelphia to the arrival of the Moms for Liberty.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that this is a group of women, most but not all of them actual mothers, who have banded together to fight for more parental control and involvement in public schools. They oppose what many see as the inclusion of sexually inappropriate materials in school curricula and libraries, support what was once called American values but are now labeled “white privilege” or even “white supremacy,” and have been very effective in getting their messages across.
There have been no incidents, as far as I know, of Moms for Liberty members vandalizing buildings, stalking children or committing any crimes. It is possible that there are members who have sent angry emails, screamed at school board members and gotten overly zealous in their defense of their position, but I’ll see your Moms for Liberty and raise you a Black Lives Matter riot any day.
So, then, while there are many who might object to their goals, they should have the right to express those views without being labeled a hate group, and thereby exposed to all sorts of threats and intimidation. This is, even more, the case when they come to the city — my city — where the whole concept of freedom of expression was codified in the Constitution.
The Southern Poverty Law Center disagrees. The organization used to be a respected organization that fought against fascism, bigotry and discrimination. It was instrumental in helping to dismantle the Ku Klux Klan and was one of the organizations that my father, a fledgling civil rights worker, appreciated when he went down to Mississippi in 1967.
But that Southern Poverty Law Center no longer exists. It has been transformed into an AK-47 of alt-left progressive fascists who have decided that they, and only they, get to determine what is culturally acceptable and legitimate.
It is therefore no surprise that it listed Moms for Liberty as a hate group, giving the go-ahead to violent activists who verbally abused the participants at this year’s national convention in downtown Philadelphia
Despite grudging comments from Mayor Jim Kenney about wanting to protect the safety of everyone in the city, including the “problematic” Moms, there was very little action taken against the mobs that came for them.
Then, there was the vandalism of the Museum of the American Revolution, which hosted one of the convention events. There was little to no outrage from the city council, the Mayor’s office, public officials or the local media. I suppose this evil was too “banal” for comment.
But even with these junior league terrorists, there was some grace. Marriott hosted the event, and even in the face of vituperative, vicious people daily spitting out their hatred in the faces of our city guests, the staff and administration at the hotel were kind, considerate, accommodating and courageous. It takes courage to do your job when people scream obscenities in your direction for even daring to pour coffee for a mom. It takes courage to live out the principle that everyone deserves respect when they are a guest in your home, even as the tempest rages outside the door.
That is not banal. That sort of virtue is immense, commensurate with the fierce courage that is present in those who believe in democracy. And that was much more powerful than the common, mundane, shallow and pitiful displays of common, mundane and pitiful protesters this week.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at email@example.com