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FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai speaks during an open hearing and vote on "Net Neutrality" in Washington. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is following through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally. Pai distributed his alternative plan to the net neutrality rules to other FCC commissioners Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote on the proposal. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
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David Cook

Much of America hates Ajit Pai right now.

I probably would, too, if I didn't already love him.

Pai, 44, heads the U.S. Federal Communications Commission — he's the first Indian-American to do so — which oversees, among many things, internet regulation.

Pai has proposed loosening certain net neutrality regulations enacted under the Obama Administration. (The vote is this month.) Net neutrality, as the Washington Post summarizes, is the belief that "everything on the internet should be equally accessible." Access to some sites shouldn't be faster or slower than others.

But Pai? His deregulation would give internet providers more power, and, many worry, the potential for far less neutrality.

The Left cherishes net neutrality like the Right loves gun ownership. Start messing with the Second Amendment? Bedlam. Chaos. Take away net neutrality?

"Ajit Pai should Ajit Die," one meme declared.

"We all have the power to murder Ajit Pai and his family," one person declared on the FCC's open comments.

"(Expletive) brown immigrant GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY YOU DIRTY SNEAKY INDIAN," said another.

The online attacks are obscene, foolish and violent. (Google them for yourself.) His family was harassed. His supporters threatened. One day, Pai found signs in his suburban neighborhood aimed at his children.

"They will come to know the truth," the sign read. "Dad murdered democracy in cold blood."

Really want to know what's murdering democracy?

All these keystrokes with their casual cruelty and flippant sadism. That's what murders democracy. Go back to your country? He's American. Murder democracy? Oh, please. Ajit Pai should Ajit Die?

Ajit Pai is one of the finest men in Washington.

Several years ago, Ajit and I and a dozen or so others traveled through Europe as part of the Marshall Memorial Fellows program, which builds relationships between Europeans and Americans. Day in and day out, before dignitaries, hotel staff and strangers, Ajit Pai represented the best of America: gentle, gracious, humble and consistently hilarious.

Murder his family?

We all wanted to be part of his family.

So suddenly, I find myself in a strange position: I believe strongly in net neutrality, but I am writing to defend the man trying to tear it down.

"It is surreal to watch my entire Facebook & Twitter feeds railing against one of my friends," posted one friend, a fellow Marshall traveler.

This seems to be a rare and vanishing tension: to love the ones we disagree strongly with. Garth Brooks sings of friends in low places. We need friends in other places. The Left needs to know and love folks on the Right.

And the Right needs to know and love folks on the Left.

Why? Because knowing Ajit Pai — his character, integrity, soft heart — makes me rethink my position on net neutrality. His personhood precedes his policy.

That is the forgotten grace of politics.

"I appreciate being reminded that the people others (and I) vilify are loved human beings with parents and partners and children and friends," my Marshall friend continued.

On my Christmas list this year is the Bush twins' new memoir, "Sisters First." I'm interested in reading about this other side of a man — their father, George W. Bush — I hated for so long.

(I feel some shame writing that last line. Yes, his policies were mostly awful. But now, with a bit more maturity in me, I believe W. is a good man at heart. Perhaps more truthfully, I realize I know next to nothing about him.)

"You have listened to harsh criticism of your parents by people who had never even met them. You stood by as your precious parents were reduced to headlines," the Bush sisters wrote to Sasha and Malia Obama.

We on the Left may shout down neo-Nazis, but how quick we are to demonize Ajit Pai.

Sure, most of us would never threaten his life, but we still forget the flesh and blood of him and others in the spotlight. We project onto our political and cultural enemies some other form of lesser humanity. It's cowardly, really: we say things online we would never say face to face.

Like many of you, I believe regulating net neutrality does threaten an already threatened democracy.

But our democracy's threatened already — ironically — by this internet we strive to defend. Our sheep-like dependence on our phones. A sharp rise in hyper-anxiety and general head-down ignorance. A constant craving for binge entertainment.

Our unapologetic meanness.

How do you regulate the human heart?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.

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