The bits of news I haven’t been able to avoid have shown a lovely lesson in how to write antagonists for those of us who remember back more than a day or so. It’s not even a subtle lesson, in fact, it’s so in your face that it’s likely to be missed because it’s so blatant and sensible people will look and think there’s no way that could possibly be real.
Except it’s so consistent it has to be – these are not people who are capable of faking their views that well for so long.
One side in the open sewer that is US politics (also the reason I actively avoid news feeds. If I can’t maintain a degree of amusement at the antics it’s very bad for my health because I berserk and I’ve trained myself to crash the berserk rage into depression because it’s safer for everyone else) clearly holds the belief that the ends justify the means. They, by their words and actions – and, not incidentally their outrage when someone outdoes them at their own tactics – have made it clear that they believe their cause is Good, and thus anything they do in service of said cause is by definition also Good.
The other major side is also somewhat utilitarian, but as far as I can see there are some depths to which they refuse to sink.
For an antagonist, the notion that they can do anything in service of their goal is one that works a lot better than a proclaimed Evil, because someone who believes they are doing the right thing isn’t going to worry about little things like guilt. They can happily claim those who oppose them are evil (because they’re good and they’re aiming for a good thing) and once that line is crossed, well…
It’s a human thing to believe that any unpleasant events that befall a bad – or evil – person are a kind of divine or karmic punishment for their evil. It’s equally human to forget the normal levels of restraint when dealing with someone who is bad. Or evil. They’re the outcast, the unwanted, and once they’ve been removed from society at large, most people don’t really care what happens.
Except, of course, that it’s entirely possible for a smart demagogue to label a group as evil and make that label stick. It happened 75 years ago in Germany, 100 years ago in Russia, it’s happened repeatedly in numerous African nations in the last 50 years, in the Middle East in the last 70 years, and there are attempts to make it happen here in the USA.
It’s worth studying the process for writing purposes, but be warned – this isn’t something you can unsee. Once you understand how people can be convinced that something about their neighbors makes the neighbors evil, you recognize that it’s a short step to believing that the outcast group of choice is less than human.
And it starts with the group that gets outraged when someone uses their tactics against them, because they are good and anything they do must therefore be good, where anyone who disagrees with them is evil so anything those people do must be evil.
Yes, humans are weird. It goes with what Pratchett described as rising ape meeting falling angel. But it’s interesting to observe.