What Should We Stand For?
For weeks, I have been thinking about how I should respond to Trump and the very real threat he poses to our democracy. Now, with the inauguration looming, thousands of Austinites are planning to participate in a mass demonstration that is being organized by a coalition that titles itself, “One Resistance.” Should I march with them?
Actually, after the election, I had been thinking about organizing a march too. I envisioned standing with tens of thousands of my fellow citizens in utter silence – no chanting, no engaging with counter protestors, no emotional or hyperbolic speeches – just a stone-like, determined and peaceful silence. One message: “We stand united.”
But what would we – or should we, stand united for?
I expect the march in Austin to feature dozens of causes: women’s rights, anti-racism, pro-immigrant, environmental, LGBT, Back Lives Matter, anti-Wall Street, electoral reform, healthcare, anti-militarism… a long list. A litany of complaints and resentments will be recited along with hopes and fears. I am sure it will feel empowering to fill Congress Avenue from the Capitol to the river with a sea of people. But, at the end of the day, will one mind have been changed? Will anything real or tangible have been accomplished other than to stoke the righteousness of the marchers and Trump supporters alike?
I write this with a very real sense of trepidation. The coming days could see an unravelling of civility in our nation. The political divide feels insurmountable and the agents of discord are preparing to stoke the flames. It has been reported that the infamous video provocateur, James O’Keefe, has actually offered cash to those willing to riot during the Trump inauguration in an effort to “hack the media narrative” and discredit the opposition. Fake news? Maybe, but it certainly seems plausible given O’Keefe’s sordid history. Does O’Keefe even need to bribe self-labelled “social justice warriors” to act unreasonably, even violently? I fear not.
The stakes for our nation and our democracy have never been higher. It is worth remembering that genuine progress is not inevitable, that civilizations do fail. History is littered with the graves of cultures that killed themselves. To avoid this fate, we must attend to one of the imperatives of any successful civilization: find meaningful ways to transcend our individual resentments and expand the circles of civility in our society.
Is it too late for America? I believe not, but the clock is ticking. Decades ago our media and many of our politicians discovered that polarization, anger and fear sell. For over a generation millions of us have been steeping in toxic angertainment. The identity politics of the Left have been adopted by the Right with tragic results for our nation. Tribalism threatens our long neglected “Unum” as we fracture into a seething “Pluribus.”
Tragically, our political parties have both failed. The Republican Party has completed its transition from a genuinely conservative Center-Right party into a cabal of crony-capitalists and vandals willing to destroy governance itself – a stance so radically anti-conservative that it is mind boggling. Meanwhile, the Democrats have sidled up to global and cultural elites while celebrating a “diversity” that excludes the “deplorables” of their former working class base.
What could possibly save us from dissolution? Is there a cause or ideal that could actually unite us? Perhaps not. But, I would be willing to march with anyone willing to stand up for a nation that strives to provide an equality of opportunity for all. An equality that lifts up the children of West Virginia coal miners and unemployed Rust Belt auto workers along with the children of recent immigrants and the millions of African American children who have been so miserably served by our educational systems and preyed upon by our incarceration factories and popular culture. Accessible healthcare (however it is delivered) and a solid / challenging education for all. No exceptions – no preferences – no excuses. I’d march for that.
I’d also march with anyone who thinks that, for the sake of our nation, we must resist our own narrow resentments for the sake of a greater good: the survival of the greatest democracy that humanity has ever known.
Early in his career, the Reverend Martin Luther King embraced the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote about the “spiritual discipline against resentment.” The great successes of the early Civil Rights Movement were built on this foundation. We can see that in the dignity and forbearance of those who marched in Birmingham and Selma. Our Union was as imperfect and flawed then as it remains today. We are all flawed. And yes, as Rev. King preached, we all need forgiveness. For the sake of “all of God’s children” let us now step back from the brink, roll up our sleeves and find a way forward.
This is not the first time we have been threatened by our political passions and dysfunctions. Abraham Lincoln said it best in his first inauguration, "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."