I read recently that if any of us—progressive coastal dwellers or lower-middle class whites—lets anger build up inside, we will perform our daily tasks resentfully, focus on others as the source of our troubles, and probably make it more difficult to find actual solutions.*
Today this is a huge problem. My sense is that most Americans—rich, poor, white, black, left, right, whatever—feel that our increasingly competitive culture requires us to do more, better, faster, with fewer resources and with no gratitude. For a long time this resentment was deep, but unfocused. The genius of Donald Trump, I believe, was to turn our broad cultural anger onto scapegoats from Hillary to immigrants. This not only multiplied our divisions of race and class but continues to turn our attention away from the real forces manipulating us.
Conservative Christians, for example, could never have overcome their disgust at Trump’s crudeness and immorality without this manipulation of their frustration and sense of powerlessness. Sure, racism fueled their acceptance of this human savior—as America’s original sin, racism is in the air. We all breathe it in, myself included. But when Trump fails to deliver on their sky-high hopes, his inability to admit any error will make him double down on blaming his enemies. It seems likely that anger will become more pervasive and genuinely dangerous.
I think you and I dare not let our own anger and fear keep us from looking inside for the spiritual resources that can deliver our nation from a wretched future of division and death. We need an inclusive human rights movement. But so many of us are so turned off by religion that we miss the central importance of faith to MLK’s historic success. To me, it seems critically important that we again combine the energies of the religious and the non-religious. Their separation is our Achilles’ heel. Even a potentially massive rights and peace movement could be thwarted by the government stoking warfare between us. I think that strategy is underway.
I correspond with those across the political spectrum. I especially seek out honest people who will explain to me their divergent opinions. Their responses, and the nature of the divisions in the last election, encourage me to imagine that an inclusive movement for human rights still could be supported by as much as 90% of Americans. Just think about the implications of this statement from an 85 year old wealthy white conservative Christian man in a very red state:
“Mr. Trump has embarrassed himself and all those who supported him. Thanks to you and another old friend, I am making a real effort to examine my thoughts and my actions in the area of race relations and Middle East prejudices. We all are acculturated in our attitudes, one way or another. I need to turn over some rocks and see what is harbored underneath.”
Any movement that can combine progressives with such self-reflective religious conservatives —and I think there are many—could restrain the more dangerous aspects of this government. Can we unite those I am talking about who currently are divided into partisan camps? Can we, you know, love our enemies? Yea, nobody wants to hear that. It sounds naive. Self-delusional. But that was a central teaching of the Jesus who walked this planet. And my life has convinced me that he is alive now. Perhaps he knows something I don’t. So what if…? What if respect for those who disagree with us is the supernatural strategy for opposing tyrants? Autocratic leaders succeed by dividing their opposition. They goad us into fighting each other, to distract us while they plunder the country like some banana republic.
We can fight together despite important disputable matters. We don’t have to agree on everything. Jesus teaches the common good—the direct opposite of today’s narcissistic radical individualism. And Jesus wants us to pray for this sad, broken, and dangerous man who is in control of our country. That small graciousness would be one step toward loving those with other opinions into becoming allies. (And we seek to expand our capacity for love not for an agenda or for Trump’s sake, but for our own benefit, to keep our own soul from dying.)
*The Quotidian Mysteries, by Kathleen Norris