ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
In his Inaugural Address, Donald Trump noted how so many Americans had been left behind, and he appealed to the idea that we are all in this together.
In claiming that America had never been so divided, Donald Trump overlooked a time when America was literally divided, the United States that Abraham Lincoln sought so hard to preserve when he took office in 1861, just weeks before the attack on Fort Sumter that began the Civil War. Lincoln was acutely aware of the prodigious challenges he faced, and he worried incessantly that he would not be up to the immense task. On the other hand, Trump told voters time and again that it would all be “easy,” and he also said at every turn that “I alone” could do it.
One hundred and thirty-two days into the Trump presidency, almost nothing has been easy for his administration, and America may be even more divided now than it was when he took office. Many Americans are understandably frightened for what may come in the days ahead. Might this be the end of our republic?
One form of division involves citizens having profoundly different visions of what things matter. If you think that a social program is vitally important, and if I think it doesn’t matter at all, our difference can sow bitter discord.
Even when citizens agree on what things are important, they can interpret those things so differently that their agreement is akin to no agreement at all. If freedom means one thing for you and something entirely different for me, then we are unlikely to share any common cause.
We all agree that we want citizens to find meaningful work to support their families and to build a good life for themselves, but say that we champion entirely different strategies for realizing this goal. We can easily be torn apart by such differences.
In the face of the World Trade Center falling, Katrina laying waste to New Orleans, Americans can be fully united as brothers and sisters in a shared fate, be it a mournful or joyous one. But sooner or later, we must all return to everyday life, complete with all its serious differences and disagreements.
So long as we think of things that come between us as amenable to rational discussion we can hope that people will converge in time on some shared solutions, even if solutions require patience and compromise, even ones that sting. Lincoln hoped for as much in his First Inaugural Address when he called upon the Southern states to step back from the brink of war in March of 1861.
America shows every sign of citizens taking implacable sides impervious to rational persuasion. Donald Trump garnered 80% of the evangelical vote. Though Trump mouthed some words here and there about the Bible during his campaign, he cut a figure that could hardly seem Christ-like. Boastful, crass, aggressive, bullying, mendacious, demeaning, avaricious, and narcissistic, Trump was an unlikely favorite son for Christians, yet, they loved him; polls suggest that they love him still. One might surmise that evangelicals simply latched onto Trump to lead them to favorable Supreme Court appointments, but their enthusiasm for Trump seems to go beyond that.
In the same vein, the economically disadvantaged voters in rural areas who were so vital to Donald Trump’s election have raised no outcry over his proposed budget, even though many analysts have concluded that it would have devastating consequences for the poor while affording lucrative breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
There are few signs of revolt in Trump’s loyal ranks. Perhaps they are not paying attention, or perhaps they have chalked up the predictions to “fake news.” This suggests that people believe what they want to believe. In this light, they can be perfectly willing to brand conflicting evidence as fake news or propaganda. Thus, evangelicals can turn a blind eye to Donald Trump’s decidedly un-Christlike character and policies, just as poor folks can refuse to believe that their candidate has anything but their best interests at heart with his plans.
The Trump campaign and presidency have effectively championed the psychological need for enemies, grave threats to everything good and sacred. From the need for a wall to keep out Mexican rapists and murderers, to his Muslim ban to keep America, Donald Trump has capitalized and enmity. Thus, the people on the other side of the divide are not simply people with whom we disagree, but despicable people.
Trump did not create this deep and abiding need for enemies. Much of human history is a history of inhumanity. The first step in annihilating human beings has long been to cast them as something “other,” a breed apart and entirely unlike “us.” The engine of the Holocaust ran on casting people as less than human, made it psychologically palatable to dispose of these “others.” The perpetrators of these horrors were much like us. The people who did these who greased the fascist Nazi wheels were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, lovers and spouses, fathers and mothers. They marched in step, looking for evidence to confirm what they believed and wanted to believe, all the while taking comfort in the thought that they and their companions were doing the world some good by getting rid of such people.
We are not at this stage in America, not yet The recent events on a Portland, Oregon train are sobering. Two men died and another was seriously wounded when they tried to defend two young women against a hateful, racist rant by a violent man. They could have minded their own business, but they didn’t. The last words of one of the mortally wounded men were “Tell everyone on this train that I love them.” The surviving man, Micah David-Cole Fletcher, expressed his gratitude for all the support and praise sent his way, but then he did a second beautiful thing by appealing to the public to focus their attention on the two African-American women who were victimized, young women who will always live with the memory of this experience, young women who must live with the reality of hate and prejudice every day.
At least on this grim day, with these three men, love won, and for this we should be very grateful. As my younger brother likes to say, love conquers fear. We are all in this together, or else most things that matter are already lost. These five people—the two men who lost their lives, the one who survived, and the two young women—could be your mother or father, your brother or sister, your son or daughter, your best friend. For all but a relative few, they weren’t. But they were and are fellow citizens. We are all in this together. The struggle against deep discord in America is a mighty and uncertain one. We must resist the alluring comfort of cheap righteousness and the sweetness of bitter enemies that drive us to circle the wagons against “others.” We should heed Abraham Lincoln’s famous words.
We are not enemies, but friends. 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.
And we should take care to remember a commuter train in Portland, Oregon, where decent people embodied the call to live true to the better angels of their nature.