Let’s Choose Love
It’s been a year now since Donald Trump was elected President. A year unlike any in my adult lifetime (I’m now 53 years old, so I’ve lived through a few decades of American politics.) and very possibly unlike any in the 241 year history of our nation. We have elected a President who governs in 140 character chunks of text, who spends more time messaging against his perceived enemies than messaging regarding policies and positive steps that can be taken to improve our country, and who thinks nothing of publicly name-calling a madman with nuclear weapons at his disposal. We have elected a President who is more concerned with his brand and his ego than he is with providing the kind of stable and calming leadership needed to govern the country through troubled times. We have elected a President who believes that governing by chaos and division is far better than governing through unity and compassion.
There are plenty of examples of this, dating back to the campaign. A laundry list of the examples is useless. You know of them if you pay any attention at all. But a recent series of events provides the greatest illustration of what the President has done to turn this nation into one driven by the blinding light of rage rather than the glowing possibility of passion.
Sitting or kneeling for the National Anthem. As you likely know, this started a little over a year ago when one member of the National Football League began quietly sitting during the National Anthem. What was reported back then but is always lost now is that he actually sat during three pre-season games before anybody noticed what he was doing. He did not do this to draw attention to himself or to his cause. He did it for himself and when asked, he explained why he was doing it. Because of police brutality and unequal treatment directed at people of color. He was not protesting the anthem, the flag, the military, or anything else about America. He was protesting what he perceived to be continued racism and inequality pervading our society and culture.
Over the course of the 2016 NFL season, several other players joined his protest, but generally speaking, no more than a handful “protested” on any particular weekend. As the 2017 season began, the player who started the whole thing, Colin Kaepernick, had not been signed by any NFL team, and the small number of players protesting hadn’t grown by much and may have shrunk. The strong sense was that the protest begun by Kaepernick was dying out.
And then President Trump got involved. A dwindling protest of a few players turned into weekly shows of dozens and hundreds of NFL players kneeling or finding some other way to protest during the National Anthem. Fans booed, commenters on websites excoriated them for their lack of patriotism, respect for the flag, and respect for the military. What was a protest about racism and inequality has turned into a test of patriotism and love of country, a fight between those who believe the flag and the anthem are sacrosanct and those who believe certain rights are paramount. And the rage from both sides has taken over any possibility of passionate discourse on the issues that gave rise to the protest in the first place.
I went to my first sporting event this week since the whole protest began. When it came time to rise for the National Anthem, I found myself not wanting to. A sudden, visceral reaction to the idea, that this had become a test for every one of us, disgusted me and I wanted to rebel against that idea. Standing for the National Anthem is no more about real patriotism and love of country than whether I eat at McDonald’s tomorrow.
So, let me stop for a moment and ponder something Sreejit laid out in his invitation to discuss this topic. He stated, “Rage here shouldn’t be misconstrued as hate speech, but rather as passion speech – passion for life, passion for equality, passion for humanity, passion for the environment.” I believe it’s important to lay out an argument for the difference between rage and passion. Both could be construed as overly emotional, non-thinking reactions to a particular situation. That could be right, but to me there is a difference. But the problem with Sreejit’s construct is that rage is not passion, passion is not rage. Rage is anger. Passion is joy. Rage is darkness. Passion is light. Rage is hate. Passion is love.
What we have had since the last election is a group of people on one side of the debate who respond with rage to virtually every word uttered by President Trump and every policy proposed or implemented by his Administration. The man can barely breathe without the rage machine cranking up. And on the other side, we have a President who is only too gleeful to play into this. This man wants chaos. He wants rage. He wants war between Americans. It is how he will prevail and win and continue to achieve the wrongs he believes are right. And the rage-filled left is playing right into his hands.
An example of this is this week’s (as I write this, it is October 20), outrage over the President’s calls or lack of calls to Gold Star families. My personal opinion is that this is something every President should decide for themselves, and there are all sorts of variables that go into whether such calls should be made. I don’t believe this particular issue is something we should be turning into yet another controversy in our year of endless controversies. No President should be criticized for making these calls or not making these calls. No President should be criticized for not being artful and delicate in these calls. I have no doubt they are among the most difficult things a President does and they should be left in peace in the manner in which they decide to fulfill this solemn obligation.
But here we are with the left outraged that he didn’t call the families of the soldiers killed in Niger and then outraged by what he said when he called one of those families. We have recordings of what should be personal conversations. We have family members and Congressmembers publicizing these private conversations on both sides. We have the President’s Chief of Staff speaking of his own son’s death on the battleground and expressing outrage at a member of Congress who listened on the President’s call to one of the Niger families, but apparently not outraged over the release of a videotape of another such call that was made in April. We have turned what should be a personal and unassailable interaction between a President and the family of a lost soldier into another shrill shriek, a chest-thumping roar of outrage.
We have let rage take over this country. Rage, endless rage. Without thought. Without an evaluation of the import of the target of our rage. Everything and anything now produces rage.
This isn’t the first time this happened. Nor will it be the last, of course.
My first experience with the unhinged rage of an “aggrieved” political group occurred in 1992. There was a segment of the right-wing that believed the Presidency had become their birthright. After all, in the years from 1968 until 1992, Democrats managed to win only one Presidential election. The reaction of the right to Clinton’s victory was stunning in its rage and swift in its attempts to bring him down. Eight years later, the left responded with rage to the election of President Bush. And eight years after that, the rage of the right returned with the election of President Obama.
And here we are. Not the first time, but at a level that is unprecedented. Spurred on by 24-hour news, the immediacy of social media, and the lack of thought that goes into 140 character statements, we are raging at each other unbridled and unthinking.
When the other side responded with rage before, Presidents generally rose above it and led the country and honored the dignity and power of the office. They respected the office of the Presidency too much to sink into the muck the outraged wanted to reside in. You could disagree with many things that each of those other three Presidents – Clinton, Bush, Obama – did, but in general, how each of them responded to the rage of their opponents was to ignore it, not dignify it with a response, and do the job of governing. This year has been different.
President Trump is the leading operator of rage.
The problem is that we on the left have responded in a fashion that only feeds him and serves his purposes. Rather than responding to his hate and fear and anger with love and joy and light, we have responded by ratcheting it up. Every word is cause of screaming, every action is cause for revolt.
Andrew Sullivan is one of the smartest writers and observers of the American political scene. He recently wrote a piece about how the Democrats are making a mistake with their current stance on immigration. (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/10/the-issue-that-could-lose-the-next-election-for-democrats.html) I agree with much of what he says here, but the money quote, the line that makes the most sense to me in describing the failing of the left-wing rage machine of the past year is this: “And the Democrats had no answer, something that millions of Americans immediately saw.” This statement was in the context of Trump’s campaign statement that “if you don’t have borders, you don’t have a country.” In truth, it could apply to virtually everything President Trump has done in the past year. We are not attempting to provide answers or a counter to President Trump’s rage. We are only offering our own rage in return and if we wish to win the souls of Americans, we will lose every time if that is all we have.
We must stop responding to his every utterance and policy proposal this way. We must stop being angry and responding without thought, or at least any other thought than that we hate this man and we are angry that he is President. Instead, we must respond to his horrible ideas with a passionate presentation of facts, of policies that will lift this country up, of reasons our approach and our belief system is the better path forward. We are failing utterly at this and have for the last year. It’s time now to change the strategy. When he goes low, we stay high. When he tries to go high, we get even higher.
Think about the protest and skirmishes that broke out at Charlottesville a couple of months ago. The truth is that the racist, right-wing protest group (for which they had to draw people from across the country and Canada) was small. Violent extremists from the left came to the event intent on inciting violence.
Imagine instead if the counter-protesters had just borne silent witness. There would have been no nightly news stories for days on end, no dead protesters, nothing but a small group of idiots marching around looking like the fools they are. The only rage would have come from the hate-filled racists, small in numbers and not worth the trouble. We gave them a victory that day, when we could have done something else.
Rage is anger. Passion is joy. Rage is darkness. Passion is light. Rage is hate. Passion is love. We have a choice of how to respond to the hate and the anger and the darkness that threatens our country, with President Trump as the chief cheerleader of those forces. As Martin Luther King, Jr., once said:
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Mark Paxson aka KingMidget is an attorney in California, a lifelong liberal and observer of American politics who has grown weary of the political wars, in particular with his fellow liberals and their loss of composure in responding to President Trump. He writes fiction and blogs at kingmidgetramblings.wordpress.com and markpaxson.com.
Written for Rage Against the Machine Month. If you’d like to be a part of the challenge, find more information Here. But first, leave a comment and let Mark know what you think about his words, and be sure to visit him over at kingmidgetramblings.wordpress.com and markpaxson.com when you’re done.