The candidacy of Donald Trump, the fervor of those who support it, and the fierce opposition of those who don’t is making America mad — both angry and insane, as the dual definitions of the word implies.
One of the most disturbing displays of this madness is the violence Trump has incited in his supporters, and the violent ways in which opposition forces have responded, like the exchange we saw last week in San Jose, California.
Both forms of violence are unequivocally wrong, but speak to a base level of hostility that hovers around the man like the stench from rotting flesh.
What is particularly disturbing is to see anti-Trump forces lashing out at Trump’s supporters, seemingly provoked simply by a difference in political position.
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This cannot be. It’s self-defeating and narrows the space between the thing you despise and the thing you become.
Listen, I understand how unsettling this man is for many.
I understand that he is elevating and normalizing a particular stance of racism and sexism that many view as a spiritual attack, a kind of psychic violence from which they cannot escape.
Furthermore, the election cycle promises at least five more months of this, until Election Day, and even more if by some tragic twist of fate Trump is actually elected.
And, if elected, the threat could move from the rhetoric to the real, wreaking havoc on millions of lives.
I understand the frightful, mind-numbing, hair-raising disbelief that can descend when one realizes that this is indeed plausible.
Recent polls have only added to this anxiety as some have shown an increasingly tight race between him and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee; some even have him beating her.
(Now of course, these polls must be taken with a grain of salt. Trump and Clinton are in different phases of the fight: Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee with no remaining opponents and with Republicans coalescing around his candidacy; Clinton is still in a heated contest with Bernie Sanders, who has given no indication of giving up.)
I understand that Trump represents a clear and present danger, and having a passionate response that encompasses rage and fear is reasonable.
It is understandable to want to make one’s displeasure known.
But there is a line one dares not cross, and that is the one of responding to violent rhetoric with violent actions.
As I have said before, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best in his 1967 book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, and he is worthy of quoting here at length:
”The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
You may feel activated by the cause of righteousness, but violence is most often a poor instrument for its implementation. Indeed, violence corrodes righteousness. It robs it of its essence.
The best way to direct passions is not only with the bullhorn, but also at the ballot box.
In a democracy, the vote is the voice. The best way to reduce the threat Trump poses is to register and motivate people who share your view of the threat.
It is easy to look at the throngs who support and exalt this man and be discouraged, but don’t be. It is easy to look at Republicans like Paul Ryan abandoning their principles and selling their souls to fall in line behind this man and be discouraged, but don’t be. It is easy to see the media fail miserably to counter Trump and his surrogates’ Gish-gallop and be discouraged, but don’t be.
These are the moments in which the nation’s mettle — and ideals — are tested. I have a fundamental belief that although America was born and grew by violence and racial subjugation, that although it has often stumbled and even regressed, that its ultimate bearing is toward the better.
Folks must be reminded that one demagogue cannot lead to a detour or a dismantling. There is an elevated plane of truth that floats a mile above Trump’s trough of putrescence.
Trump and his millions of minions have replaced what they call “political correctness” with “ambient viciousness.”
This won’t “make America great again,” because the “again” they imagine harkens back to America’s darkness. We are the new America – more diverse, more inclusive, more than our ancestors could ever have imagined.
Don’t invalidate that by allowing yourselves to be baited into brutishness.