You know we have a national problem when the Hamilton cast calls out the VP-Elect and Glenn Beck and Bernie Sanders agree on something! Coupled with protests in many American cities, it is clear that a large and diverse group of citizens are deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s election. I am one of them. Count me in the “really worried” camp. Many of Trump’s announced nominees hasn’t help. In such an environment, what are the appropriate ways of expressing discontent? Is it OK to protest a fairly-elected president? Must we all “get behind” him and “give him a chance” as some have argued.
In answering these questions, it is worth noting the protests that surrounded our last president when he was elected. Ironically, these were led by many who now want America to fully support the ideas of our new President-Elect. In 2009, shortly after President Obama’s election, The Tea Party movement began to protest the earliest of Obama’s actions — to save homeowners who were about to lose their homes to the Great Recession. They marched on Washington DC and have attempted ever since to oppose anything of substance offered across Obama’s eight years. They have fundamentally transformed the traditional Republican Party. There was no “giving him a chance” or “getting behind” the newly elected President.
Overlapping that effort was the Birther movement which had the same purpose — to delegitimize a newly elected president based on his name, color, and heritage. Along with both of these efforts was a GOP Congress that with intent began using the language of tyranny, constitution-destroying, and worse to describe even their own policy ideas if Obama supported them. While not physically violent, these protests were certainly institutionally and Constitutionally violent. They have harmed America’s institutions and democracy.
If I were a Democrat, I would be sorely tempted to return in kind each of those actions — an eye for an eye. Why on earth would I ever allow a vote on an SC nominee given the last couple of years? Why approve a full budget or any other meaningful piece of legislation? It would be deeply satisfying, no doubt. And the dysfunction and harm to American Democracy, which partially gave rise to someone like Trump would just intensify.
It will seem overly simplistic, but the best response to this election is one found on many of the protest signs. If “Love Trumps Hate,” we have to really mean it. Those of us that strongly disagree can’t respond with hateful actions and words, even if that is what happened last time. It certainly isn’t easy. But please note that this isn’t a call for submission or acceptance of much of what I fear Trump will do.
Political change happens for the better when violent words and actions are met with acts of peaceful disagreement. Where love of others is shown WHILE disagreeing with ideas and actions. The political science portion of who I am merges with my personal faith on this point. Trump is in good measure the product of anger, fear, and hatred to modern social and economic change brought by a globalizing, shifting world. Offering more of the same in response rewards Trump’s views and also makes even worse outcomes possible in the future. Populist authoritarian leaders can come from the right or left — but they are universally bad.
What is necessary are modern, digital age versions of the Salt March, Selma Bridge, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Malaya, etc. I am not saying anything new here, many are making this point. I am also channeling my David Pulsipher here for those that know him. But I believe that the academic research and my faith point to the power of nonviolent, peaceful disagreement. It is the only thing that counters anger, hatred, and fear.
When you see harmful rhetoric on social media — be willing to peacefully and with real love disagree. Stand up but don’t succumb to the vitriol of fake news and distortion which exacerbated such strong negative emotions this past election. While some of Trump’s supporters hold the negative characteristics that concern many of us, many others simply felt the fear of economic and other broad changes that impacted their traditional jobs and ways of life. Most simply want to see a positive path forward.
Feel free to protest, but do so peacefully, regardless. Speak to the majority who voted for Trump in ways that brings them to the table and doesn’t reinforce negative perceptions. Be driven by objective truth in your arguments. Objectivity doesn’t cause harmful emotional responses like the fake news that helped drive Trump to victory. Seek empathy for all Americans and their situations. Try to understand why someone in the coal-belt might feel fear for their family’s economic future. That empathy will be felt and will be returned by many good Americans (not all, sadly — but most).
Don’t disengage but disagree with love. Join political organizations that promote these positive values. While disagreeing, offer positive hopeful paths forward. Do more, not less. But always with love. As a Christian, I believe that is how the Spirit communicates and softens the hardest of hearts. We have a lot of very hard hearts in America right now — driving much of our negative politics. As even Trump himself has said, he was elected to “blow it up,” inherently an act of violence. Let’s not respond in kind. We won’t always agree with each other but a much more empathetic, positive, and hopeful America is still possible. Personally, that is what I am going to try and do over the next four years.