at a time of upheaval, violence is not the answer – but neither is authoritarian unity

at a time of upheaval, violence is not the answer – but neither is authoritarian unity November 11, 2016

An essay to annoy everyone

I am very sympathetic to the fundamental stance of those who are protesting Trump’s election right now. From a secular, political perspective, I reject the thesis that some mystical social contract obliges me to abide by rule of human-made legal structures, if these structures legitimize decisions not favorable to the common good. I have a natural right to oppose what I view as unjust authority. The idea that all authority is legitimate if upheld by a specific political process is itself a human invention. The social contract which demands that I acquiesce to it is not as binding as my obligation to stand for the decrees of my conscience.

From a religious perspective, my membership is in the Body of Christ. Citizenship is secondary to this. The obligations of citizenship are secondary, also, to my deeper obligations to the land, the soil, living things, the human beings around me. Solidarity with fellow humans is more real, more vital, than the artifices of national identity.

I do not accept Donald Trump as my president. I will not acquiesce to an artificial unity that functions only by excluding and marginalizing the Other. These invitations to come together and unify are disingenous, coming from those who accepted – whether reluctantly or not – a platform that promised to reject the refugees, exile the immigrant.

My stance for the next four years will be one of Christian anarchy. But that means radically peaceful anarchy.

So it is impossible for me to stand in full solidarity with those protesters who are engaging in acts of violence. You can not fight hatred with hatred; you can not wipe out violence with violence. The very ideals that drove us to stand against Trump should now drive us to reject the paradigm of force. It may not be my place to tell those who have directly experienced violent racism to “calm down” – but I can encourage those other allies of theirs to form a protective barrier of peace.

It means, also, that while I will not conveniently forget that Trump-style unity means exiling the stranger, I will not accept an us-vs-them paradigm. I can’t afford to. Nearly everyone around me, in my rural community and parish, voted for Trump. And I know for a fact that many do harbor racist tendencies, because I tend to sit quietly in corners at certain functions, and simply listen. No one wants to hear what I think (academic elitism does not translate, in these communities – it isn’t on the radar), but I certainly pay attention to what they think. I’ve heard Black Lives Matter denounced as a hate group; I’ve heard macho threats of violence against homosexuals. One little old man, when Obama was running for president, shook his head and said that he was “going too far.” I thought, at first, that he meant Obama’s politics. But then he went on to say “civil rights are one thing, but that doesn’t mean they get to be president.” I’ve been on a right-wing mailing list for years, getting the latest updates on how to oppose Mexicans and Muslims….some from members of my own parish.

So the reality is that yes, contrary to the bright-eyed narrative, a lot of people out here in the red states really do have racist and xenophobic tendencies.  I can count at least four confederate flags, on my ten-minute drive to the nearest town. And that’s across a rural stretch.

I am tempted to feel deep anger and betrayal, because so many were so eager to believe Trump’s duplicitous promises that it simply didn’t matter to them that he boasted of sexual assault, legitimized a rise of anti-semitism, and promised to violate the principles of Catholic social teaching in countless ways. It’s difficult for me to be fully sympathetic to the idea that white working men are angry and disenfranchised, betrayed by the liberal academic elites, given how many of them around me own fine homes, drive shiny new trucks, and gather to rant about Obama over big plates of food. In my rural blue-collar community, no one around here even thinks about liberal academic elites (as aforementioned, no one is envying me my college degrees or hip foodie-ism; I’m only on their radar as a small farmer) – though they do watch Fox News, where a privileged group of right-wing elite project their own fears, concocted in small bubbles, onto those who face very different crises. They’ve been told, repeatedly, that Obama is coming to destroy their jobs and take their guns. Much of the blame for the divisiveness rests on the shoulders of highly-paid, privileged right-wing media jocks.

But it is also true, as many have pointed out, that progressives discounted the people here. For instance, while I applaud the move from coal to clean energy, I keep wondering:  would such a move truly leave a lot of miners out of jobs, as Hillary Clinton promised to do? Would anyone bother to replace our grimy coal-based economy with a clean energy economy, or would that be kick-started elswehere, leaving a bunch of workers out of jobs, just as happened when the steel industry moved?
So, now that I have thoroughly irritated everyone on the Right, let me go on to irritate the Left and say: we can not have a healthy society if we establish a false unity by silencing and marginalizing these people. Because the reality is also racist attitudes are often inherited, not deliberately cultivated in malice. And meanwhile the progressive ideology has advanced a sneering, supremacist attitude towards those who are less cultured or educated, these grimy unfashionable dairy farmers and coal miners. They’ve done so while depending entirely on the industries and agricultures in which these red-state workers are the lynchpin. Environmental load displacement means they can send all their trash here to the Ohio Valley, then mock us for being trashy.

Everyone’s trying to answer the question of why Trump won, and my thesis is that historical changes are complex and, fundamentally, irrational. Try explaining “why World War I happened” while at the same time thinking “man is a rational animal.” It won’t work. None of our explanations cover the complexist of human motivation, But I do agree that a) racism and sexism are real motivating factors and b) the progressive Left holds a dangerous supremacist attitude about “trashy” uneducated.

And I suspect, also, that since any unity enforced by authority is not organic, it will only inevitably self-destruct. It is likely that no genuine cultural unity is going to be possible at this moment, and pretending that it can involves glossing over our problems, tucking away the inconvenient realities, letting hidden resentments fester. The solution is not “come together and unify” (thanks, but no thanks). It might be more realistic to work on coming together and communicating.


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