Tom Holmes writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review. He occasionally writes news features and columns for Wednesday Journal as well. A retired Lutheran minister, Tom has battled a neurological condition for years, which has impaired his mobility and speech, but not his spirit.
I admire him more than anyone I work with, but he has this annoying habit. He keeps preaching to progressives, urging us to get out of our “lifestyle enclaves” and build bridges to Trump supporters across the gulf of our vast cultural divide by shedding our self-righteousness, arrogance, condescension, and contempt and meeting them halfway — with respect, humility, open-mindedness and honestly listening to what they have to say. In other words, love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. He’s a minister. He takes this stuff seriously. Can you imagine?
It’s annoying, first and foremost, because he’s right, but also because he sets the bar too high. Jesus high. Who can clear such a bar? Well, yes, there was Abraham Lincoln. Tom quotes Lincoln in his piece [“Empathy for white nationalists?”], which you can, and should, read on the opposite page. I’ll wait if you want to do that right now and then come back to me.
Annoying, right? But I’m not sure Lincoln is a good model. Yes, he famously addressed the conquered South in his Second Inaugural Address “with malice toward none, with charity toward all.” And he walked that talk by offering extremely generous terms to the Confederacy at Appomattox. Even Gen. Robert E. Lee was shocked. But that didn’t stop John Wilkes Booth from putting a bullet in his head six weeks later.
Tom quotes author David Brooks who recently wrote, “Nobody becomes more reasonable when they are blamed and attacked.” That’s true, but it’s also true that some people are going to be unreasonable no matter how reasonably you treat them.
And Lincoln knew that, which makes him all the more remarkable, but it didn’t stop him from aggressively waging war against his unreasonable foes, inflicting, and taking, staggering casualties to prevail. He did so because it was imperative in order to preserve the union, however fractured it remains to this very day. Slavery had to end and he would not allow the South to secede because no nation can endure, permanently, half slave and half free.
He bore the heavy costs because slavery was destroying this country.
We’re at one of those junctures again. We cannot allow Donald Trump and his white nationalist supporters to destroy this nation. Fortunately, we don’t have to take up arms against them. We can oppose them with non-violent resistance. We have the vote, flawed and rigged as that system is, and we must prevail. Without arrogance, without contempt, without blame, without self-righteousness, we must vote him out. Even as we treat his supporters without malice and with charity, we must prevail. We can explain ourselves to them, and we should, even with no expectation that we will be listened to, respected or in some cases understood. But respected, listened to or not, we must prevail.
There is a difference between being self-righteous and being right. Not everyone who knows they’re right is arrogant. That’s why it’s important to stay humble because the more arrogant you are, the greater the odds that you’re wrong. Just look at His Arrogance Himself.
We may not be right on everything, but we are “mostly” right on this: Being inclusive is better than being exclusive, and we’re voting to make this a more inclusive country whereas they’re voting to make it less inclusive. And we’re going to win — because we must and because, with all due respect, being exclusive is always wrong.
But in our resistance, we must remain non-violent and that means non-violent within. We cannot fight fire with fire, but we must keep the fire of our cause burning inside. We must, in the end, be better, not just stronger, than our opponents. We need to make the case that they will be better off after Trump is voted out and that their concerns will also be our concerns, but we will address those concerns in a manner that benefits everyone. Not just the few.
To do that, we need to listen to our opponents, as Tom calls for. We have to get underneath their exclusionary, sometimes hateful language to understand the legitimate part of their concerns. Then we can rephrase and address them.
“The loss of white privilege can feel like oppression,” Tom writes, quoting an unnamed psychologist. “It’s not, of course, but it can feel that way.” Some concerns are legitimate. Some are not. We need the confidence, without becoming arrogant, to make the distinction.
Treat them the way we want to be treated, insofar as we can, even if they do not treat us that way in return. Winning requires us to be better.
In a more perfect union, we would meet our opponents halfway, extend a hand, listen to one another with respect, and begin working toward a mutually agreeable and beneficial compromise. But that is not the country we live in. Hell, we can’t even fix our bridges, much less build them. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely ideal and we shouldn’t lose sight of it. Tom’s challenge is a good one. Maybe someday we can make that idealized country a reality.
But that won’t happen unless we win the White House, the House, and the Senate in 2020.
And win them decisively.