Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Polarization and the Golden Rule

I’m sure people who think Trump can do no right are gonna see this as after-the-fact justification. Maybe so. OTOH, I agree with the principle of waiting until you have good enough info to speak and act. Too bad he doesn’t apply that standard evenly as is amply evidenced on his Twitter feed.

As I recall, Trump made his “equivocal” statement before the news broke about the car homicide, and at the time, having watched some of the video feeds myself, it seemed that both sides were indeed acting out and inciting each other, which is pretty much par for the course for so-called “peaceful demonstrations” these days.

There have also been many violent and ugly protests (and riots) incited by folks on the left side of the political spectrum, many against Trump himself. This is not tu quoque. I am not excusing what happened. I am indicting both the left and the right for our ongoing extreme polarization and the violence that this leads to.

As I said on Saturday, have said before, and will probably say again, racism is a great evil and a great sin. There is no excuse for it. I am personally disgusted by the behavior and talk of white supremacists, and I abhor and denounce that ideology in all its various pernicious forms.

What I am addressing here is not the particular ideology of the particular latest demonstration-turned-riot. I am addressing the larger issue that we, as Americans, so very many of us, are increasingly becoming incapable of viewing each other as fellow human beings and fellow citizens with whom we may happen to hold significant disagreements.

Instead, we vilify, demonize, and shout down. We refuse to listen and refuse to discuss as rational beings. We imagine we know each others’ hearts, and we rarely question our own. This can only lead us to one end: hate and violence. And that, in itself, only breeds more of the same as recriminations escalate.

We see this in the workplace. We see this in the public square. We see this among friends, and yes even among family. This is a dark, dark path we are going down, far more deleterious than any saber rattling by governmental powers.

But it’s not too late to reverse it. Each one of us can make the effort, no matter how personally offensive someone’s ideas are, to remember that this is indeed another human being we are dealing with and to treat them like we would want to be treated.

There is no doubt that if we stand for anything, someone will take offense and objection to our positions, no matter how right we think we are, no matter how much we think we are ‘on the right side of history’. So it behooves us to engage in the Golden Rule, especially when we disagree and are inclined to see the Other as our enemy.

Those with political power (even in a democracy) will always be tempted to use it to unjustly oppress and suppress others. We have never been immune to this, even in a country founded on liberal ideals, and we are anything but immune to it today. We should not forget our own history, and we must ever be on guard against the temptation to use power—even in the service of arguably good ideals—to treat others as less than human. This includes the power of government and the power of the mob, in whatever form that takes.

We are all, witting or not, members of the government or the mob or both, that is, some society of individual persons who by banding together wield collective power, and so it is on each of us—individually—to resolve to use what power we have to respect the Other and to treat the Other as we would want to be treated.

And Christians, especially, are called to an even higher standard—to LOVE the Other, to seek the good of the Other, even when it doesn’t personally benefit us. We ought to be examplars of how to live at peace with each other, not ever backing down from confronting evil but also never conflating the evil with the person. “Love your enemies...” May God give us the grace to love perfectly.