August 2017 will be a moment like many others we’ve faced. July 1967 (the 12th Street Riot in Detroit), April 1992 (Rodney King riots), or August 2014 (Furguson Riot) come to mind. Call it the Lunatic Fringe Riot. Maybe it wasn’t as large, or as culturally impacting, but it serves as an historical benchmark, where the original sin of American passivity toward prejudice came bubbling up to the surface, and as a result property was damaged, people were hurt and some even died. Again.
For much of the morning, everyone turned to see what the president would do. He performed as expected, with a few words of general condemnation, then without segue went into self-aggrandizing praise for economic activity and his alleged “long list of legislative achievements.”
Many felt it was an opportunity missed. Others felt angry. A few accused him of being at fault.
But this problem of ours is much bigger and more complicated than a single man. Our people are diverse, opinionated and dissatisfied. We don’t need someone to make us flawed, we already are. Some times we just show it more than others. We were like a soda can for years, and Donald Trump came along, shook us up, then popped the can November 8th. Trump is a consequence of our humanity, not the cause. He’s a manipulator, not author of tribalism. He’s a cheerleader, not a captain, and certainly not the quarterback he thinks he is.
We shouldn’t set ourselves up for failure by expecting more.
Conservative lawyer and legal activist Rick Esenberg shared some wise words about this on Facebook over the weekend and I thought I’d share them with you:
“My own sense is that we ought to think carefully about where identity politics takes us. I consider myself to be on the political “right” – at least as I understood that term prior to last year.
“To me, being on the right meant absolute equality before the law, individual freedom and limited government. It meant encouraging a robust civil society and a commitment to what I am not afraid to call Western values. It meant rejection of both the licentious and authoritarian tendencies of the “intersectional” left and the blood and soil nationalism and authoritarianism of the rightest parties of Europe.
“I don’t think Donald Trump is a champion of the “alt-right.” In fact, I don’t think that he represents anything in particular – he seems to have no firm convictions about anything – but is a product of disparate and conflicting forces.
“One of them, however, is a very different view of the American Right – a view that is every bit as post-constitutional, illiberal and authoritarian as that which has come to characterize much of the American left. It is very much a product of the notion that we need a Saul Alinsky of the “right.”
“But the risk is that in trying to save our values – individualism, freedom, subsidiarity and a common morality that we root in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we wind up destroying them. I don’t think that Donald Trump has much – if anything – to do with what happened today in Virginia. What bothers me is that he does not understand what to do about it.”
Nor do I.
But I disagree slightly with Rick on his last point. I do think that president Trump knows what to do WITH it. He built a campaign on the attitudes behind it. He fashioned his government around them. Like anyone arrogant enough to think they can lasso human tendencies, though, he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
Once you affirm those that embrace hatred – through either action or inaction – it’s hard to reverse.
They’re not just your voting block, its bigger than that. You’ve become their symbol. Their Saul Alinsky of the Right.
WHAT WAS MEANT FOR EVIL…
While each violent tragedy America has suffered is a scar on our legacy, it also serves as a launching pad to a better society than before. From the rock bottom hell that was the Civil War, to the 60’s riots, to the waking up of the 90’s and the cultural awareness of the last decade, we’ve become a better people. While the Information Age made us aware of each other more than ever, some sins we thought were dead came to the forefront. It allowed us to face them, once and for all.
Case in point: police brutality is nothing new, we are just talking about it now. And that’s a good thing. On the flip side of that, police have never faced more disrespect and violent behavior. But at least we see it now.
Some of you may feel I’m living in la la land, or youthfully naïve, but I see it differently. Throughout history, cultures have gradually cast off the chains of historical prejudice and primitive ways, and mankind improved. But we needed to talk about it before we could.
I feel the last two years in politics gave a voice to a devil locked up that we tried to forget about. And the only way to get rid of it is not to control it, or ignore it, but to change our own hearts so that sin he’s selling is less tempting.
The best thing our president can do is not to patronize or ignore the prejudices of a faction so he gets their support, but to call out their flaws by name and set a higher standard to strive for.
The question I have after this weekend is if it’s possible for this president. Right now, my hope for America is strong, but I don’t have the same comfort in our leadership.
We need to pray that he either changes (no one is beyond the power of Grace), or grows tired of the job and hands it to someone more worthy of it, and capable of communicating that standard.
It’s not just the 2018 mid-terms that depend on such a change.