• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Martin Luther King Day, 2017

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
Martin Luther King Jr.

I write on what would be Martin Luther King Jr.’s 88th birthday, five days before Donald Trump is to be sworn in as America’s 45th President.

Martin Luther King Jr was one of my heroes as I came of political age in the 1960s. King drew a straight-line from the founders to the present, challenging us to live up to our creed that we are all created equal. And perpendicular to it, he drew a second line — a line with roots deep in the morality of Christianity— that we as a society have a responsibility to pay attention to the poor, the dispossessed and the powerless.

King was a hero to me not just because his cause was the cause I had been brought up to believe in. It was also King’s method, his strategy, that touched me. King on the bridge at Selma. Non-violent and peaceful, even in the face of police dogs and water cannons and beatings. The battle for civil rights was fierce but throughout his life, King’s commitment to nonviolence and peaceful protest stood like a compass always pointing towards America’s True North: all of us are created created equal.

And in five days, Donald Trump is to be inaugurated as America’s 45th President, a man who in words and deeds seems not to really believe that we are all indeed created equal. And America’s mood? Angry. Bellicose. Argumentative. And in so many ways, ripped asunder as we haven’t been since those 1960s.

One sign of that division, as would be expected, is reflected by the news that more than 20 Democratic Congressman do not consider Trump’s election legitimate and will not be attending the inauguration. And as would be expected, Trump lashed out at one of them, Congressman John Lewis, a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and civil rights icon; a man whose skull was fractured by a White policeman on that bridge in Selma; and a man who has spent his career in Congress building bridges between Whites and Blacks.

But it’s not just the Democrats, but the Republicans as well. While having to work with him, the Republican leaders can be expected to disagree with him on a myriad of issues. The question of exactly how to repeal Obamacare and what to replace it with illustrates these divisions. And the attempts by Junior Republicans to oppose their leadership and change the House ethics structure — followed by Trump’s weighing in on the side of the Leadership — again illustrates this division. Even Trump’s cabinet nominees show sharp divisions over policy.

Whether foreign policy or domestic, economics and trade policy or the replacement for Obamacare, immigration policy or climate change, we are at war with ourselves. And it seems that in Trump we have found our Warrior-in-Chief.

Following a Presidential campaign bent on separating us, one from another, with the call to register Muslims and the strengthening power of the alt-right and groups like the American Nazi Party, the next phase of the struggle for equality has begun.

So today, the 88th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., we once again find ourselves on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, marching towards freedom, marching to meet America’s destiny. And we have, at the same time, seem to have lost our way.

It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey.
Wendell Berry

So let this next phase of the journey begin.

In President Obama’s Farewell Address to the Nation, the President reminded us of the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch — who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” As the President said “… if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed” his advice.

I’ve been working at doing this, seeking to climb into the skin of the voters — especially White voters — who voted for Donald Trump. What does it feel like to walk in their skin?

It was in a Black Studies class I took many years ago, that I read Invisible Man, a novel by Ralph Ellison about an African American man whose color renders him invisible. The same feeling is expressed by the hero’s mentor in the movie The Butler, the story of a sharecropper’s son who runs away from racial brutality to serve eight Presidents as a butler in the White House. In one of movie’s seminal scenes, the mentor who had risen to be a waiter at a Whites-only Club tells the young boy: “This is their world. We just get to live here.”

Trump’s angry belligerent populist appeal speaks to those mostly-White Americans who feel powerless, who feel robbed of their inheritance by years of what they perceive as identity politics, political correctness, illegal immigration, bad trade deals and a system that’s rigged against them. This includes the out-of-work factory workers and Appalachian coal miners whose economic future has become uncertain. And it includes conservative Christians who feel they are not being allowed to live their religious values in this new unfriendly America. More generally, it includes all of Trump’s voters — White Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc — who feel invisible, who feel they too are living the truth of the Black butler’s mentor: This is their world. We just get to live here.

If I can empathize with and have compassion for the reality of the African American experience and the Gay experience and the experiences of all the other peoples who feel left out, can I not also empathize with and have compassion for the many good Trump voters who feel left out? Am I not morally obligated to?

For after all, have we not all felt abandoned? Do we not all know despair? As Longfellow wrote: If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

Which brings us back to Martin Luther King Jr. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. … Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

In the divisions of today, new coalitions are waiting to form, the next American majority is waiting to emerge. Our objective must be nothing less than to help shape this emergent majority in accordance with our creed … that we are all created equal. And love — as expressed in the Golden Rule — is the catalyst through which we can bring this new majority into being.

Today’s struggle for equality is to be won in the hearts and minds and spirit of our people. Those of us committed to the words of our Declaration must reach out, seeking every opportunity to build bridges to those many good men and women whose vote for Trump manifest their own yearning to belong.

The new American majority is growing from the ashes of identity politics and, as King taught us, it can only grow with love.

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.
Abraham Lincoln

Out of friendship comes understanding as we come to learn what it is to walk around in another’s skin. And from that friendship comes the feeling of connection, the feeling that this is our world, too. His cause becomes my cause. Her hopes and dreams become my hopes and dreams.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we once again stand on that bridge that defines the soul of America — a bridge that stretches from Lexington and Concord to Seneca Falls and Gettysburg and Wounded Knee and the bridge at Selma and Stonewall and Standing Rock to the virtual bridge on which we stand today — let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of equality, to an America that lives out the true meaning of our creed.

Let us keep our compass pointing to America’s true North as we embark on this next phase of our sacred journey in government of the people, by the people, for the people.

And let us — more than ever — get involved and get engaged. For as Robert Kennedy reminded us: The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.

Let Freedom Ring.

 

 

Copyright © 2017. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.com and this copyright is included.

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