Southern Justice by Norman Rockwell
Friend of Padre Steve’s World,
Over the past week and a half since the election I have seen many reports of attacks, violence, and harassment of people by persons that claim that the election of Donald Trump allows them to do so. Gays, Mexicans, Muslims, Women, Blacks, and people identified as being “liberal” have all been targeted, sometimes in person, sometimes by the posting of racist flyers on houses and cars, vandalism of churches, and online harassment and trolling. Sadly, these actions do not seem to be abating.
But then I think I know why. For decades those perpetrating these acts have desired to get even and take revenge on people and organizations that they fell are trampling their way of life, or in some destroying the racial and religious purity of the country, and over the years, goaded by preachers, pundits, and politicians their anger has become hatred of all who stand on the other side. Eric Hoffer wrote that “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”
As such, civil rights advocates, institutions that support equality, and the minorities in question become the target of long pent up frustration, and seething hatred that has built up for years just waiting for someone to release the valves and let it flow. To the people committing these acts that person is Donald Trump. It began in the primaries where supporters demonized and destroyed any principled GOP opposition to him, and now it has been let loose, and I see no end of it despite President Elect Trump’s call to “knock it off.”
We would like to such behavior is abnormal, but it is a deeply ingrained part of our humanity. I recall the words of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, one of my heroes, in the movie Gettysburg when he quotes Hamlet to the curmudgeonly Irish soldier Buster Kilrain, “What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel.” Kilrain, who had to flee Ireland responded “Well, if he’s an angel, all right then. But he damn well must be a killer angel. Colonel, darling, you’re a lovely man. I see a vast great difference between us, yet I admire you, lad. You’re an idealist, praise be. The truth is, Colonel… There is no “divine spark”. There’s many a man alive no more of value than a dead dog. Believe me. When you’ve seen them hang each other the way I have back in the Old Country…. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better… But I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters, Colonel, is justice…”
I constantly wrestle with the tension of my idealism and my inner realist, the inner realist being much more like Kilrain. So when I see the way people are venting their anger at their enemies, seemingly bent on revenge for grievances real and imagined I tremble. I know history and human nature too well, and the one constant in history is humanity which seems to be forever at war between its amazing and almost angelic qualities of goodness and compassion and its blind hatreds of things it fears.
In the past election campaign we saw people on every side of the spectrum demonizing and dehumanizing their opponents, and despite my best efforts not to give in to that, I too was guilty of at times doing just that and I am not proud, it is one thing to passionately advocate and defend, but it is not okay to dehumanize your opponents. As I wrote last night I have had to come to grips with that, and begin to try to help heal the wounds in our country by reaching out to specific people who I came into conflict with and with whom I must attempt to ask forgiveness for my actions, will at the same time attempting to forgive those who also wounded me. As I wrote yesterday, the latter will be much more difficult.
However, those feelings are still high on both sides of the political chasm and will not go away for some time, but one side now is taking control of all the levers of government, for good, or for bad, what happens next we do not know, we can only speculate and we have to ponder the question; in such an environment where long seated hatred and revenge seems to be such a big factor, can justice survive?
Donald Trump has done something that no single American politician has ever accomplished; he has single-handedly created a mass movement of people whose loyalty is to him and not the political party that he used to gain the Presidency. Some are comparing him to President Andrew Jackson but I don’t know if that is a good comparison, but I digress as I am thinking not so much about President Elect Trump as I am thinking about the mass movement that he has created, and what I have seen, read, and experienced at the hands of some of those people.
American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote of people who become subsumed in mass movements:
“There is also this: when we renounce the self and become part of a compact whole, we not only renounce personal advantage but are also rid of personal responsibility. There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations, doubts and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgment. When we lose our individual independence in the corporateness of a mass movement, we find a new freedom—freedom to hate, bully, lie, torture, murder and betray without shame and remorse.”
I believe that we are beginning to see how that will play out. I could be wrong, President Elect Trump may take a hard line against those who commit violence, but his pick of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General bodes ill for civil rights and based on his record and statements regarding them. He has called civil rights proponents “un-American” and in the 1980s he was rejected for the Federal Judiciary based on numerous racist statements and positions. Now he will be in charge of the Department of Justice and the Federal judiciary. So I think one can legitimately be concerned about justice and civil rights. Will Sessions enforce the law, or will he turn his back by not prosecuting those who use intimidation and violence to crush the civil and human rights of people who they despise? Will Steve Bannon, a man who just this summer claimed that his media corporation was a platform for the “Alt-Right,” exercise his influence as chief counselor and strategist to the President to push for even more radical steps against political opponents?
One hopes that our better angels prevail, or will we as a people demonstrate that there is no divine spark?
So with those questions asked I will leave you for the day,