Saturday, 3 March 2018

This is not America

"This is not America" – I’ve heard this said many times in the media by activists in response to Donald Trump, condemning his right-wing policies and all for which he stands.

"This is not America", and I always think "Oh yes, it most certainly is." I reason that if the country in which I live, Australia, has its warts and barnacles, then America must have plenty too. Take the dominance of corporate power that makes democracy at the highest levels in the US an illusion, take economic inequality in the richest country in the world, take its urban ghettoisation and squalor, its addiction to gun-toting violence at home and military empire abroad, its race problems, history of slavery and genocide of Indigenous people.

All of these are surely America, as much so as all that is good about the place. In fact, how is it possible to say that the good outweighs the bad? If you are middle or upper-class you may not be directly exposed much to the ugliness, but it exists nonetheless. Trump, it seems to me, represents raw, naked power and the arrogance and stupidity that goes with it. That's as American, as the old saying goes, as apple pie.

The question for me is: How do we oppose the bad while not casting it as somehow alien to ourselves and the body of humanity as a whole? How do we fight Trump in a reasoned and mature way without denial and demonisation?

This points to one of the burdens that has come down to us from Christian civilisation – the absolute dichotomy between good and bad and identification with good at the expense of evil. Modern psychology takes a sharp knife to this simplistic approach: We are all capable of good and evil acts, it says, and the way through the opposites is a psychic acceptance and integration of all elements. When we accept our own capacity for evil, we may come to a point of integration that allows us genuine freedom to choose how we act, no longer trapped in binary opposition within ourselves and against others.

From this point of acceptance and love we can still fight the good fight, but there’s a qualitative change. We don’t exclude or dehumanise the evildoer because we see them as our self. Even as we act to stop what they are doing, we are conscious not to create an "us and them" picture that severs the fabric of humanity. The result is always an affirmation of wholeness rather than a negation; we ask, “What is it that I am affirming in this situation?” to guide us.

In its own uniquely contradictory way, the Christian tradition offers helpful insights. St Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, "Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh … but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." What Paul means is that we focus on combating the wrongness of actions and not the individuals involved, or in another formulation we look to the principles at stake and not to personalities. So much energy in the current opposition to Trump is sucked down into useless name-calling and shrillness.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-60s, in my view, showed a remarkable degree of maturity. Martin Luther King steadfastly refused to lower the tone of the movement in reaction to the hideous racism of the time, continually affirming the dignity and humanity of everybody – black and white, oppressed and oppressor – while acting decisively for a better society. That’s America, the kind we desperately need to see more.

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