The 2016 election was a traumatic experience for me but, looking back, there were a few moments where I felt inspired. Michelle Obama's 2016 DNC address was one of those moments. In acknowledging the racist attacks on her husband's faith and citizenship, she said "when someone is cruel or acts like a bully you don't stoop to their level. No, our motto is: when they go low, we go high."
These words were moving in the context of opposing Donald Trump, who throughout the campaign had coarsened public discourse with his vile and hateful rhetoric. Michelle Obama, instead of trying to out-Trump Trump himself, chose to take the high road.
For a moment, Michelle Obama's words were an animating force for progressives. But after Trump's inauguration, Michelle's words, and the ideas behind them were quickly abandoned by the left. And I mourn the loss of these higher ideals. Because I think there is a great danger in embracing a politics of anger.
Anger is an understandable reaction to have in politics. When we see things in the world that are unjust or oppressive, we should be angry about them. And we should use this anger to motivate us to enact change. This is what progressive activists have done throughout history. There are many things Trump has done that piss me off, too many to name. Yet we shouldn't let this anger consume us. Anger should not be the driving force behind the progressive movement.
Anger is dangerous because it so easily slips into hatred. And I have seen a tendency on the left to demonize our political rivals. This comes from a false premise. Conservatives are not bad people. They want what's best for our country, just as liberals do. They have a different vision but that doesn't make them evil. In the same vein, we should not look down upon Trump supporters. They are not our moral or intellectual inferiors. I have family friends who voted for Trump. I have known them my entire life. They are not deplorables. They are smart and kind and funny. They are fundamentally good people. This narrow-minded tribalism, this us vs. them mentality, is exactly the sort of divisiveness that Trump has exploited for his own political gain. But it not right, it is not moral, and it is deeply damaging to our country.
Liberals have shown a stunning lack of empathy for Trump supporters and this deeply concerns me. We should have all-encompassing empathy. And anger stops us from doing this. It feeds our worst human impulses. As Buddha said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."
There have been several instances of progressive activists disturbing members of the Trump Administration or Republican politicians at restaurants or harassing them in public. My question is: What are we really accomplishing besides ruining someone's night out? Clearly, these disturbances are not the same as the violence in bomb threats to prominent Democrats. But it is still wrong. I think our time would be better spent phone-banking or canvassing for progressive candidates instead of heckling people at restaurants. Liberals have really embraced the idea of resistance. But you know what's better than being in the opposition? Being in power.
Also, on GW freshman class Facebook page, there have been instances of conservatives posting about an upcoming event and liberals leaving snarky remarks in the comment section. This is rude and unnecessary. We aren't advancing any progressive cause; we're just being jerks. And that's not okay. Conservative should feel free to express their opinions and organize their own events without being harassed and ridiculed by the left. Marginalizing conservatives serves no legitimate purpose. We should respect conservatives for being passionate about what they believe in and putting their ideas into action. And we should do the same.
The old saying about sticks and stones is ridiculous. Any writer knows that words have tremendous power. Words can hurt, but they can also heal. Words can divide a nation but they can also bring one together. I think we have a moral obligation to use our words for good. I got involved in politics because I care about people. And in the battle for social justice and economic fairness, liberals should not let our compassion become collateral damage.