A Love that Transcends Trump

Thursday, July 28, 2016 - 5:30 am

A Love that Transcends Trump

I don’t want to be afraid of Trump.
I genuinely don’t.

Like so many of us, I sit here frozen, terrified, outraged, concerned, and deeply sad about the state of our country and so much of the world.

By now the ground is covered well. The profound anti-Hispanic hysteria. Anti-Muslim bigotry, Hostility towards African Americans, poor people, LGBTQ, women, the physically challenged and disabled. The never-ending, thinly disguised dog whistles of white supremacy. Beyond our own small borders, we see Syria, Palestine/Israel, Germany, Bangladesh, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, France, Medina, and so many other places.
It hurts, everywhere, everywhere…

The coverage of the Republican National Convention itself feels like the aftershock of an earthquake. Replaying the most inflammatory language over and over again, these quotes hit us somewhere deeper than mere thought, where heart and soul connect. The headlines recall our dystopian moment: KKK leaders approvingly cite Trump and run for political office. The Washington Post engaged in the unprecedented practice of a front-page op-ed, declaring “Trump a unique threat to American democracy.” Mother Jones rightly referred to the Trump coronation as “a parade of fear and loathing.”

Fear mongering is on the loose, because it works. Because it is effective. Because riling up economically-frustrated, culturally-insecure masses against minorities is a proven tactic.

I am not under any delusions about the real danger that many of us face: Hispanics, Muslims, gays and lesbians, women, poor people, so much of the planet (and the many people who gracefully live in multiple categories above). Nor do I want to confuse a spiritual response with the urgency of addressing ground-level realities and systematic/structural injustices.
Rather, what I propose is needed. It is a recognition that the ground level, the street level, and the system itself are also places that the Spirit must address. In other words, the spiritual must not be confined to the inward, but wash over, cleanse, and redeem the individual, the communal, and the institutional.

A Latina anti-Trump protester engages in a heated exchange with a Latina Trump supporter near a Trump campaign in Anaheim, California. (David McNew / Getty Images / © All Rights Reserved)

I pause to reflect on what a spirit-based response to Trump and Trumpism may look like.

We see this fear mongering of Trump and company “succeed” at the cost of justice, fairness, tenderness, and the very promise of who we think we want to be.

However, I don’t want to respond to fear mongering by being afraid of it.
Let us be better than responding to fear with fear, and hate with hate.

I have no intention of abdicating the responsibility to shine a light on the dark places of injustice. Let us not mince words: our own future as a flawed, imperfect, never-fully-realized American experiment is at stake. And given the vast asymmetry of power and resources that we have in the United States, and following the Peter Parker (not quite Parker J. Palmer) philosophy that “with great power comes great responsibility,” what happens in this country has enormous consequences for the rest of humanity.

But here is what I am noticing: The response to Trump from many of us who oppose him all too often simply mirrors the hateful language of Trump himself. And we can’t dig our way out of this mess with the same tools that got us here.
No, we need something loftier, more difficult, more grounded, more luminous, more… love-based. We need the love that is gritty and tough, grounded, messy, and real. We need a love that starts out in tenderness, and moves outward until it manifests as justice.
We cannot out-fear Trump. He is the very product of the Dark Side of the Force. If we are like the aspiring Jedis who lash out in anger, we will succumb to the very force that produced him. Yes, we are outraged, but we need to respond with something that heals and cures, uplifts and transforms.

We need to heed the love-based civic and religious voices who remind us of our better selves.
The RNC was big enough of a spectacle to bring back one of America’s most influential liberal voices (or, if you prefer, most influential voice in fake news comedy): Jon Stewart. Stewart performed an epic take-down of the forces that have enabled the rise of Trump.

Jim Wallis, the important Evangelical leader, wrote a powerful column on not giving in to fear during this convention season.

For those of us who are people of faith and moral conscience, how do we lift up love over hate in this angry election season? How do we point to justice instead of revenge? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves — which all our religious traditions tell us to do — and vote that way? And if our faith traditions also tell us that a society is ultimately judged by how it treats its most vulnerable people, how do we best vote for the concerns of the most vulnerable in this coming election?

The wisdom of Jimmy Carter would serve us well now:

“What is needed now, more than ever, is leadership that steers us away from fear and fosters greater confidence in the inherent goodness and ingenuity of humanity.”

I am mindful of something I read once from Mother Teresa. Someone asked her why she did not come to anti-war rallies. She responded:

“Show me a pro-peace rally, and I’ll be there.”

There is something lovely and beautiful about this insight. Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It mingles with justice.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is justice.
The opposite of love is not hatred. It is indifference.
We have to respond to hatred and war mongering with something lovelier and more luminous.

It is not enough to hate on Trump and Trumpism.
Somehow we have to be participants in their redemption and transformation.

It starts with standing in loving solidarity with those who would be marginalized and victimized by the policies of Trump and co. But that solidarity cannot come through demonizing Trump and his followers. Instead, it comes from offering a beloved community that includes us all.

An attendee to the Republican National Convention speaks to a protester in Cleveland, Ohio. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / Getty Images / © All Rights Reserved)

The danger of these times is that we get dragged into a life of responding to hate mongering with something that resembles it, mirrors it, but does not transcend it. Yes, we do live in a world of snark and witty 140 characters. But we cannot tweet our way out of this mess.

We cannot curse our way out of a starless night.
“There is a place for all at the Rendezvous of Victory,” we were taught.
May we start with those who at the moment find themselves weak and vulnerable, and let the love overflow ‘til it spills over to every community.

May God ease all that’s hard,
smooth all that’s rough,
illuminate all that’s unlit,
and carry whatever we cannot.

May we be participants in restoring balance to the Force.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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