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“Love and politics.”
‘Something radical is required.’
A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts. —Lao Tzu
1. The case of Donald Trump.
1 AUGUST—During the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency I watched as Democrats, people I knew, became increasingly anxious and fearful, convinced that the man occupying the White House posed a unique threat to the stability of the country and, indeed, to the very fabric of our democracy. In most cases, the extreme emotion I detected in many people did not seem to reflect considered, individual judgments. As I read it, this was a collective response to an orchestrated campaign—a political campaign, a media campaign, in part an intelligence operation—to undermine a sitting president. Wild accusations filled the newspapers and airwaves. Panic gripped ordinary Democrats.
I am not certain Americans have ever had much capacity for independent, unbiased thought in matters of politics. Our opinions and emotions have long been shaped predominantly by political ideology and propaganda. But I am certain this dynamic, however far back in history we trace it, worsened considerably during the Trump years, when the Democratic establishment, in league with mainstream media, purposefully manufactured a climate of fear, outrage, and paranoia that exceeded anything in my lifetime. The consequences of this shameless political and media chicanery were and continue to be profoundly poisonous in the public and private spheres alike, as people increasingly turn against each other, even members of the same family.
There is a high psychological and social cost to the cynically managed public reaction against our forty-fifth president. Fear and antipathy toward others in our society diminish our shared capacity for empathy, our curiosity about others, and our ability to make meaningful connections. People find it difficult to see others as fellow human beings deserving of respect, concern, and common affection. There is extreme atomization, in a word. These consequences are not to be taken lightly: Empathy, a clear understanding of what we share with others, even or especially those we consider different, altogether one or another kind of fellow-feeling, are part of what bind a nation together. And they are essential to sound, effective political leadership.
My argument here is that we are in desperate need of a renewed civic engagement based upon a politics of solidarity with each other as fellow citizens and not with power—and certainly not with either of the two prominent political parties. It is the recognition of our shared human bonds and those things we have in common, despite our many differences, that can enable such a transformation. The polarizing events of the past several years are many, each a painful demonstration of our state of distress, our social deficits and fragmentation, our want of agape, to invoke the Greek term, as I have come to consider it and as I will explore later on. I choose here to take up an extreme case, the protests of 6 January 2021, in precisely this light.
By the time Donald Trump was sworn into office, I’d already broken my longstanding ties to the Democrats. Disgusted with the corruption of the Democratic National Committee as it cheated its way through the 2016 primary on behalf of Hillary Clinton, I’d quit the party well before election day. On 8 November 2016, I wrote in Bernie Sanders’ name.
Quitting my political party was like detoxing from an addictive substance. It took months for the poisonous effects of party ideology and propaganda to wear off—for the scales to fall from my eyes so that I could finally start to see and think more clearly. That is, to see and think for myself. Had I been a Democrat as Trump assumed office, I might well have fallen under the spell of what often looked from the outside like a kind of mass hysteria. Instead, I lived through Trump’s presidency without succumbing to the fear, anger, and intense loathing that overwhelmed so many liberals and those on the so-called “left,” however much I detested his policies.
For me the Trump years were not that much different from the eight that preceded them, when Obama, for whom I voted twice, occupied the White House. Nothing of significance was accomplished under either president to rebuild infrastructure, revitalize manufacturing, or create jobs. Instead, the military budget grew and things consequently deteriorated across the country. The middle class continued its downward slide while more wealth concentrated at the top. More jobs were lost, the quality of life and even longevity declined, the working poor got poorer, and more people ended up on the streets. The environmental crisis worsened.
One of the more significant and consequential differences between Obama and Trump had nothing to do with policy. Instead, it was the style of each man’s public persona and presentation. Obama was handsome, articulate, and intellectually sophisticated—the agreeable face of U.S. empire. Trump, by contrast, was an aesthetic offense, especially to the liberal establishment. Fat, vulgar, and rude, Trump was the ugly face of an America liberals wanted to pretend did not exist—a mirror into which they did not want to look. In actual substance—and this will land with a shock for many liberals, but I hold to the judgment—there was little difference between the two administrations. Both advanced the interests of U.S. empire and global military dominance.
Here is Dr. Gabor Maté—Canadian physician, author, and expert on addiction and trauma—discussing both men in a 2019 podcast with Russell Brand:
Obama got into power funded heavily by Wall Street. Now, is Wall Street stupid? Or, do they know which side their bread is buttered on? They knew what they were getting. They didn’t buy into the hope and change. They knew exactly what a facile and efficient servant of the status quo he would be. And no sooner does he get into power than he bales out Wall Street [in the 2008 financial crisis]. He was responsible for one of the greatest transfers of wealth upwards in history. . . .
They rest of us, because we wanted to believe in the positive side of his persona, we got sucked in [by his promise of hope and change]. The system never got sucked in by him. . . . Obama was as ready as anybody to kill people abroad. He was as ready as anybody to send troops overseas. It’s no different than American history has always been. He was smoother about it. He was more urbane about it. He was more articulate about it.
About Trump, Maté had this to say:
Along comes Trump and he’s egregious. . . . [It’s] offensive to the sensitivities and sensibilities of the liberal establishments to have someone like Trump represent them. When it comes to genuine policy, there’s no difference between these people. It’s just that the system wants people that can make it [the system] more palatable and Trump makes it very unpalatable.
And so Trump has woken us up. But unfortunately a lot of the liberal outrage has been at Trump personally rather than at the policies and at the system he represents. . . . A Bush or a Clinton or an Obama can be much more effective at representing the system than Trump is. And that’s what Trump’s sin is. Trump’s sin is not in what he does. Trump’s sin is in his personal, egregious, in-your-face dysfunction.
So it was from a new perspective, one of relative political and ideological freedom, that I watched Trump’s presidency and the often hysterical reactions coming from liberals and those on the left—reactions I didn’t and do not share. I don’t hate Donald Trump. I don’t believe that it’s necessary or useful to hate him. And so, during the years of his presidency, I was spared the fear and anger, the depression and despair, the anxiety bordering at times on paranoia, that so many people I know experienced and spoke of. I wasn’t traumatized by Trump or his presidency. Indeed, I have always understood that George W. Bush, the man responsible for lying us into the Iraq war, the man responsible for Guantánamo Bay and the establishment of a vast torture program, was always far worse.
This absence of the visceral contempt liberals commonly feel toward Trump goes to my point. Because I don’t hate Trump I’m able to listen to him with something like an open mind. I can see the man with a degree of clarity precisely because I am not a Democrat—but also, of course, because I’m not one of his loyal followers. I can discern his weaknesses and strengths, his bad ideas and those that are good. Most Democrats are utterly incapable of this. I can hear it when Trump makes sense, when he says something that’s true, and I can detect when he’s gone right of the rails.
Early in his presidency Trump gave an interview with Bill O’Reilly, then at Fox News, for which he was widely lambasted. “Do you respect Putin?” O’Reilly asked. “I do respect him,” Trump replied. “I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s the leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not.”
On that point, on the wisdom and utility of better relations with Russia, Trump was in complete alignment with his predecessor, President Obama—a fact Democrats ignored until they conveniently forgot it altogether.
“Putin is a killer,” O’Reilly responded.
Unfazed, Trump replied—correctly, reasonably, honestly—“There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. You think our country is so innocent?”
Trump was vilified for that interview. Anyone even minimally aware of the history of U.S. wars and covert coup operations knows that what Trump said was the absolute truth. Three million Vietnamese were killed in the Indochina war alone. Many more millions of people have been killed in our wars since. But these things are not supposed to be acknowledged so openly—and never are they supposed to be acknowledged by a sitting president. Acknowledging, even tacitly, U.S. culpability for wars of aggression, for international acts of violence, for violation of international law, undermines the mythologies of U.S. exceptionalism and benevolence.
I choose the example of Donald Trump to begin this essay because the dynamics at play in the Trump case are unusually instructive. Democrats could not, and still cannot, see or think at all clearly about Donald Trump because they’ve been conditioned by their own party to see Trump through a lens of party ideology and propaganda. In the very same way, liberals have now been propagandized and conditioned to see the war criminals George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as “good guys.”
And why is that? Because Bush and Cheney openly opposed Trump. Here, then, is a prime example of how attitudes toward Trump passed from expressions of routine dislike for a political opponent into rabid, unthinking hatred such that the Democratic establishment actually rehabilitated two of the very worst, most criminal, Republicans of this century. Even more disastrously for our country, the antipathy for Donald Trump was extended to those Americans who voted for and support him.
There is only one antidote to poisonous hatred of this magnitude, which is why I explore here the theme of love and politics. If ever there was a time and a need to “love your enemies,” to “love your neighbor as yourself”—now is the moment. Love—expressed as a selfless concern and regard for others—shifts priorities and allegiances. It enables a person to see things more clearly and objectively.
Let me be immediately clear lest I am misunderstood: When I invoke love I am not talking about a sentimental unthinking emotional state. Rather, I refer to a capacity for unbiased, clear seeing and thinking that selfless goodwill, as opposed to hate and bias, can engender.
As things are, Democrats see and think what the elites who control their party, and the media that serve the Democratic establishment, want them to see and think. Political ideology and party loyalty destroy the capacity for clear independent thought. It should not be necessary to note that what I describe applies equally to Republicans, Libertarians, and indeed members of any political party. All forms of political ideology are blinding.
The current political system has failed us entirely and the festering animosity dividing citizens threatens to make things worse, making it almost impossible for us to work together to challenge power and implement real change.
The only way out of this mess is to shift allegiance away from our current political duopoly. What is needed is a political renewal based upon a recognition of our shared humanity, an ideal of concern for the well-being and happiness of others that prioritizes community and the common good. What is needed is a politics based on love—love as in agape. We need to think beyond daily political squabbles and events because a considerable dimension of our national crisis is psychological and is characterized by alienation and enmity. Our time requires that we develop a new consciousness of ourselves, one that transcends political ideology and party loyalty. These are never more important than our human bonds with each other and indeed a healthy politics supports and strengthens those very bonds—it does not tear them apart.
2. Love and politics.
Our friends show us what we can do. Our enemies teach what we must do. — Goethe 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. — Longfellow
As a matter of course, the fear and hatred directed at Trump was, and continues to be, projected onto his supporters. Obsessed with the political differences that divide us, many Americans seem to have lost any sense of fellowship or goodwill toward each other. Instead, our fellow citizens, our neighbors, even our friends and family members—those who think differently—have become enemies. It would seem that Americans are increasingly incapable of listening to one another or working together and instead blame each other for all that appears to be wrong.
This dynamic is well understood in psychology as a projection of the shadow—the dark and unacknowledged aspects of one’s own psyche—onto others. Those things a person cannot bear to look at within herself are projected outward onto others who are made to personify the shadow and who come to embody those very parts of a person that are most feared and detested.
In Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, a compilation of essays that explore the role of the shadow in human behavior and psychology, editors Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams describe a process they term “enemy-making”:
Enemy-making seems to serve a vital purpose: those qualities that we cannot tolerate in ourselves we can unconsciously and painlessly attribute to our enemies. When observed through psychological lenses, enemy-making is a transposition of shadow onto others who . . . fit our images of the inferior.
In the same book, Sam Keen has this to say about the process of scapegoating:
We scapegoat and create absolute enemies, not because we are intrinsically cruel, but because focusing our anger on an outside target, striking at strangers, brings our tribe or nation together and allows us to be a part of a close and loving in-group. We create surplus evil because we need to belong.
But also, it seems necessary to add, because people appear to have a need to feel self-righteous and justified in their beliefs. These unconscious dynamics are as destructive as they are blinding. Distracted by fear and loathing of those we perceive as political enemies, it is impossible to see clearly the problems before us. And so we are rendered powerless to address these problems.
On a political level, all of this is intentional, even if the intent is subliminal. We are not meant to see our problems clearly. Above all, we are not meant to be united. Indeed, we are meant to be estranged from each other. We are meant to fight amongst ourselves and with each other because our division is essential to the maintenance of established power at all levels, public and private, governmental and corporate. Precisely because we are divided, we are powerless to confront abuses of power in any meaningful way.
Both of the major political parties benefit enormously from this dynamic. And so they further it at every opportunity. As many others have pointed out, the two parties together created the culture wars to provoke us into fighting with each other. The culture wars distract us and keep our attention focused away from noticing the rot and corruption within our own political party. Fighting with each other, seeing members of the other party as enemies, secures our party loyalty as it keeps us from realizing that on most issues of substance—war and militarism in particular—there is very little difference between the two parties.
The political sphere has become so corrupted most of us have forgotten the meaning, necessity, and worth of civic engagement. At the very moment when solidarity is most needed, when we need to work together to solve our many problems, we haven’t the inclination or capacity for it. Something radical is required, something demanding courage that is yet also a part of our human heritage—including our spiritual and religious inheritance. As I have already suggested, this something is love. At bottom political pursuits and commitments are an expression of deep human bonds, of our affinity, respect, and care for each other—of love as expressed in the Greek word agape: selfless love of fellow human beings.
Who thinks of love in this context? Love is the last word or feeling one associates with the political sphere. But it has a place in politics few of us ever consider. Love is the bedrock of the virtues demanded of good governance: disinterest (the quality of being free of personal bias and selfish motives), morals (guiding principles), and ethics (the rules and behaviors established by good morals). There is a reason the Greeks had a word for this. They understood the central place of agape in the polity.
Without love there can be no genuine selflessness or disinterestedness in politics. It is our concern and care for others that enables us to set aside personal biases. Likewise, love is a necessary basis for a meaningful moral and ethical framework to guide government and politics. Otherwise it is possible, for example, to end up with a twisted morality and ethics such as we have now, wherein corporate profit is valued over community welfare and the military budget eats up our national treasury.
Love requires us to see each other not as enemies but as fellow human beings, fellow citizens, for whom we can feel a sense of solidarity and comradeship. This is precisely what is most needed in the political sphere. Cultivating a genuine curiosity about, and selfless concern for, others—including others we may not agree with and may not like—would help to heal the divides tearing the country apart and would serve as a profound antidote to the alienation and estrangement, the depression and anxiety, the fear and loathing, plaguing our nation.
Here is the bitter reality: A selfless love of humanity mustn’t be sought among politicians, the elected officials who primarily serve their own and corporate interests. And here is the reality of our individual responsibility: It is our task, each of us, to transform the way we think about and relate to one another within the shared space of political interaction and friction. “If the individual is not truly regenerated in spirit, society cannot be either,” Jung wrote in The Undiscovered Self, “for society is the sum total of individuals in need of redemption.” Fraternal and sororal affection for strangers is something each of us is called upon to cultivate within ourself. In short, it is the responsibility of each one of us as citizens to bring love into the political realm as a radical affirmation of our shared bond as human beings, citizens of the same country, even if we are the only one to take up the task.
3. A night devoid of stars.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. —Martin Luther King
There is no clearer example of the destructive consequences of the absence of love as agape in our political sphere than the reaction of the entire Democratic establishment to the events of 6 January 2021. Never have I witnessed a more vile or prolonged hate fest than what the media have served up in the years since the protest occurred. With the result that the Biden DoJ has been empowered to turn ordinary citizens into political prisoners by handing down sentences so extreme as to stand as cruel and unusual punishment—and which will ultimately have a chilling effect on protest in the future, as is very likely among the intended consequences.
Ordinary Democrats are not able to look upon the events with disinterest. They are entirely unable to consider things from the point of view of the protesters or to have any regard for them as fellow citizens. This is devastating for the idea and expression of agape. The protesters themselves have been demonized and dehumanized by the media and the Democratic Party, so creating a climate in which misinformation and outright falsehoods have taken hold, as is illustrated in the reporting on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick.
In the days and weeks following the 6 January protest, The New York Times ran numerous articles asserting as fact that Officer Sicknick was bludgeoned to death by protesters. “He died the day after he was overpowered and beaten by rioters from the mob at the Capitol,” Jack Healy reported. Healy was, in turn, citing a previous Times article by Zolan Kanno–Youngs and Tracey Tully, 8 January 2021, which reported that pro–Trump rioters overpowered Sicknick, hitting him with a fire extinguisher.
The problem with the story is that it was entirely false. The following April the District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Sicknick died of natural causes. There was no evidence of blunt-force trauma, not so much as a bruise. But the story—a falsehood that originated with the Capitol Hill Police—was reported and repeated so often in The New York Times and other corporate media that many Democrats still believe Sicknick died after being beaten by a mob of crazed Trump supporters.
Of the five deaths directly associated with the protests, only one person was killed in an act of violence: Ashli Babbitt was shot by Capitol Police at close range. Tellingly, Babbitt’s death—the police shooting of an unarmed citizen—has sparked no concern among liberals. Three of the deaths, including Brain Sicknick’s, occurred from natural causes. Rosanne Boyland’s death, around which there remains much speculation, was determined to have been caused by an amphetamine overdose.
When watching footage from the protest on that day what I saw was very different from what was reported in print and broadcast media. I saw a protest: I saw fellow citizens, angry and upset, who believed that the 2020 election had been stolen from them, engaging their right to protest. The event on some occasions turned violent—just as many of the Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 turned into riots. But most protesters did not participate in violence, and even within the Capitol Building itself most of the people remained peaceful. Estimates of the crowd size that day vary from 10,000, according to The Associated Press, to 80,000, according to then–Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. As of this writing, slightly more than a thousand people have been charged, of those only one-third with committing an act of violence.
I’ve watched video footage of people wandering the Capitol Building in a state of apparent awe. They appear subdued and interact respectfully with the Capitol Police. These are people, we must remember, who consider themselves patriots and who, as a matter of principle, tend to cooperate with law enforcement, people for whom the Capitol Building is semi-sacred and the Rotunda something of a sanctum sanctorum—in a certain way almost a holy place.
But none of that was reported. Instead, the Democratic establishment and liberal media blew the protest out of all proportion. Playing to the fear that had gripped Democrats throughout Trump’s presidency, they distorted the events of 6 January, turning the protest into something it was not: an assault on the Capitol, an “attempted coup”—an “insurrection.”
It would have been possible to report on the protest in a way that accurately portrayed and condemned the violence without casting it as an insurrection. But it was a political opportunity too enticing to be lost. The Democrats used the protest to best advantage to further damage and demonize Trump and his supporters and to enhance the powers of the agencies overseeing yet another new war. This one, the war on domestic terrorism, is a dangerous new twist on the original War on Terror, with all the law enforcement and surveillance powers now turned inward and directed against citizens.
The very idea that the government was in any danger of being toppled on 6 January is ludicrous in the extreme. But Democratic politicians seized on the opportunity to portray the event in the worst possible way to destroy their political opponents and to whip up their base into a near frenzy of loathing. Blinded by fear and hatred, many Democrats can no longer see the protest participants as fellow citizens, as human beings deserving of empathy or understanding. This is one of the most graphic illustrations of our collective failing I can think of. That is why I choose to dwell upon it. Only when we—we, all of us—are able to extend our empathy and understanding to those with whom we strongly disagree, or for whom we may feel strong dislike, will we have any chance of advancing as a society. This is the meaning of agape.
When images of the same disturbing scenes are shown repeatedly over a period of time, such as happened after the protest, emotions become supercharged creating a climate ripe for distortion and disinformation. In that regard, The New York Times deserves special mention—and a best melodrama Oscar—for its coverage of 6 January.
The paper of record produced numerous video chronologies—see here, for example—with precise, to-the-second timestamps of events. They captured still photos from the videos, and, playing the role of law enforcement, used circles and arrows to identify specific participants, describing the activities caught on camera despite not being present actually to witness the events. The Times tried the protesters in the news column of a paper, subverting the legal process and any presumption of innocence. The entirety of establishment media piled on ad nauseam.
Any protesters who engaged in illegal behavior and acts of violence should be tried and sentenced appropriately. But immediately questions arise. Knowing that the Capitol Hill Police lied about Brian Sicknick having been beaten by a mob, what other lies are being told? Are these trials fair and have the sentences been proportionate to the offenses? To what extent did the FBI infiltrate the organizations that planned the protest and to what purpose? How many FBI agents were at the event encouraging and enflaming the protesters?
These are not small matters. And there was a time, not that long ago, when the Democratic Party understood that the FBI was not to be trusted. But during the Trump years the Democrats swung far to the right, aligning themselves with the most secretive and dangerous elements of the national security bureaucracy—the NSA, the CIA, the FBI—in a powerful alliance that has become increasingly despotic and authoritarian.
Over the course of the past decade, journalist Glenn Greenwald did significant reporting showing how, during the height of the War on Terror, the FBI routinely manufactured terrorist plots, then recruited young, often disturbed Muslim men into the conspiracies to claim they had uncovered plans for an act of domestic terrorism—see here and here. This is an old FBI tactic and one that is used to justify not only the existence of the FBI, but requests for more funding, as well as increased surveillance and policing power.
In short, what we should all want to know is this: Are these trials fair and have the sentences been appropriate? Or, have they been intentionally politicized? And, what does it look like if we consider these trials through a lens of good governance?
Jacob Chansley, the infamous QAnon shaman who wore face paint, a furred and horned headdress, and carried an American flag throughout the protest, was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison for what amounted to a trespassing infraction. Here are the official charges taken from the DOJ website:
Civil Disorder; Obstruction of an Official Proceeding; Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building; Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building; Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building; Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building
Clearly, a desperate DoJ threw everything it had or could imaginatively invent at Chansley. There is video footage showing Chansley in the Capital Building being politely escorted by police officers to the door of the Senate. Indeed, there is rather a lot of video of the QAnon shaman, and in it he appears polite and respectful. As far as I can make out, Chansley’s biggest crime is a poor sense of fashion—and, of course, being a Trump supporter. Are you, dear reader, comfortable with fellow citizen Chansley being turned into a felon for entering the Capitol Building and parading around bare-chested, however much you may disagree with him politically? I am not.
Other 6 January defendants have fared far worse. Elmer Stewart Rhodes III and Kelly Meggs were recently sentenced to 18 and 12 years respectively. They were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and disrupting a joint session of Congress. Every possible, ludicrous iteration of these two basic charges was added to the list of offenses in order to maximize the sentences.
Consider these charges carefully. You can read the DoJ summaries of the two cases here. None of them is so serious that even when taken together they warrant a sentence of 12 or 18 years. Nowhere are Meggs or Rhodes or any of their codefendants charged with any act of violence. I urge you to read the summaries. You will notice that FBI Director Christopher Wray refers to the protest as a “siege on the U.S. Capitol.” Consider his carefully chosen language, what it implies, and why. A siege is a military operation that uses considerable armament and personnel. The 6 January protest was not in any conceivable sense a siege, but Wray wants you to think it was.
You have to be mad, or a member of the Biden DoJ, or Christopher Wray, to think that any of these protesters were seriously plotting to overthrow the government. Why, then, is the Biden Administration turning ordinary American citizens into political prisoners?
In assessing the Biden DoJ, let us apply the three virtues of good governance. Is it disinterested? Is it acting morally? Ethically? No. No. And no again. These cases are entirely politically motivated. The DoJ is using the 6 January protest and subsequent prosecutions to set a dangerous precedent that will be used against citizens in the future. They are criminalizing protest, specifically protest against the government, by redefining it as sedition. In this way, the protest is being used to justify a crackdown on dissent that is authoritarian in the extreme and with consequences that will echo down the decades. This includes, for example, protesting against the government’s role in the war in Ukraine. This should worry every citizen including every decent Democrat.
Were we to think about the 6 January defendants as we should, it would be immediately plain they are above all else human beings, fellow citizens deserving of our attention and concern. As human beings, they are worthy of our allegiance and solidarity far more than any political party. What they did on 6 January 2021 does not warrant being locked away for long years. You might not agree with them, you might not like their politics, you might even consider them political enemies, but they had a right to protest nonetheless.
Left-wing political commentator, Krystal Ball, delivered a searing critique, 13 June 2022, of the 6 January Commission in which she identified many of the underlying reasons for political violence and riots that are not being addressed—rampant corruption and extreme wealth inequality among them. Importantly, as Ball also suggested, whatever misconduct the 6 January protesters engaged in does not begin to approach the massive criminality of Wall Street and Corporate America.
A changed consciousness based on agape, that enables us to see each other not as enemies, but as fellow citizens, fellow human beings with legitimate concerns and perspectives, deserving of basic regard and consideration, might enable us to listen to each other, to acknowledge our differences, and yet identify common ground. It could well help to restore our faith in one another and in our country. It might even empower us to work together to make the changes our country so desperately needs.
Most people’s allegiance, whether they are aware of it or not, is to power in one form or another—a political party, a politician, a corporation, the current administration, the FBI or the CIA or the military. But if your guiding principle is love, as I have articulated this, your solidarity will always be with your fellow human beings and never with power. When you see through the lens of love—and, again, I mean this not in any sentimental sense but as an attitude toward others and the commonweal—your understanding of things changes. If your loyalty is to your fellow citizens rather than power you can happily stand in defense of your enemies.
We are now at a historic moment, when each of us is called upon to make a decision: Do I stand with power or with my fellow human beings? Making such a decision requires us to assess how we perceive and think of others, especially those with whom we do not agree politically.
Perception has a profound impact on our emotional reaction to others. If we perceive someone as deserving of contempt or hate it will be very difficult to generate empathy and compassion, to say nothing of love. Empathy and the capacity for compassion, which are expression of love, can all too easily be lost. The creation of enmity among citizens is one of the more damaging consequences of media coverage of the protest, and, indeed, of the reporting all during Trump’s time in office.
Because Trump’s supporters were all along dehumanized, all along lumped together as a “basket of deplorables,” characterized as white supremacists, neo–Nazis, Fascists, and conspiracy theorists—whether or not any of these accusations were true—what is done to them now does not matter. You don’t have to think about Meggs or Rhodes or any other 6 January defendant. You don’t have to worry about them or wonder if justice has actually been served.
The loss of the ability to see the humanity of another person is precisely the point and consequence of such gross generalizations and stereotypes—it is much easier to hate Trump’s supporters and much harder to have any empathy for them. For many liberals it is almost impossible to see the defendants of 6 January with anything like understanding or compassion, let alone solidarity. And that is precisely as things are intended to be.
I enumerate symptoms, and important ones, of a dysfunctional society. King, who I have quoted, understood this. We have truly entered into the night devoid of stars he warned of. A darkness in which each one of us must decide whether or not to be a light.
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