Protesters, MLK, and Partisan Urges

Young protesters urgently need to go watch “Selma” and in general pause and think, “what would MLK do?” The Selma marchers gracefully expressed their humanity and decency with their faces visible, and created a clear contrast from the opposition’s hate and savagery. The scene and imagery created were more powerful than any weapon, and turned 800 marchers into 25,000 at the end. It was masterful leadership.

Protesters should quickly expel destructive/violent individuals and the idea of using masks or carrying weapons. Masking invites deindividuation and ugly mob behavior. Pulling down a statue by force may get some “attaboys” from their team, but expresses to others that their organization doesn’t respect the law, can’t be trusted to obey it, and doesn’t deserve its protection. All of this turns people away from a cause—even when it’s undisputably just—and creates virulent propaganda to be used against the cause.

Protesters very wrongly assume that the public is willing to forgive bad means to meet just ends, and 2017 America’s hyper-partisanship makes it extremely difficult to build wide coalitions—even against no-brainer causes like white supremacists are bad. It’s a sad state, but many conservatives’ stomachs churn at the idea of working with liberals. That blame is squarely on social media propagandists and on the GOP leadership—for supporting such rhetoric from their media cheerleaders, and while it’s wrong it cannot be ignored. Today, organizations can only build strong coalitions by carefully suppressing partisan urges, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so. It would be a tragedy if charities and organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous reduced their abilities to help by gaining political associations.

About those “partisan urges”. They feel good to indulge! Almost nothing feels better than really giving it to the other team, and Trump more than any politician employs this almost as a guiding principle, but it leads to some awful places. The PR folks working for white supremacists will no doubt point out their opponent’s faults, and note there were good people walking beside them at an event they lawfully planned with permits and everything. When cornered, President Trump said all of those on their behalf, to get in some what-about-ist jabs at liberals. When someone with a few beers in them does this at a BBQ it’s unseemly. For a sitting President of a country with our history, it was, as some conservatives rightly call it, “a moral disgrace.”

Questions about the President’s own feelings about race and past denouncements of racists don’t really matter when he gives hate groups fresh talking points. As of Sunday they can say “if you march beside us, Trump will take political risks to point out your goodness” and “his Monday denunciation of us was a hostage tape.” While I don’t think he’s racist, his statements will lead some to pause on that, and I can’t blame them.

Trump could absolutely have expressed almost all of what he did in a graceful way that did not go neutral on Nazis vs. People Against Nazis. Preparing your words isn’t just dumb politician stuff; it gives you time to sharpen your ideas and avoid stepping on them (“…on many sides”). He has to control his fiery hatred of liberals. First, because he’s leading a nation with a ton of them and it’s the right thing to do. Secondly, he needs them in Congress to really solve problems like healthcare. But lastly, because hatred is blinding, and at a moment the country was looking to him for guidance, it led him to treat the liberals’ enemies as his allies.