In late 1931, Dorothy Thompson, then one of the US’s most respected foreign correspondents, interviewed Adolf Hitler. She spoke of “the startling insignificance of this man.” Although she could foresee the possibility that he would create a coalition government with centrist politicians, she nonetheless said: “it is highly improbable that in this case he will succeed in putting through any of his more radical plans.” Within a year of the article’s publication, he began doing exactly that. In 1934, after writing many articles against Hitler and exposing the reign of terror he instituted, she was the first foreign correspondent to be expelled from Nazi Germany.[Source]
In 1922, when Italy’s king reluctantly invited Mussolini to form a government after the liberal prime minister resigned, he didn’t imagine that Mussolini would dismantle democratic institutions and establish a dictatorship that would last about twelve years. He and his advisors apparently were hoping that Mussolini’s popularity within the military might support them in their attempt to “restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.”[Source]
Whether a Donald Trump presidency would be similar to Hitler or Mussolini or neither, I am not finding comfort in statements and predictions that say it is an unlikely outcome. Yes, a recent poll shows that most women of all races (73%) have an unfavorable view of Trump; even among Republican women, less than half (44%) want him to win the nomination. An LA Times article on March 11th, 2016 says that an “NBC/Wall Street Journal survey found two-thirds of voters overall saying that they could not see themselves voting for Trump. Among nonwhite voters, the figure was 84%.”
Still, there is even a group “Latinos for Trump” and his popularity has only been growing. Only a year ago almost everyone dismissed any serious thoughts about Trump winning, and now it’s being seriously debated. I found two articles that proclaim him the likely next president, one giving it a probability of 70%.[Here and here].
So I am unsettled. I am scared.
And I want to be prepared. I want all of us who find the prospect of his presidency scary to be prepared.
A Brief Foray into the History of Capitalism and Why Trump Appeals
For most of our history, up until a little over 500 years ago, the overwhelming majority of us were able to either forage for or, later, grow, our own food. With the slow and then accelerated and accelerating rise of capitalism, we have been violently separated from those possibilities. By violence I mean, most specifically, the following four: land expropriation (the enclosures and similar moves), colonization, the slave trade, and the witch hunts. It is only recently, when I read Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, that I learned just how bloody the period of about 1450 to 1650 was. Reading this book, I have learned enough details to answer a quest that has baffled me for many years: how it is that anyone ever agreed to doing backbreaking monotonous and harsh physical labor lacking any intrinsic meaning, instead of being independent with regards to food and other material needs. The answer: they didn’t. We didn’t. Our ancestors fought for a long, long time to preserve the commons, their ways of living in community, and their human dignity. It took massive efforts on the part of those with power to eliminate the resistance sufficiently. Archenemies such as feudal lords, merchants, and the church banded together to accomplish this immense feat. So my heartbreak is mixed with immense admiration for thousands and thousands and more thousands of peasants and workers who didn’t succumb until enough of them were killed and maimed.
What’s that got to do with Donald Trump? It has everything to do with how it is that Trump and others are able to get people to identify with policies that appear – to me and many others – as going directly against their “self-interest.” One overly simple way to explain it is a quote from Ruben Navarrette, Jr. in a Daily Beast article about Latino support for Trump: “They don’t hate Trump. They want to be Trump.”
Here’s what I see as I try to make sense of this phenomenon. I’m thinking now about the working-class white men who comprise the bulk of Trump’s support at present. It’s as if Trump and others are saying to them: “Look, guys, let’s not kid ourselves. The idea of a world that works for everyone is rubbish. We live in a world with winners and losers. I’m at the top, and you know it. Like everyone else, you also want to be at the top. And you can’t be. There’s really room for only a few of us here. However, we’ve been trying to help you get ahead, and what’s been keeping you down is not us.
It’s other groups that are taking away your chances of getting ahead: the immigrants, the Muslims, the women. So, I promise you, if I get elected, you will stop losing ground to all those people, and finally you can get some relief.”
It’s the same move that created racism in the first place. There’s more about this in Caliban and the Witch, in Learning to Be White, and in other sources that speak to how European workers were taught to separate themselves from other workers and then identify with the ruling elites.
And it’s also the same move that has dramatically intensified patriarchy since the rise of capitalism, the witch hunts, and changing roles for women in society, shifting from being primary producers to being the instrument for creating the next generation of laborers.
In response to the intensity of hatred and separation that I see coming from Trump and his supporters, I want to find a way to meet them in an entirely different way. A beloved poem comes to mind:
He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!
“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham
In 2011, Occupy Wall Street started out with a slogan that captured the imagination of many: “We are the 99%.” To me, although I understood vividly what was being pointed to by this slogan, and although I resonated strongly with the anguish and discontent that gave birth to Occupy, I was still troubled. Even if only 1% of the population was being seen as the enemy, it was still not what I ever hope for.
One way I want to be prepared for the possibility of Trump winning is to find my way to transcend the pull to “otherize” Trump or his supporters – and to inspire anyone I can to join me.
Even when engaging in nonviolent resistance as part of taking a stand for the vision of the world we want, I want us all to remember that Trump supporters are part of the 100%, and that the vision is about making things work for the 100%.*
This has never been an easy task, at least not since we started growing grains and legumes, which are relatively nonperishable when dry and thus can be stored. That is when we invented accumulation, and with it the paradox of surplus and scarcity. It’s been ever harder to move towards 100% collaboration the more we have moved into capitalism and the separations that it brought us.
100% collaboration. Let’s just try to imagine that. Really and truly, to sink into that possibility.
Holding this vision doesn’t mean we raise no opposition. It doesn’t mean hesitating to stand in the way of policies and people that we see as harming lives and our future on this planet.
It means that even in this process, we don’t separate from those whose actions we oppose and see anyone as “them”; we don’t envision ourselves fighting and defeating evildoers. Instead, it’s about aiming, ultimately, at transforming opponents into collaborators. As King said, “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself.”
Taking a Stand, Nonviolently
If Trump indeed becomes the next US president, I want to be part of a force that moves towards change with the supreme courage to stand up for the truth we see with utmost love for all. This is such a difficult line to walk that I don’t even trust I know how to convey it in full.
I am speaking of challenging his views, policies, actions, ways of speaking, and the regime he would no doubt try to create – without making him or his supporters the enemy.
I am speaking of being ready to take action, to stand up for what we fervently want and believe in, to take that strong of a stance – without vilifying anyone.
I am speaking of potentially embracing the risks that come with nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhian and Kingian style – while holding tenderness for the circumstances that get people to support these policies in the first place, and thus being committed to not inflicting harm, not even shaming. I am speaking of going beyond either/or. I know this means I can be attacked or misunderstood easily, from any side of the landscape.
I can be challenged by social change activists. After all, they are already protesting, and many do it with varying levels of commitment to nonviolence, and with unbelievable amounts of courage to face potential attacks, arrests, or police harassment, becoming all the more likely the less white and middle class they are. I bow to them for this courage. I agree with much of their analysis, and I share many visions of a future world with them. Still, given what I am saying, I can easily be criticized for being mealy-mouthed, for not opposing evil, for allowing structural violence to continue. I have seen these critiques leveled at people, and I long for kindness and generosity in their expression. I long for it, and when it’s absent, I take it upon myself to supply the kindness and generosity, so I can receive such critiques with deep understanding about the circumstances of centuries of oppression that so often inform them, and open myself to learning ever more about how to speak more and more truth as I still hold love for all.
At the very same time I can be challenged by people committed to compassion and love – even and especially some people in the Nonviolent Communication community that forms the foundation on which I thrive – for not being true to those principles just because I take a strong stand.
I remember hearing from Thich Nhat Hanh how he had to escape Vietnam because people from all sides saw him as the enemy because he refused to see anyone as the enemy. This gives me solace and some strength. Even if I am alone, this is the path I want to walk.
I hope I am not alone, though. This is why I write, and this it why I teach and talk with people. In a couple of months I start a most ambitious course called Working for Transformation without Recreating the Past where I hope to learn with others who are passionate about finding this path. I want to know what it would take, in the US, to create a new movement.
If indeed the terrifying scenario of Trump as president comes to be, I hope it will catapult a strong and loving movement that I could join. A movement that refuses to accept hate as part of any action. A movement that calls on everyone’s imagination and reminds us that our past and our evolutionary makeup are collaborative. That we can yet come together, somehow embracing the fear and hatred of those who believe we are the problem, enclosing all of us with enough love, enough courage, and enough truth-telling and acting that we finally stop the steady march towards destruction, and establish, together, a future for all of life.
* Editor’s note: two sentences amended 4-10-16 to include an edit of Miki’s that didn’t get posted.
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This is a space for discussing tough subjects: both personal experiences and the massive challenges in the wider world. The culture of this blog is one of looking for the possibility of forward movement through loving engagement, even, and especially, in times of disagreement. Please practice nonviolence in your comments by combining truth and courage with care for me and others you’re in dialogue with.
Image credits: Dorothy Thompson on Wikimedia (Public Domain); Silvia Federici, by Kippelboy – Own work, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0); Thandeka, by Merrel D. Booker, Jr, at revthandeka.org.