Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Thinking Cap for Resisters

In the wake of Donald Trump's ill-gotten capture of the Presidency, it has been mildly interesting to see mainstream television entertainers pleading with Americans to give Donald a chance.  I guess it's only fitting that among his flying monkeys should be people who make a living by acting silly or by pretending to be what they are not.  The Donald fits right in with them, as the former star of a cheesy "reality" TV series.  Those who study dysfunctional family dynamics will also recognize the parallels between the people begging us to give the Donald a chance and those members of dysfunctional families who cover and make excuses for those members of their own families who are the actual cause of family dysfunction. 

The problem is that ever since it was announced that the Donald "won" the Electoral College (with only 25 percent of all people in America of voting age supporting him!), he has had chance after chance to show that he is capable of sane, moral, just and fair leadership.  And every day he has failed the test in one way or another.  Asking the majority of people of voting age in this country to give him a chance sounds a bit like a violent and/or substance-abusing husband asking his wife to give him another chance even when there is no evidence that the husband has begun to do the hard work of repentance.  Those of us who are being asked to "give him a chance" are therefore being asked to ignore the lessons of pattern recognition, to ignore the data points supplied by the trajectory of Donald's life from way back in the day up to the present, to expect that a man who has enthusiastically pursued a course of selfishness and petty evil and has shown no sign of changing his course will suddenly be a different person tomorrow.

Those of us who have to live in this country under a Trump presidency would do well to avoid having any hopeful illusions about him.  I think it would be reasonable to assume that the Donald will try to do just about everything he threatened to do during his campaign.  (The leaders of some of the countries which the Donald threatened during his campaign are assuming that very thing, and have begun to issue warnings that if the new administration revokes certain treaties and agreements, or re-imposes certain sanctions, there will be consequences.)  I think it is also reasonable to assume that many of the more objectionable types who have latched onto Trump and to whom he pandered during his campaign are an accurate reflection of his character.  This means that a large number of us will be targeted for suffering, repression, denial of equal protection, false imprisonment, economic discrimination and threat of physical violence by these types.

Therefore, it will be necessary for us to resist.  Resistance, moreover, is not optional.  If we don't resist, we will suffer for sure.  If we do resist, we may still suffer - but we might also win.

Moreover, the resistance must be nonviolent.  There are ethical and moral reasons for this, especially for those of us who are Christians.  (No, this is not the time for so-called "Christian patriots" to bust out their hardware and their ammo.  If you're in that crowd, grab a clue from Luke 3:14.  By the way, the translation I quoted renders this verse exactly as it is written in the Greek, so don't try to weasel out of it.)

But there are also very pragmatic reasons why the resistance must be entirely nonviolent.  A number of those reasons have been captured in the work of Maria J. Stephan of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and by and Erica Chenoweth of Wesleyan University.  In a 2008 paper titled, "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict," Chenoweth and Stephan examined a large number of nonviolent resistance efforts which took place over the last hundred years or so, and discovered the shocking fact that nonviolent resistance movements had a success rate of over 50 percent.  Violent resistance movements, on the other hand, had a success rate of only 26 percent.  In addition, societies which experienced successful nonviolent resistance tended to be much more stable and peaceful afterward than those societies which experienced violent revolution or civil war.  Chenoweth and Stephan have expanded their findings and published them in a book, and there are other researchers who have confirmed their findings as well.

The goal of nonviolent resistance is not necessarily to persuade an oppressive, powerful and violent opponent to "listen to its better angels."  After all, it may not have any "better angels!"  Rather, the goal is to deprive the opponent of its ability to continue its oppression by removing the sources of power of that oppression.

As for the strategy and tactics of nonviolent resistance, there are a number of sources.  (See this and this, for instance.)  One source I have been enjoying over the last few days is How Nonviolent Struggle Works, by Gene Sharp of the Albert Einstein InstitutionHow Nonviolent Struggle Works is a short, easy-to-read condensation of a much longer book by Mr. Sharp, who has written several lengthy books on the subject.  If you see yourself as a resister in these days, and you're wondering what to do, Mr. Sharp's short book would be a good place to start.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Seventy-Five Percent

Well, well.  The last few weeks have been quite a headache indeed, or to say it in Spanish, dolor de cabeza.  I hope that snatch of foreign language managed to burst a few blood vessels in some of the redneck types who voted for Trump.  What is interesting is that many media mouthpieces (including a number in the alt-media who should know better) are painting Trump's capture of the White House as some sort of populist phenomenon.  Such spewings are typical of people who can't do basic math and who find facts to be inconvenient.  If you find yourself in that crowd, let me help you out tonight.  I'm going to give you a few straight-up numbers.

First, the number of people of voting age in the United States was 247,773,709 in July 2015, according to the Federal Register.  Of this number, 62,210,612 popular votes so far went to Trump.  That means that Trump is the choice of only 25.1 percent of all people of voting age.  Secondly, Hillary Clinton leads Trump in the popular vote by over 2 million persons. Third, there are widespread reports of voter suppression in many of the states which Trump "won."  (See this, this, this, this and this for instance.)  Note also the huge contradiction between exit polls and "official" vote tallies in the first source cited in the parentheses.  This means that if the election had actually been a fair and accurate representation of the will of the people of the United States, Hillary Clinton would likely have won by a decisive margin.  Trump is not particularly popular; therefore his capture of the White House is not a populist phenomenon, but a sign that the arch-narcissist Trump and his backers have taken a dump on the electoral process.  Goodbye, democracy.  It was a nice illusion while it lasted.

Now comes the reckoning for the mess these people have begun to make.  And I already have some idea of the kind of mess they are likely to make.  I am thinking particularly of a parable from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 18, namely, the parable of the unrighteous judge, who is described thus: "In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man."  It is interesting to note these two characteristics of the judge: first, that he refused to acknowledge any moral restraint higher than himself to which he was answerable ("a judge...who did not fear God..."); and secondly, that he refused to acknowledge any relational restraint by which he might be bound in his dealings with others ("a judge...who did not respect man...").  The characteristic of many people who are like this judge is that although they don't acknowledge moral or relational restraints, they do at first recognize and acknowledge what I call "technical" restraints - that is, the restraints imposed on them by physical reality itself.  But as they continue in their career of evil, they cease to recognize even these restraints.  That process has already begun in Trump and company, ever eager to emphasize their feelings over actual facts.

A day may come, however, when they come to appreciate the following lines from Tolkien: "I wish I had known all this before," said Pippin. "I had no notion of what I was doing."  "Oh yes, you had," said Gandalf. "You knew you were behaving wrongly and foolishly; and you told yourself so, though you did not listen. I did not tell you all this before, because it is only by musing on all that has happened that I have at last understood, even as we ride together. But if I had spoken sooner, it would not have lessened your desire, or made it easier to resist. On the contrary! No, the burned hand teaches best. After that advice about fire goes to the heart."  Or, to put it another way, the outworkings of damnation do eventually catch up with every soul or nation that insists on being damnable.

Meanwhile, I ought to explain my absence from blogging over the last few months.  It has been partly because of busy-ness, partly because after finishing grad school, the thought of sitting in front of a computer has been mildly distasteful.  But the biggest reason has been that as I have watched the unfolding of events in the United States over the last few months, it has seemed that the best use I could make of my time was to devote myself to prayer.  I still feel that way.  However, I may also blog some more in the next few months - particularly about some concrete steps I will be taking to help disadvantaged people who must live in the age of Trump.  One thing I won't be doing is buying anything for Christmas.  Feel free to join me in a year-end shopping boycott if you'd like.  You'll save yourself quite a bit of holiday stress!

I also intend to practice as much non-violent, passive resistance as possible.  Maybe I'll make a bumper sticker which reads, "I BELONG TO THE 75%."  Feel free to join me in passive resistance, if you feel so led.