Tuesday, November 29, 2016

can we walk on common ground...?

We white liberal Americans are a peculiar lot. For all our talk of cherishing solidarity, we are
so addicted to being in control that we rarely realize when we're being condescending. We are quick to name and shame Right wing incivility, crudeness, racism,
misogyny, and fear-mongering, but refuse to own our own shadow phobias like elitism, race/class/gender 
privilege (and let's not even open the door of our antiquated sense of noblesse oblige.) We are boldly certain that education - and money - will heal all our social wounds, but are unable to get our minds around the presence of sin in human nature, politics, or history. Like Jimmy Carter quipped, "America gets the President it deserves." So, apparently, at this moment in time, we deserve a boorish, arrogant con man - a relentless narcissist, know-nothing unable to distinguish truth from lie  - with exaggerated paranoid tendencies and delusions of grandeur.  There, I've said it in print: what I really believe about Mr. Trump. No sugar coating, no politically correct subtitles, and no finessing for those with tissue paper feelings. He is a walking policy disaster with an uncanny genius for tapping into the fear-filled zeitgeist of America. His proposed Cabinet appointments suggest at least four years of mean-spirited demagoguery with long term consequences.

Watching the PBS Newshour last night, the continuing ascendancy of the National Front in
France, the Brexit reaction in England, and the anti-immigrant movement in Germany, reminds me how our encounter with Trumpmania fits within the movement of progress, reaction, hope and despair.  For a useful overview, see Jonathan Haidt's "Why Nationalism Beasts Globalis" here: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/07/10/when-and-why-nationalism-beats-globalism/He begins by observing that:

Most analyses published since the Brexit vote focus on economic factors and some version of the “left behind” thesis—globalization has raised prosperity all over the world, with the striking exception of the working classes in Western societies. These less educated members of the richest countries lost access to well-paid but relatively low-skilled jobs, which were shipped overseas or given to immigrants willing to work for less. In communities where wages have stagnated or declined, the ever-rising opulence, rents, and confidence of London and other super-cities has bred resentment. A smaller set of analyses, particularly in the United States, has focused on the psychological trait of authoritarianism to explain why these populist movements are often so hostile to immigration, and why they usually have an outright racist fringe.

Globalization and authoritarianism are both essential parts of the story, but in this essay I will put them together in a new way. I’ll tell a story with four chapters that begins by endorsing the distinction made by the intellectual historian Michael Lind, and other commentators, between globalists and nationalists—these are good descriptions of the two teams of combatants emerging in so many Western nations. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French National Front, pointed to the same dividing line last December when she portrayed the battle in France as one between “globalists” and “patriots.”

His conclusion challenges the binary analysis of many liberals who claim an illusionary moral high road while rejecting the current demonization of immigrants so popular among many conservatives. In a word, Haidt notes that multiculturalism works best when resources and opportunities for assimilation are supported, encouraged and celebrated. "Whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration, from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist program, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction, and you can expect many status quo conservatives to support it."

That raises two profound questions for me as a straight, white, over-educated man from a world of privilege. First, what is the best strategy for strengthening assimilation?  And second, what activities of solidarity make a lasting difference?  My gut tells me that much of the current reaction to Mr. Trump and his cadre are more about making ourselves feel better through symbolic activity that does nothing to alter the status quo.  Maybe my Advent spirituality is blinding my ethical vision, but this is not the hour for rushing into judgment - especially self-righteous congratulations of moral superiority - or spinning our wheels in busyness. Rather, let us "hurry up and do nothing for the time being except listen, discern and plan" for ways to advance authentic justice and mercy. 

A recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward describes how a New Jersey alliance of Jewish and Muslim women is doing exactly this type of careful work. For six years they have been building bridges - well in advance of the 2016 elections - creating a community of trust in which they are able to wrestle with new problems. Further, their understanding of interfaith cooperation cuts deeper than the usual one-time rally or lecture that brings religious leaders together for 90 minutes but offers nothing beyond. One organizer of the Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom put it like this: "The Sisterhood has been successful (because we) go beyond the cursory “Abrahamic family” conversations that are so typical of interfaith efforts. Instead of convening a one-time panel discussion between a rabbi and an imam or just getting together to talk about our commonalities over a plate of shared hummus, the Sisterhood provides a space for women to be vulnerable and to learn about one another’s real challenges and concerns.."As part of this learning, we have to listen to each other’s narratives in a safe and controlled environment. We do not have to agree, but we do have to consider other ways of under-standing things. Doing this means hearing things that may not be easy to hear."  Time, relationships and careful listening are critical in this work. The article continues:  

The Sisterhood of Salaam-Shalom, a group created six years ago in an effort to build
bridges between local Jewish and Muslim women in New Jersey... started as a handful of women wanting to better understand their neighbors (and has now) grown to 50 chapters, comprising thousands of members, across the United States. Since the election, we’ve received hundreds of requests from Muslim and Jewish women to start new chapters, proving that there is both a need and a willingness within our communities to work together. Our Sisterhood has become a safe haven for women to dialogue about their fears, to listen, to cry together, to seek advice and to find hope. 
The Sisterhood isn’t just a “ladies club.” We’re a peace movement composed of women of faith who believe God has given us the ability to be empathetic and to strive for relationship building over conflict. Our focus isn’t on policy; it’s on people — specifically, on our children and grandchildren. We recognize on a cellular level that it’s worth doing whatever we must to protect those precious lives.
http://forward.com/opinion/355290/ how-do-you-build-a-strong-muslim-jewish-alliance-for-the-trump-era/

Please don't misunderstand: protests and rallies have their place - and I appreciate them. But one time events have limited value in changing a culture in crisis. Standing on the corner with handmade signs is a witness, but a disciplined and sustained relationship over time is where I see real change taking place. Further, I am convinced that the most important resource we can share with new immigrants to our nation is not periodic assemblies of solidarity, but rather teaching English as a second language alongside informal but committed groups dedicated to real assimilation. A one time donation to the ACLU or Berkshire Immigrant Center helps. And yet, becoming a literacy volunteer - or a cultural assimilation advocate - not only welcomes our vulnerable guests into the culture, but shows some of our other citizens why fear and anger is unwarranted. 

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