Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Gandhi, Satyagraha and Trump's Violence

This week, I'm working through Gandhi & Jesus: The Saving Power of Nonviolence, a deeply provocative book by scholar Terrence J. Rynne.  Rynne uses the work of a whole range of Gandhi disciples to describe Gandhi's understanding (and, most importantly, practice) of satyagraha.  I think of satyagraha as something like soulforce.  But its roots go deeper and deeper still.
"Satyagraha is a form of action appropriate to the dual character of Truth as one in essence but diverse in order to win a greater understanding or realization of Truth, a person or group must recognize the partiality of their own perception of truth even in the process of insisting on it...the opponent must be listened to and expected to yield his or her truth too...That is why all confrontations in the name of Truth have to be nonviolent, for violence would immediately close the door to dialogue and mutual regard." (Rex Ambler, "Gandhi's Concept of Truth")
I'm thinking about all manner of conflicts in my life: the conflict in Jerusalem, escalating, it seems, by the day, and the conflict here at home, around methods of protest and advocacy for the occupied; the larger American conflicts around health care and the common good; and the smaller tensions in a church community allocating resources and managing what seem to be limited funds.  In all these conflicts--and they're unavoidable in human community--we "recognize the partiality" of our own "perception of truth even in the process of insisting on it."  At least, that's the way of the satyagrahi or even the disciple.

It turns out, according to Gandhi, that this isn't merely political, but profoundly theological.  If Truth is God--as Gandhi insisted--my faith is partial; I see through a glass darkly.  I need and rely on the partiality of others--even, especially political adversaries--to engage my spirit in the lifelong project of justice, peace, reconciliation and homecoming.  There's no way to Truth, outside of this work.  We need each other.  We are incomplete without one another.  This goes for the Palestinians who want simply to pray in Al Aqsa and the Israelis who crave a place to call home.  It goes for the fearful (and shrinking) middle class in America and the homeless men picking scraps out of dumpsters downtown.  It goes for the church, the city, the country, the world.
Given this, Donald Trump's rhetoric--most recently, last weekend's Boy Scouts Jamboree--is disturbing and unacceptable.  When he sneers (and find the clip somewhere: he sneers) that he's going to "kill Obamacare," it's unmistakable where he's coming from and where he's going.  It's the same energy he channeled for all those years--as he devoted his life to "proving" the President was a duplicitous Muslim born in some dark, God-forsaken corner of Africa.  What makes a tycoon spend his time that way?  Violence "close[s] the door to dialogue and mutual regard."  Trump's language is violent.  His project is violent: not just silly, not just greedy, but violent.  Killing Obama--or Obamacare--is the pathway to Trump supremacy.  

Now you can accurately say, I guess, that Donald Trump has never advocated for "taking out" the 44th President.  But the scope of his rhetoric, the base he's cultivated and the years he's given to the project speak of a devastating and violent project.  When he says, "Let's kill Obamacare" and goes on to mock his (legitimately elected) predecessor any way he can, he's calling on Boy Scouts everywhere to join his racist, elitist, cynical project.  And that project is about violence: thinly veiled, but clear.  

Let's call a spade, a spade.  This politician trades in xenophobia, racism, homophobia and all the rest.  To that end, he's comfortable stirring up teens, disaffected adults, anybody he can find--to kill anything and any program that stand in his way.  He has no awareness whatsoever of any Truth outside his little mind, beyond his bathroom mirror.  (Even Jeff Sessions is seeing that now.)

That seems pretty dangerous to me.