I heard a talk this week by Bryan Stevenson, who grew up amidst the worst sort of racism, became a Harvard-trained lawyer, and dedicated his life to representing people on death row, and to his Equal Justice Initiative. Everyone, especially those who think our system is fair, should read his book, “Just Mercy.” (We treat a guilty wealthy person better than an innocent poor person, he said.) What struck me is how optimistic he is, despite the horrors he’s seen. He still believes in people.
I had coffee this week with a friend, a hardcore right-winger, who’s my friend because he’s more than just a hardcore right-winger. He loves seeing how upset Donald Trump has made liberals, though. He loved seeing liberals cry on election night, he said.
The contrast made me realize what’s so depressing about Trump and his supporters and their agenda. It’s so pessimistic. They see no commonality among human beings. They see little worth saving, no value in investing except for themselves. That’s why liberals wept. It’s why I write, even knowing it makes no difference. To give in to their view of the world is to give up on the future, our planet, and, most especially, our children.
Everything Trump and our Republican Congress have done so far, and what they plan to do, reveals a view of humanity that’s dark and despairing. It’s as if they think we’re so far gone there’s no point in doing anything but enriching themselves, plundering what’s left while they can. Cut school funding, food programs, early childhood education. Ignore climate change, allow companies to exploit workers. Spend more on war. Increase pollution, mine coal in national parks. Curtail research, deny science. Bomb the Middle East with no planning for the consequences. It’s a strange list of priorities, the politics of ignoring and of ignorance, of misanthropy and greed. It’s punitive. It’s a fist, not a hand. These are not the goals of people with hope. In these times caring for others is caring for oneself. Godly folks that they are, they can’t see it.
Every day, children are born into poverty. Many come to school ill-fed, ill-prepared, facing a world that cares little about them, and, if they’re black and male, a one-in-three chance they’ll end up in prison. The optimist says they’re worth saving, and that in doing so we save ourselves. Ones like Mr. Stevenson say that if they have teachers and counselors and community members who care, who instill in them a sense of their own value, those children can avoid their fate, and our society can avoid the burden it places on us all. The pessimist sees it, at least, but decides there’s nothing that can be done. The Trumpist, though, treats those children as if they don’t exist, because their world includes only people exactly like them. Trumpists see no connection between the fate of those children and their own. Which means they see no future. (Note: I differentiate between Trumpists and true conservatives.)
This is why people with empathy, who consider their own future bound up with that of the least of us are so saddened by what they see. Because none of this makes sense unless you have no hope. It doesn’t even make sense in the world Trumpists claim to see: they’d love to end Planned Parenthood, for example, in the name of ending abortion (and to anger liberals). Doing so increases the number of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and children starting out with two strikes. Their professed love for the unborn ends at birth, at which point they turn their backs. This is the opposite of government of and for the people. It’s self-defeating. And because it makes no sense, it’s hard to avoid the original proposition: theirs is the politics of darkness and pessimism. (And, in the case of Donald Trump, vengeance for a lifetime of perceived slights.)
Bryan Stevenson says there are things anyone can do. “Be present.” Take risks by going places you’d rather not be. Face our past and future honestly, because acknowledgement is the first step toward reconciliation.
For the sake of our children we have to resist the darkness. I know writing isn’t enough. Somehow, I have to do more.[Image source]