The word civil has many meanings. Trump critics who recommend civility don’t counsel patience, deny righteous anger, or oppose all disruption. To say they do is to attack a straw man.
But they do reject demonizing. One synonym for civility is respect. That’s what they mean. They recommend respecting opponents’ essential humanity.
- Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
- The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
- Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
- Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.
- The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.
- Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
- Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as the body.
- Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent.
- Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons.
That is civility. It rejects verbal violence as well as physical violence. When we disrupt with civil disobedience, strikes, or boycotts, we can do so with compassion. That requires self-awareness and self-evaluation.
Transformation calls for methods to be consistent with goals -- to demonstrate what we want by the power of our example. We can build democracy from the bottom up with organizations that meet personal, non-material needs as well as concrete, material needs.
When we encounter others, we can listen and aim to better understand what they think and feel. And we can aim to better understand ourselves -- our strengths and weaknesses, our achievements and mistakes.
Increased understanding is strengthened by talking face-to-face. Putting thoughts and feelings into words helps clarify them. And we learn by listening to others. Increased understanding helps us be more effective.
With a positive, pragmatic vision that has a strong consensus of support from the American people, we can push for changes in national policies that benefit all Americans, as well as changes that benefit specific populations that have been historically disadvantaged. That strategy affirms goals that are winnable in the short-term as well as goals that take more time.
With that approach, we can gain support from a broad spectrum of Americans -- Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Trump supporters are not monolithic. His hard core is smaller than those who tell pollsters they approve of his performance, and that group is smaller than those who voted for him.
If Democrats present a message that appeals to the vast majority of Americans, some of those who voted for Trump will vote for Democrats. That will be an indirect gain. There’s no need to focus on understanding Trump supporters (that charge is another straw man). The primary need is to understand everyone.
But neither should we write off all Trump voters as utterly hopeless. Empty rhetoric and bashing Trump and his supporters endlessly is counterproductive. Trump wants to make everything all about him. He loves to be demonized and fight in the gutter. He loves to be the focus of attention.
We can sidestep his strategy with a jujitsu move. We can treat Trump as a sad victim of America’s lowest traditions. He’s lived according to key beliefs from one branch of the American credo: What’s in it for me; You can be whatever you want to be; Someone must always be in charge; Winning is everything; I have the answer. He’s the ultimate Individualist. Trump is not abnormal. He’s very much an American. As such, he needs our sympathy and compassion.
We can avoid personal attacks and call on Trump’s supporters to set aside understandable instincts and engage in a rational consideration of what’s really in the enlightened self-interest of the American people. Rather than falling into Trump’s trap, we can focus on how to more fully realize America’s highest traditions. We don’t need to rile up our base. They’re already riled up.
If the resistance to the Trump Administration unites behind a proactive vision, we can transform our nation, our culture, ourselves, and all of our institutions, including our families, schools, religious institutions, workplaces, community organizations, and governments.
The more we transform one of those elements, the more we can transform the others, with each reinforcing the others. If we don’t, we may continue on our current downward spiral. If we do, we can help transform the world into a compassionate community.