During my first job as a computer programmer (way back in the late 1970’s) the owner of the small factory where I worked was quite a large and “take charge” sort of man, and had quite the temper. When you crossed or disappointed him in any way, he’d lean forward, turn red in the face and pound his fist on his desk: yelling at you and insulting you.
Everyone in the office would cower behind their desks when this happened: hoping they would not become the next target of his wrath. No one dared tell him “No.” (Except me, although that was largely because I was too naive to realize I should be intimidated. I also didn’t have a mortgage or car payment to worry about!)
What I learned is that once he yelled and screamed for a bit, he’d calm down, and then would listen to what I had to say. He came to respect me because I stood up to him, and told me so. Even though we never became friends, I did respect him; and we accomplished a great deal during my time there.
That ability to stand firm in the face of such anger has served me well in the years since. (Although it has also gotten me fired once or twice, until I learned that doing so works best if you listen carefully past the emotion, to hear what the other is trying to say.)
Now, the politics of consensus and community-building – which are my own default and preferred approach – can lead one to conclude that we should play nice with our new President from day one, as Joan Vennochi advocates in her opinion piece “Democrats, don’t take your ball and go home” in today’s Boston Globe.
Yes, we need to work with DT and his regime. If he were a reasonable man (and nothing he’s said in public leads to that conclusion), I’d agree with Ms. Vennochi’s points. But, he is not that kind of man: his personality is very similar to that long ago boss of mine, and many others I’ve encountered in the years since.
Collaboration is the approach the Democrats have preferred for the last eight years – and for far longer actually, since both parties have relied upon consensus-building to get things done for most of the history of this Country; except for recently, as well as (most notably) the years leading up to the Civil War.
In fact, the Dem leadership was heavily criticized by many within their own party for sticking to that approach even when faced with GOP intransigence and extremism. They’ve paid a heavy price. (Now, to be perfectly fair, the Democrats aren’t all that sweet-smelling themselves, in many ways: but it is a party built upon the principle of valuing the opinions and needs of others – even if their execution on that principle is far from perfect.)
But now, the Democrats, led by the Progressives, have finally realized that politics in modern DC (and many state capitols) requires they present a united front: utilizing confrontation, extremism, and intransigence to make themselves heard; and that will not change any time soon. It’s time to be confrontative, and they are determined to do exactly that. I don’t like it, and I’m sure they don’t either. (Although, they have an impressive cadre of seasoned warriors determined to give the GOP and President quite the bellyache for the foreseeable future).
I know from long experience, and they know, that excluding your opponent’s concerns from any consideration is a recipe for failure in the long term (as the GOP is about to learn). But, what choice do they have? Their opponents are not willing to give them an alternative.
It is clear that our new President respects power, and my hope is that he will also respect those who don’t cave in to his anger. I’m sure the Dems share this view: a collaborative approach won’t get his attention, and won’t gain his respect. Doing so is “weakness” in his eyes, and the weak are seen as nothing more than mud under his feet. A combative approach is the only option. That’s reality, and that’s what is happening in DC right now.
So, no Ms. Vennochi: you’re wrong on multiple points: the Democrats are not going home, and they’re also not giving up that ball without a fight. This is what needs to happen.
But, you ask: “Allen, you’re a Pastor! How can you advocate being confrontative and nasty? Christians are supposed to be all about love, kindness and meekness!”
Um, no. The concept of “Tough Love” is deeply rooted in Judeo-Christian theology, and in most other great faiths too, such as Buddhism. So, my response is, “Read your Bible! Jesus was more than willing to use anger and harsh words when confronting injustice, oppression, and self-serving nonsense. And, he is only one of a long line of prophetic voices in the Bible to do so. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to name a prophet in the Bible who did not use harsh and even violent language when confronting injustice.”
The next four years, and especially the next two years, are going to be quite the show. Even though it will be far from a pleasant time, my hope is that we will emerge a stronger and more united nation because of it.
Perhaps I’ll see you at the Boston Women’s March for America this Saturday, the day after the inauguration.
Copyright (c) 2017, Allen Vander Meulen III.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.