Speaking to Our Aspirations Rather Than Our Fears

I have to admit that even this political junkie had to take a few days away from the news last week. The hate that is being unleashed by the candidacy of Donald Trump got to me. I found myself despairing for my country and needed some time to regroup. I was reminded of how well Derrick Jensen captured what is happening.

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement…

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, “normal,” chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

As I watched that hate explode, I became aware of the fact that screaming back at it didn’t cut it for me. And no, I don’t think that it helps anyone, not even Bernie Sanders. Hatred has no redeeming quality, and to suggest otherwise is something I refuse to contemplate.

In order to reinvigorate my hope in this country, I went back to a source I have depended on for the last seven years…the man we elected twice to lead us. It wasn’t that long ago that he reminded us of something we were taught by those who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge fifty years ago:

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities — but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

And then this week – just to make the contrast even more stark – President Obama gave a speech in New Orleans in which he pointed us to an America that has gotten lost in all the nonsense we’ve been hearing so much about lately.

I tell you, we’re moving into the next presidential cycle and the next political season, and you will hear a lot of people telling you everything that’s wrong with America. And that’s okay. That’s a proper part of our democracy…

But it’s important that we remember what’s right, and what’s good, and what’s hopeful about this country. It’s worth remembering that for all the tragedy, for the all images of Katrina in those first few days, in those first few months, look at what’s happened here. It’s worth remembering the thousands of Americans like Michelle, and Victor, and Mrs. Willie Mae and the folks who rallied around her — Americans all across this country who when they saw neighbors and friends or strangers in need came to help…

These Americans live the basic values that define this country — the value we’ve been reminded of in these past 10 years as we’ve come back from a crisis that changed this city, and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation — the basic notion that I am my brother’s keeper, and I am my sister’s keeper, and that we look out for each other and that we’re all in this together…

If we stay focused on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild this city, we will rebuild this country. We’ll make sure not just these young men, but every child in America has a structure and support and love and the kind of nurturing that they need to succeed. We’ll leave behind a city and a nation that’s worthy of generations to come.

I’m not ashamed to say that I really needed to hear that. I suspect that this is part of what it means to be a leader…the ability to speak to our aspirations rather than our fears, and challenge us to be better.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.