In September 2007, then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was excoriated for saying, at a memorial service to honor the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, that the events of that bitter day represented “a failure of human beings to understand each other, and to learn to love each other.” The remarks were attacked on Boston talk radio as an example of fuzzy-minded political correctness at its worst; viewed from another perspective, Patrick was trying to say, in a somewhat awkward way, that hatred left unchecked has profound and painful consequences.
Perhaps Patrick’s controversial commentary would be more accurate as a description of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. As Marco Rubio might put it, can anyone dispel the notion that in a country with more understanding and less unrest, Trump’s quest for the White House would be dismissed as some sort of practical joke?
I noted earlier today that in the eyes of progressives of faith, the success of the Trump campaign is a sign of America’s spiritual crisis. Usually, we hear talk of “spiritual crisis” from the right, within the context of public support for LGBT rights and reproductive rights. Yet, from a progressive faith perspective, signs of our spiritual crisis abound: state-sanctioned murders of young black men and women, institutionalized income inequality, rape culture in our colleges and universities, and the degeneration of our discourse (as symbolized by Trump and Rubio, among others).
When Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton calls for the resurrection of a spirit of love and kindness in the United States, she’s talking about this spiritual crisis. If our culture had never abandoned that spirit–if our culture had resisted what Leonardo DiCaprio, in his brave and historic Oscar speech last week, called “the politics of greed”–Trump would be polling about as well as Lindsey Graham did before he dropped out.
I was thirteen years old when I first heard “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” by Diana Ross on an oldies station in Boston, and I thought it was the corniest and sappiest song ever written. Now, a quarter-century later, I hear that song with new ears; I understand what Diana Ross and songwriters Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson were trying to say. Their message wasn’t that different from Patrick’s message. Their message wasn’t that different from Lyndon Johnson’s message in the famous “Daisy” ad:
These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.
In the long term, the progressive movement will fail if we don’t find some way to bring love and kindness–and truth and logic–back to this country, to make knowledge and compassion cool again, so that the next time a Donald Trump rises up, the scorn and ridicule of Americans of all backgrounds will make him sit back down. Perhaps achieving that long-term goal starts with, yes, reaching out and touching somebody’s hand.