Just Forget About Donald TrumpRoundup
tags: polarization, partisanship, Donald Trump, 2020 Election
PETER WEHNER is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He writes widely on political, cultural, religious, and national-security issues, and he is the author of The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump.
Different moments require different responses. Because we are a nation so fractured that each side barely comprehends the other, this is a time for magnanimity, by which I mean rising above the fray and letting go of slights and grudges. It is also practicing benevolence and openhandedness, a generosity of spirit, what Aristotle called “a greatness of soul.”
In our politics today, all of us need to do better at forgiving each other and giving more people the benefit of the doubt. We need to listen better than we do to the stories and experiences that shape the views of those with whom we disagree. And we need to strive for social peace, which is the product of forbearance, for the good of the whole.
I understand that some people will view this as hopelessly high-minded or out of touch. I think we must remain committed to justice, standing up for truth and calling out evil where we find it. We should fight the worst elements of Trumpism that remain even after he leaves office. But in the process, we must not get sucked into a vortex of hate or treat our opponents as subhuman, unworthy of respect, or beyond redemption.
“As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline,” Martin Luther King Jr. said in a 1956 sermon, “using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”
King, who had far more reason than most of us to seek revenge against those who stood against him, went on to say, “In your struggle for justice, let your oppressor know that you are not attempting to defeat or humiliate him, or even to pay him back for injustices that he has heaped upon you. Let him know that you are merely seeking justice for him as well as yourself.”
King not only carried himself with grace and dignity; he was also shrewd and magnificently effective. But even if he had been far less effective than he was, he would have done the right and honorable thing.
A final historical reference that bears on these matters: It was said of Abraham Lincoln that when he was young and ambitious, he was fully aware of his “power to hurt” based on his polemical skills. He was not above utilizing those dazzling powers, but as he grew older, he became more generous, more respectful, and more sympathetic toward others. He grew in tenderness. And even as he did what he was called to do—extinguish the evil of slavery from our land at a horrific cost—he did not want the passions of war to permanently break our bonds of affection.
Some might argue that Lincoln, whose life was taken by an assassin’s bullet, was naive, that he underestimated the anger that Black freedom and equality would catalyze, including long after his death. I’m not sure, but even if he did, what he was attempting to do was elevate our sensibilities, give us a standard to aim for, and model how it might be done. In appealing to our better angels, Lincoln was fully aware of the demons that lurk within the human heart.
None of us will meet Lincoln’s standard, but all of us on every side of the political divide can do better than we have done to purge our hearts and minds of anger and hate. There’s been enough of that over the past several years.