The following is an editorial by Armstrong Williams.
The recent spate of incidents in which Trump administration staffers have been confronted, and in some cases refused services at dining establishments is alarming, especially given liberals usual pretense at intellectual honesty and democratic process. When confronted with objectionable policy choices enacted by the elected government of the U.S., they have chosen obstruction and confrontation over the tried and true path to opposition in this country – convincing the electorate by deliberation and rational argument of the rightness of their position.
Millions of Americans became almost instantly aware that last Friday a restaurant owner in rural Virginia interrupted a meal already in progress and asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee to leave the establishment. The owner’s ostensible reason was a conscientious objection to the human rights abuses and cruelty of the Trump administration in its handling of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S. border. Some commenters on twitter were quick to point out that Huckabee and her father, Mike Huckabee have advanced so-called religious freedom laws that discriminate against gay people exercising their own constitutional rights. ‘They’re getting a taste of their own medicine’ seem to be the general sentiment.
But even if one honestly believes that religious freedom legislation and the recent Supreme Court decision allowing a baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple on free speech grounds are discriminatory and bigoted, reacting by shunning Trump administration staffers’ as they go about their private lives is hardly a principled position. Two wrongs never make a right. If the principle that that discrimination is morally wrong – rather than merely venting anger at Trump – is what is really at stake here, the best course of action is to demonstrate non-discriminatory behavior and set an example of tolerance for others.
The question comes to mind: What would Martin Luther King do? Would he take up arms against an intransigent and oppressive southern regime of Jim Crow, lynching and economic marginalization of blacks? – Or would he create in himself and others a shining example of peace, dignity and compassion. Would he shun others with whom he disagreed? Or, would he rather shame them into humility through the rightness of his own conduct?
It is curiously ironic that we seem to have come to a place in this country where we seek to achieve the goal of social inclusion through the practice of exclusion and shunning. Let’s not pretend, however, that this would be the easiest course. MLK himself wrestled with rage and indignation at the treatment he and fellow African Americans received at the hands of the American state. However, he was able to transcend the natural human instincts of fight or flight, and direct this energy into a powerful and effective force for change.
The best way to effect change when not in a position to achieve it by legislative means – as in the case of a political or ethnic minority – is to become a model of virtue and right conduct. In fact, the term ‘model minority’ refers to a strategy employed mainly by Asian Americans to overcome barriers to achievement in this country. By closely aligning themselves with the common American ideal of advancement through hard work, diligence and moral striving, several Asian American groups have achieved political and economic influence that belies their numerical representation. In a relatively short span, Asian Americans have reached the pinnacles of government and business.
There are really two principle strategies at work when dealing with the question of confronting political power with moral truth in the American context. The first, exhibiting personal conduct that is beyond reproach is a necessary, but not sufficient prerequisite. Only once you have refined your character and demonstrated excellence in line with the stated ideals of this country however, will you be in position to exercise the second strategy employed by Martin Luther King, Ghandi and others: the transcendental magic of turning hate into love.
Creative non-violence, including boycotts, sit-ins and other measures worked precisely because they incited state actors to enforce unjust laws unjustly. It is not easy though, to avoid retaliating in the face of vicious dogs and water hoses and armed sheriffs with batons bearing down with malice and hate on unarmed protesters. It takes an extreme measure of strength and discipline to suppress the natural human urges to fight or run – but instead to stand your ground. The effect of this ‘middle path’ was devastating in terms of the moral trauma it inflicted on the dominant forces of racism and bigotry.
It is time liberals re-learn these lessons. Freedom can never be earned by parroting the objectionable behavior of bullies. Bullies in fact gain strength from the moral weaknesses of their victims. It is tactically futile, in any event, to return cannon fire with slingshots. The only way to win in these situations is to regain the moral high ground. That would require an inner strength that liberals have thus far been unable to muster.
Resorting to name calling and threats is a tacit admission of defeat. It means you've lost, you've run out of appeals to intellect, and the stimulation that great debate brings to advancing society.