There are people on the left and right who believe that their cause is so noble, so vital that they will do anything to see it manifested. Integrity and alleviating suffering are not at the heart of their actions. They want to win, and they’ll lie, cheat, steal and even murder to do so.
When I was an anti-Vietnam War protester, I believed fervently in the cause and was outraged that Eugene McCarthy, the most fervent anti-war candidate for the US presidency in 1968, was going to get shut down by the mainstream Democratic Party. I actually got to get next to him in downtown Richmond, Virginia, as he campaigned. There were a lot of people out to see him, and as I was walking right beside him, he turned to me and said, “You’re very well received here.” He was gentle and funny. I was deluded into thinking that he was so great, so wonderful that he had a real possibility to be the next president. I was deluded.
Watching on television what was unfolding between demonstrators and the police at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, I felt the thrill of the noble cause and the righteous outrage against what was being perpetrated against it. I saw police viciously beating unarmed protestors. For the most part, the response was not for us to arm ourselves with guns. But I supported the Weather Underground, naïve about the violence they were ready to use for their ends.
I was NOT wrong to see the truth of the injustices and crimes against humanity that groups like the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground fought: rampant, brutal racism and a war that killed and maimed (mentally and physically) a big swath of my generation as well as Vietnamese people in their own land.
But the end – the stopping of brutality and injustice – does not justify means that cause more brutality and injustice. Again, if the means cause injustice and brutality, then the end does not justify those means.
Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gloria Steinem, Gandhi, the young man who stood in front of a tank in China – these are people who risked a lot. And I will add to that list Malcom X, who realized that those who were lynching and beating his people were not going to give up their ill-gotten and brutal privilege unless they felt a threat to their own lives. But when Malcom X and MLK were killed, their followers did not storm the Capitol or the White House or even one white neighborhood. And yet, or maybe because of that, America managed to elect a black man as president. I was literally dancing in the streets the night Obama was elected. If he had lost, I doubt very seriously that I would have threatened violence against others to protest, and I’m shit sure that Obama would not have called on people to do so.
Those who could not stand that victory have been using immoral and harmful means to support an immoral and harmful end – a continuation of racism, control over women’s bodies and dangerous and belligerent threats to other nations. They are abetted by those who believe that a strong stock market is more important than a strong nation of working, healthy men and women. And anxiety is everywhere.
Mitt Romney and many other Republicans have stepped beyond party loyalty to loyalty to the truth in the face of nasty lies. Maybe they were shocked to hear their colleague and war hero John McCain called a “loser” by their party’s new leader. They started facing the truth that the far right’s means to getting their party in power were too often vicious and immoral: lying, intimidating with violence, promoting racism, rewarding misogyny by electing a man to the presidency who bragged about sexually accosting women. These means created more suffering. Were they worth the intended end? Were they even successful in reaching that end? Was the intended end delusional like my belief that Eugene McCarthy would be elected president? Were the unsuccessful means worth creating a society where citizens see each other as enemies?
As a person who protested against the Vietnam War, I could have considered John McCain my enemy. I did not. I thought of him as a good man whose politics were too conservative for my convictions. As a person who supported radical left groups, I might have supported the storming of the Capitol and the threats to men and women serving in Congress as revolutionary cool. I did not. But I have to reflect that the Weather Underground and its bomb making were tragically futile. If social media had existed as it does today, and if Eugene McCarthy and leftist Democrats had called upon them to fight, to not concede, maybe some bombs would have killed many more than the hapless leftists who were putting them together.
If Eugene McCarthy had become president and told me and my fellow protesters to storm the Capitol with its warmongering capitalists and the pigs protecting them, would I have done it? He was called “Gentle Gene,” sometimes derisively, as though he was too passive and kind to be the leader of the so-called free world. I would have thought he had lost it, gone mad, needed to be escorted away like James Brown when he fell on his knees during a concert and some guy came out with a cape to lead him away. I would have been horrified at the nutcase my hero had become.
I know there are people who may still think Trump should be president, who are not members of Q/Anon and who may be hoping that the Republican Party is victorious in the 2022 elections and beyond. I know there are leftists who have wanted no compromise with anyone who isn’t a Bernie Sanders supporter. But the means groups use to get what they want say everything about the kind of world they hope to create.
There will be Republicans; there will be Democrats; and there will be people working in all sorts of positions and parties to promote justice and peace, people not in the ego-crazed limelight; people who will not be carrying Confederate flags, not be waving their automatic weapons around, not be calling for a violent revolution, not be lying, not be calling policemen “pigs,” not be making bombs, not be claiming as a right their ability to make other people suffer, not be promoting themselves as the greatest people ever – because doing all that has nothing to do with a making a strong community. The narcissism of FaceBook and other social media platforms encourages outrageous behavior based on the idea that the only success is winning and the only way to win is to make a lot of bombastic noise that creates a lot of pain and anxiety. I wanted to make a lot of noise to end the Vietnam War, but I also wanted those who support the war to be free of pain and anxiety, to see the light, maybe take LSD and realize how beautiful the world could be. Yeah, I know – delusional. But I didn’t want to put a bullet in their heads.
The far left in the America of the 60’s and 70’s mostly gave up, sold out and invested in the stock market, buying blue jeans that were no longer farmers’ attire, but outrageously expensive fashion. Corporate capitalism won. I think the beginning of the end of our movement was Charles Manson and his gang who had the look and feel of hippies in a commune. All of a sudden the whole vibe seemed bad, sick. All of a sudden the “kill the pigs” intoxication seemed like mental illness. And it was.
I think the storming of the Capitol with flags connected to slavery, a guy in a Viking helmet, a shirt lauding Auschwitz, and people believing that the Clintons and other Democrats were devouring children and running a pornography ring out of a pizza parlor is mental illness. Mental Illness!
So my rant comes down to this: we need to attend to the mental and intellectual health of our society, including ethics and truthful history in our educational system. Education should be more than a path to jobs in corporate America and more than training in the use of technology. How about this combo:
- a sophisticated education that includes the humanities and encourages investigation into historical realities that may not match either the left’s or right’s manipulative ideals and fantasies
- accessible and all-inclusive healthcare that emphasizes mental health support
I think the storming of the Capitol may be a lot of people’s Charles Manson moment. People on the left and the right now see the madness in letting panic and anxiety and delusions and propaganda determine what they are working toward and what means they’re using to do it.
Top notch education and healthcare for everyone could help a lot.
Leave no person behind to fester in and act on ignorance and madness.