By Dr. Rob Merritt
Civilize (v.) c. 1600, “to bring out of barbarism,” from French civiliser, verb from Old French civil (adj.), from Latin civilis “relating to a citizen, relating to public life, befitting a citizen; popular, affable, courteous.” “Uncivilized (adj.)barbarous.” (www.etymonline.com)
Humanity has been trying for millennia to rise from cycles of violence and vengeance in order to endure, to survive together in spite of differences, within a community and among communities. God created a diversity of races and creeds to teach us how to help each other to survive on this green globe.
We can share and compromise or we can hoard and destroy.
The United States needs a president who seeks to foster a society of respect and neighborliness, not a candidate who sows disagreement and suspicion. Hillary Clinton proposes a rhetoric of reconciliation, Donald Trump a strategy of unifying one segment of American society against other segments by teaching “otherness,” by building literal and figurative walls between genders, races, faiths, or countries of origin. We have a choice between civilization or a return to barbarism.
Abraham Lincoln came to Gettysburg and made a speech of humility, vision, reconciliation and prophecy for a “nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal’” pondering whether “any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”
And Coach Herman Boone said on this same historic site in Remember the Titans: “Listen to their souls, men: ‘I killed my brother with malice in my heart. Hatred destroyed my family.’ You listen. And you take a lesson from the dead. If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed.”
Trump came to that hallowed ground and said, “Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. All of these liars will be sued when the election is over.”
Can we even compare these tones, these levels of discourse, the maturity?
We must have a president who at least recognizes the need for empathy for those with fewer advantages. In her first job after law school, Clinton uncovered discrimination and made accountable schools that were denying access to children with disabilities.
In the third presidential debate this fall she forthrightly affirmed government’s obligation to recognize the rights of all of its citizens: “And I feel strongly that the Supreme Court needs to stand on the side of the American people, not on the side of the powerful corporations and the wealthy. For me, that means that we need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community…
“I have major disagreements with my opponent about these issues and others that will be before the Supreme Court. But I feel that at this point in our country’s history, it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade, that we stand up against Citizens United, we stand up for the rights of people in the workplace, that we stand up and basically say: The Supreme Court should represent all of us.”
Even if you disagree with her stand on some of these issues, you can see how she seeks to invite all to the table.
While Trump peddles divisiveness:
- “Now, I want to build the wall. We need the wall. And the Border Patrol, ICE, they all want the wall. …And once the border is secured, at a later date, we’ll make a determination as to the rest. But we have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.
- “You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely and you’re going to bring the country — and, frankly, the people, because you have some excellent, wonderful people, some fantastic people that have been here for a long period of time.”
- “I have a great relationship with the Blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the Blacks.”
- “Laziness is a trait in blacks.”
Let us reflect upon what the Bible says about empathy:
Yet Jesus also said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another” (John 13:34). The apostle Paul goes on to tell us: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
“Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. …Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’ In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. …This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
There are many issues to focus upon, but what about how we talk to each other? What about the language of diplomacy and compromise essential for the survival of a family or a society? Bullying and prejudice do not work forever.
Love Is Indispensable, Paul understood. Vote for ideals you can be proud of: an uplifting conversation for the sake of civilization, for the motivation to be the best you can be.
Can our nation conceived as Lincoln understood, endure?
Dr. Merritt is a professor of English at Bluefield College, chair of the Department of English, and dean of the College of Arts and Letters