Anti-Trump demonstrations reminds us of the limits and value of protest

With the election over and the only official business left to do being the count of Electoral College votes, the nation is having to figure out what to do during and with the Trump presidency.  For many, that includes protest. For the most part, things have been non-violent so far, though there have been exceptions.

The exceptions are a cause for concern. According to the police in Portland, Oregon, protesters threw bottles and road flares, and in Indianapolis, police fired non-lethal projectiles at the marchers who threw rocks at officers.  Most incidents, though — such as protests in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles — have only involved traffic stoppages and other civil disobedience.

There is a larger picture here.  The protests included the chant, not my president, and calls for impeachment of Donald Trump.  This should sound familiar, since the forms and symbolism have been with us over the last eight years and the eight years before that.  And so on until the beginning of the nation.  Ever since our first contested elections, we’ve had partisans trading insults and blows, wackos taking shots at our leaders, and even a civil war.

The question is how far a free society can go before crossing a line that represents an existential crisis.  If we say “not my president” after one election, the next election will get the same response from the other side.  However much it pains us to say that the person elected to the highest office is indeed the president, whoever that person happens to be, if we don’t respect the process, we invalidate the whole system.

This doesn’t mean that we give up on the right to express ourselves, a right that extends to civil disobedience.  Given the choice between stopping progress on the roads and shooting, I’ll take a traffic jam any day.  And we all need to listen to each other, especially when feelings are running so high — especially when the divisions are so deep.

As the Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun.  The Roman Empire faced a similar reality, a population split along lines of class and ethnicity, with enemies on the outside and politicians at each other’s throats within.  And we know how that worked out.

The same question that faced the Romans faces us.  What holds us together?  The message of the election all too often was that our nation has to return to some mythical past of uniform greatness.  But the thing that makes us great, the characteristic that the failed empire of the ancient world never figured out, is that a society cannot function with a large part of its members kept as an underclass.

We don’t need a single religion, a single language, or a single leading ethnic group to hold the United States together.  What we must have is a shared set of basic values that include a respect for human rights and an understanding that diversity makes us stronger.

It’s that, or we fall farther apart.  And no matter how much we may prepare as gun owners to stop violence against innocents, we will do better if we can avoid it altogether.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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