03 October 2019

Impeachment and rhetorical nonviolence

Urban sheep, Hebron, Palestine
...Anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
-- Jesus, from Matthew 5:22 (context)

In a conference call last Sunday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi instructed her Democratic Party caucus on how their impeachment investigation into Donald Trump and his administration should be conducted: "Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution."

In stark contrast, the president of the United States has ranted, insulted, belittled, threatened, and lied. Concerning the allegations that have ignited the current push for impeachment, there is a remarkable difference between the president's critics on the one hand, and his allies on the other. Critics ask questions about specific details of the story: for example, what, exactly, was the president trying to accomplish in his recent contacts with Ukraine and other countries? The presidential response: avoid the specifics at all cost, and counter with insults, misdirection, and accusations of corruption and treason.

After four years of this mixture of malice and incoherence, it's not surprising that many of us are constantly tempted to respond with at least a hint of malice of our own. Countless memes and caricatures flood our public space with savage humor, especially in social media and late-night television. Even now, I'm tempted to include a sample or two right here. However, for those of us who follow the nonviolent Lamb of God, the very embodiment of God's mercy, I want to urge mercy for Donald Trump.

We understand that, when we choose physical force against anyone, no matter how just our cause, at that very moment we enter into our enemies' moral structure. Since time immemorial, the use or threat of force automatically justifies a return blow. "Who hit first" doesn't matter, because the use of force is a continuous chain back to Cain and Abel. Disciples of the Prince of Peace are commanded to break that chain.

Nonviolence does not just involve the refusal to use physical force against those who we understand are our enemies. We also refuse to use rhetorical violence ... for the exact same reason: Once we deploy tactics of mockery, insults, threats, and demonization against anyone, we enter into a cycle that, by primordial custom, legitimizes a retaliatory blow. Listen to Jesus and don't flirt with the temptation to say "you fool"; we have more important business than descending into a fools' competition.

Trump gives us a case study for why mercy rather than rhetorical violence is called for. A summary of the infamous Trump-Zelensky telephone call shows (even after possible editing) the U.S. president pushing the Ukrainian president to take actions for Trump's political benefit. Trump persists in calling this behavior "perfect" though he knows that we have the summary in our hands! It appears that Trump is unable to prioritize the larger parameters of U.S.-Ukrainian relations, or Ukraine's geopolitical situation in general, and chooses instead to focus on his own political advantage. He apparently doesn't even realize that this is the choice he has made! This lack of ability to analyze and prioritize is a stunning, alarming disqualification for the presidency, and yet this man somehow remains in this job, his insecurities and inadequacies made glaringly public every day. What good does mocking him or demonizing him do? We should be praying for him and for his removal from office as soon as politically possible, for our sakes and for his as well.

It's with this goal in mind that I understand Pelosi's instructions to conduct the impeachment investigation solemnly and prayerfully. Aside from the spiritual corrosion caused by mocking and demonizing Trump, such destructive tactics play right into the hands of those who are ready to give blow for blow on behalf of their perceived champion. And once you've entered the fray on their terms, you in effect give them permission to keep responding likewise.

I'm not saying that we ignore Trump's malicious attacks on his political opponents. The time may come when these attacks are entered into evidence, along with all the other occasions of demonstrable corruption and incompetence that could form articles of impeachment. And when the time comes that Trump and his corrupt administration are out of office, our fact-based and prayer-based political sobriety might put us in a better place to help heal our badly divided land.

There's only so much toxicity, anger, and falseness that David's (Beloved Spear) soul can manage before it messes with him.

Micah Bales on perfect love and boldness.

Eden Grace on Kaimosi, Kenya, the place of God's own choosing.

Rajan Menon explains why arms races never end.

Big Walter Horton played the blues harp with amazing control and tenderness.


kfsaylor said...


Just to be clear. Are you suggesting your tone in this article is prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution?

Keith F. Saylor

Johan Maurer said...

Yes, I am.

Listing someone's actual crimes and misdeeds is not inconsistent with those values. Nor is asserting urgently that he should be removed from a position of trust.

Bill Samuel said...

Yes, I think we need to be better and not ape the style of President Trump. So I'm sorry Pelosi put someone in charge of the investigation who did an unacceptable stunt on the House floor, and yet was not removed from the investigation. He has not even apologized. Speaking as Trump's words things that he knew Trump did not say may be OK on SNL, but not in the House of Representatives. I'm critical of the President's actions (while seeking a balance which recognizes that some of them are done more blatantly than other Administrations, but are not different in type), but I don't think the impeachment investigation is credible.

Both sides are part of creating a very harmful atmosphere in our country. Of course, I've never thought either corporate party was acceptable.

And I don't see the country as learning anything positive. Some of what has enraged others about what Trump has said has been when he has spoken unpleasant truths about this country, puncturing the false myth of American purity and exceptionalism. The country must repent and change its ways to have a healthy future. It is not OK to go back to the pre-Trump era. Most politicians continue to promulgate a false history which just results in the USA continuing to do unhealthy things.

kfsaylor said...

Hello Johan,

I appreciate your response to my question. It further demonstrates you and I do not relate to people in the same way. Through the appearance of the Spirit of Jesus indwelling in my consciousness and conscience it is discovered to me a different way of human relationship and interaction. The Spirit of Jesus has drawn me out of the process of reflective thought or reflecting on others. Outward political, religious, and social, ideological and institutional forms and formalities (and the leaders who promote them) do not guide and inform how I relate to people. In my experience, engagement and participation in the process of reflective thought to guide and inform my relationships and interactions with other people overshadows and dethrones participation in and identification with the indwelling motion of the spirit of Jesus in my conscience.

RantWoman said...

Thank you for these meditations.

I find I can barely maintain my own standards of decency long enough to avoid may very ableist terms to describe this president's mental capacity, mental capacity, etc.

It does not help that I also wrestle with the value of strong language weighed against a regularly malfunctioning mental filter to turn excessively plain English into prayerful gentle Quakerese.