We are living an acutely love-starved moment in our culture. We have been feasting on the junk food of facile partisanship and mannered political ideologies, the thin gruel of glib social media, and the drink of the acidic public discourse of cynicism. “Make America Great Again” is not nourishing the national soul. Instead, it has been feeding a beast of hatred, resentment, and bitterness that has resided in the American heart of darkness since the inception of our democratic project.
Victims of hate-filled, racially-charged murders seem to appear in our obituary pages nearly every week. White supremacists murdered Army Lieutenant Richard Collins III on the eve of his graduation from Bowie State University. They senselessly killed Timothy Caughman on the streets of Manhattan. And, most recently, they took the lives of Rick Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Mehce, and badly injured Micah Fletcher, when they stopped white nationalist Joseph Christian’s hate-filled harassment of two teenage girls, one black, the other Muslim, on a commuter train in Portland. What are we to do in the face of this terror and hatred and evil in our society?
For sure, the Resistance is at the ready to ensure that we do not cede our nation to these forces of hatred. Nevertheless, resistance and even justice will not be enough to save us. People are hungry for more than resistance. We are yearning for meaningful public life, and I would argue we are hungry for a democracy animated by the basic human need: which is love. Let us imagine a politics motivated by compassion and generosity. Let us imagine a politics that forgoes the pursuit of power in favor of forgiveness and mercy. Let us imagine a politics that demands that all of us bear witness to suffering. Let us imagine a love-driven politics that will be the legacy of a renewed American democracy.
Why love? We can already hear the cynic tell us that a call for love-driven politics is naïve and impractical, the stuff of romance and an evasion of the hard-things in life. And yet it is the case that the need for an abiding love is as basic to human flourishing as air and water. Love-driven politics is as demanding and rigorous as any human endeavor we can imagine. Consider the imperative of the Golden Rule––in particular the most demanding version, namely, “Love your enemy as you would love yourself.” If we take that commandment seriously, it is obvious how strenuous the challenge is. “Love my enemy?” For many if not most of us it’s a monstrous demand to love one’s enemy. And yet it is an ancient wisdom that recognizes that there can be no true justice without love, and that our well-being requires finding justice and well-being of our and for our enemies. This ever-true wisdom is an acknowledgment that all of us, including those who hate, need love.
To love one’s enemy is to forgive (though not forget) the unforgivable. Undoubtedly, it is to take enormous risks. At minimum, this love involves breaking space from cultural norms that indicate forgiveness and mercy are absurd. In practice, it is to take the risk of exposing ourselves to another that we already know does not reciprocate our love. To act in and through love is dangerous yet necessary work.
Let us recall Namkai-Meche’s dying words on that Portland train: “Tell everyone on this train that I love them.” Namkai-Meche would have been known as a hero. With his last breath, he ensured that his legacy was a courage born of love.
What will we stand for? What will our children and our children’s children remember us for? Let’s have the courage to risk being right and that we will be known for striving to getting things right. Let’s lay claim to love as the public ethic of our times.
The movement I started called Love-Driven Politics Collective believes that love and hope are possible for us. The Love-Driven Politics Collective is developing platforms, opportunities, and projects that are bringing everyday people into common conversations. We make the strongest case possible that love and empathy, compassion and generosity are the most powerful forces available for positive, social and political transformation. We connect the grandest ideals and ambitions of our democracy with practical, livable realities.
Come find us on the Love-Driven Politics Collective Facebook page and follow us on Twitter (@LoveDPolitics & @davidkyumankim) to join a community seeking to make love the central political value of our times. You can also watch the Love-Driven Politics podcast on MeaningofLife.tv. Throughout 2017 and beyond, all of you are invited to take part in conversations on love, democracy, and race hosted by Love-Driven Politics Collective in collaboration with Columbia University’s Digital Storytelling Lab and Refinery29. These conversations will take place live and online. Stay connected for updates.
Love-driven politics is hard, and to make it a hallmark of what it means to be American will be a hard-won victory. No easy paths. Just Hard One Love