I wonder what Germans could have done to stop Hitler in 1932, before or after he had the keys to power.
One option was to fight back. Some believe we have to. Actually, some Germans fought back well before the takeover, but the German government was much harder on leftist fighters than on Hitler’s Brown Shirts. Leftist violence, justifications aside, became an authoritarian excuse, the way Trump wants to use any defense of democracy here.
The major alternative is the Mahatma Gandhi/Martin Luther King nonviolent response. Leaders of protests – against Trump, abuse of our Black and Brown fellow citizens, and against the violence, racism and murders by the Alt-screwy – overwhelming choose nonviolence.
That got India free of Britain but Muslim Pakistan left largely Hindu India anyway. Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach ended formal legal segregation and won new Civil Rights Laws but left too many African-Americans out of the education, jobs, homes and opportunities they deserved, another partial victory. Maybe that’s all we get in life.
And we can vote. We must vote. Whatever we do on the streets will be backed or undercut by what we do at the polls. It may be an act of faith, but it will prove the most important prayer we’ll ever voice.
Why? I think violence is doomed and we must stay clear of it. Actually, King wasn’t nonviolent. That’s a hard truth, but King’s success depended on his own supporters getting their heads cracked in front of cameras for national television – not unlike what Trump’s troops are doing to people in Portland. There were many, Black and White, who, like John Lewis, had the courage to board busses for the Freedom Rides toward violent racists waiting with firebombs to force them out of the busses and clubs to bludgeon and bloody them when they came out. I never had that courage, but have enormous respect for those who did. I played a bit part in the Civil Rights Movement, from the safety of legal offices and demonstrations where I didn’t expect trouble – I Marched on Washington to hear King describe his dream, and I joined demonstrations in places like New York City. The movement needed more bravery than I had.
Why? Because some people are moved by changes in national sentiment and by the bravery and decency they see on television news. Let’s be clear, we need institutions of power to back off, like Marco’s Army did in 1986, when confronted with “streets gradually teeming with people to quietly face off … armored tanks …[with] linked arms and prayers and flowers and songs.” But if it’s Duarte’s violence in today’s Philippines, Tiananmen Square in 1989 where peaceful pro-democracy protestors were crushed under relentless tanks, instead of Manila with flowers in 1986, if it’s either bloodthirsty repression or a sense of humanity that stops the armies short, it matters what the soldiers do and what the generals do. Trump is shaping a force under his command and preparing troops with practice maneuvers against demonstrators. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that the public will recognize nonviolence or who’s attacking whom when Trump creates violent incidents, or how the regular Army will respond.
If those in command of the guns, tanks and other weapons, say to each other this is not what we do in a democracy, then Trump better leave fast, maybe to visit his dear friend Vladimir Putin. But if they react that it’s a sadistic joy to mow the unarmed down, no arms could stop them.
There’s another issue. Recent events eroded respect for some police departments. But, depending how events go, there could be significant confrontations between the Alt-Screwy and pro-democracy protestors. In that case the police may be all we have. Yes there must be ways to reform the way they operate, but it’s not just that they have to learn community policing, it’s also us who have to invite the police in, break bread with them, so that we get to know each other. We do need them.