Fervent discussion about one particular presidential candidate has been all the rage in the past several weeks. As a peace studies professor, I watch the coverage, the goings-on, and the interviews with fascination. Not because of what is coming out of this candidate's mouth, but because of the type of society that is developing in the wake of this denigrating speech.
Most would not dispute that America has always had a deep undercurrent of racism, one hidden at times and blatant at others. However, this recent increasing form of in-your-face racism has taken a dangerous turn. Now people with ingrained racist beliefs (reinforced by cultural or social interactions) stand alongside others who may not feel comfortable standing up to bigotry (so they jump on the dehumanization bandwagon) and infect younger generations with skewed ideologies that challenge decades of positive cultural education.
The slogan I would give to this 2016 Presidential campaign cycle is: Making Weak Peace Cool Again!
The society emerging during this campaign year is not one in which people are given equals rights under the U.S. Constitution. The emerging society celebrates Weak Peace, a peace that sees no outward force, physical conflict, or war (yes, there have been assaults at various campaign rallies but I mean outright conflict/war where people are taking to the streets daily). Instead of these outward forms of violence, we see how systematic injustice (or the suggestion of systematic injustice) runs rampant through candidates' speech that encourages abusive verbal communication and the denial of rights to member of select groups.
While one Republican candidate maintains that he is "non-violent" (because he only tells his supporters to hit people bearing tomatoes) he is missing the very nature of what being non-violent means. No, he is not standing at the front of an armed force or physically beating people, but his speech is assaulting segments of the American and Global population on an hourly basis.
Words carry weight and the lessons propelled through hate-filled sentences are perhaps more powerful than any exploded grenade or bomb. With these weapons of war, the damage is relatively contained. The explosions occur once and they are complete in that single instance.
When thinking about speech in the context of Weak Peace, imagine words as a nuclear bomb. Not only does a nuke have a large blast radius, its harmful and negative effects are not limited to killing people. A population exposed to nuclear radiation suffers for generations, both those currently living, through the development of illnesses, and the unborn or yet to come, who are subject to birth defects and/or have to care for sick and dying relatives while they are still children. The lucky ones die from the nuclear blast, the present and future living generations are not so lucky. They have to deal with decades of the fallout from radiation poisoning and its aftermath.
It is much easier to spot the violent and damaging behavior of a group such as ISIS, because they are overt in their actions. The fodder found within Weak Peace (misogynistic jokes, below-the-belt comments, and racist statements) can be swept under the rug more easily. The intention of both types of violence is the same: to spread fear, to make people feel uncomfortable and unsafe in their own homes, and to provide power to the privileged in society.
But the existence of Weak Peace is like water seeping into a brick wall--it damages the structure from the inside out. Supporting and maintaining Weak Peace, even indirectly, will destroy the fabric of a population if not repaired thoroughly and quickly.
The good thing about Weak Peace (and there is a good thing) is that it can be reversed, or at the very least, the situation can be improved. By exposing injustices and actively working to correct dehumanization and hate in society, the system itself can begin to reform. To encourage this change, we can either spend time focusing on the hate and attacking it with more hate (i.e., bashing people in the press, denouncing people's platforms, name-calling, etc.), or we can throw love at the problem. Fighting hate with negativity will only fuel more of what we don't want, and may exacerbate the situation such that it leads to outright conflict. Fighting the problem with love will sow seeds of compassion, generosity, and altruism.
Doesn't fighting Weak Peace with love seem antithetical to the problem?
It may certainly seem that way, but the compassion used to repair the Weak Peace highlights a counter-culture of lovingkindness, patience, forgiveness, and openness. Fighting Weak Peace with love can reduce the hyper-fear surrounding us, help turn would-be "enemies" into friends and allies, and strengthen our sense of safety and security. The process of opening up to love and living through love will strengthen our human connections and reinforce a sense of unity and community by building solidarity.
To throw love at the problem and begin loosening the thread of Weak Peace we can begin to behave with kindness and understanding. Let's pose question to those who oppose us in caring ways to uncover the pain and fear that undergirds visible hate and tensions. Let's share kind words with those who speak poorly to us in order to melt a hardened heart that has not known kindness or love before.
Weak Peace benefits no one and hurts everyone. Weak Peace reinforces insecurity, fear, and hate while reducing cooperation, solidarity, and love. By dehumanizing one segment of our local and global population based on their home of origin, their ethnicity, their religion, and/or cultural stereotypes, we effectively degrade everyone in society, even those people who believe they have privilege. Weak Peace is correctable, but this task is neither easy, nor quick. We have to commit to living in a state of agape, of altruism, true fellowship, and sincere love for the other, whoever that other might be.
Commitment to love and compassion will defuse the ticking bomb of Weak Peace and build solidarity. Solidarity will make America great again.