Monday, January 11, 2021

The Storming of the U.S. Capitol

 



The events of 6 January 2021, when a Trump-rally fueled, offshoot mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and Congressional chambers, will be analyzed for some time to come.  Not since the War of 1812, when the Capitol was attacked and burned by British troops, has this architectural and emplaced symbol of democracy been so desecrated. From the perspective of nonviolent theory and practice, the wake of the largely peaceful, nonviolent Black Lives Matter protests nationwide and in Washington, D.C. across the summer of 2020 and beyond affords us a comparative lens with which to understand and to process what has unfolded.  What does this mean for our democracy?  To our allies’ democracies?  What does this event mean for aspiring and newly budding democracies worldwide?

It is illuminating to consider nonviolent theorist Johan Galtung’s highlighting of three central kinds of violence:  (1) direct or physical interpersonal violence, (2) institutional and systemic violence, and (3) cultural violence.  We witnessed direct violence in the mob’s physical attack on the place, persons like Congressional police and staffers.  We witnessed institutional and systemic violence in the Trump Administration’s use of its power to hold a counter-rally on the day of the Electoral College’s vote formalization:  in short, we saw institutional and systemic forms of violence that used power to plan a timed rally that would funnel angry, upset Trump supporters and violent hate group supporters to intimidate and disrupt the democratic process of the U.S. Congress’s final tally and codification of the Electoral College vote, which was to confirm Joe Biden as U.S. President-Elect who will be inaugurated in a few short weeks.  Other institutional and systemic modes of violence include Twitter’s and Facebook’s and other social media outlets purveying misinformation and outright propaganda to gullible, non-college educated Trump supporters:  tech companies’ profit motives are valued by tech leaders more than democratic ideals and practices.  Last, we observed cultural violence in President Trump’s and ancillary organized hate groups’ uses of cultural modes of violence, such as harnessing ignorance, racism and toxic masculinity, to draw the riotous crowd of mostly men into ransacking the Capitol grounds, resulting in the deaths of at least five people, one of whom was a woman.

African Americans, Persons of Color, and those among us as white allies of the current generation of the Civil Rights Movement, including ‘Black Lives Matter’, and women’s branches of it, like ‘Say Her Name’, ‘Me, Too’ and ‘Pink Hats’ movements, all demonstrate that protest in the streets and registering disagreement with unjust political forces can be done peacefully and well.  All of these nonviolent movements showcase the central role played by peaceful marches and placing well organized bodies in the streets to communicate messages about injustice to those in power.  The police presence across the summer 2020 protests and marches to control these largely peaceful protesters was stringent, culminating with many BLM protesters in Portland even being kidnapped by anonymous, Federal government officers in unmarked vans.

In sharp contrast, the crowd of a few hundred mostly white, mostly male Trump supporters pushing their way into the Capitol had little pushback, and far less surveillance.  The mob, whom the erstwhile outgoing President Trump, with a phalanx of populist conspiracies proliferating on social media, had whipped up into a lather of rage, violence, and puerile vandalism.  The Capitol and halls of Congress along with the main chambers were overrun, trashed.  Windows and furniture were smashed, and ‘souvenirs’ such as items from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, were stolen and brandished proudly by individuals in the marauding mob.

Fortunately, eventually the National Guard and D.C. police were able to eject the vandals, secure the grounds so that members of Congress could return and complete, by the wee hours of the morning, the normally fairly mundane and ceremonial business of accepting the Electoral College’s votes tallies from each state, with some debate.  It ended not with a bang, but with a gavel.  Yet the late night rapping of that final gavel must remind us of the tasks before us so that we and our global democratic experimenters may flourish.

The tasks of nonviolence and its adherents to support democracy entail creating proper modes and antidotes to the three kinds of violence.  To peacefully prevent direct violence of this sort in the future, there must be greater security, protection and planning to safeguard democratic processes and the representatives and staffers whose job it is to carry them out.  For example, who were the mindless or maligned individuals and bureaucracies in the city of Washington, D.C. who approved the precariously timed Trump rally, staged on the contentious day of the Electoral College’s vote counts?   Didn’t anyone in the approvals process worry about that?  And if not, why not?  Also, how can racism in policing be averted so that white, male protesters won’t automatically be assumed to be peaceful ‘patriots’ who are essentially given a free pass to ransack government buildings, whereas protesters of color and their white fellow protesters are often beaten, tear-gassed, and met with overwhelming police presence?

To nonviolently inhibit systemic and institutional forms of violence, we could benefit from reexamining our societal overreliance on social media for ‘news’ and for ‘information.’ While objective, fact-seeking journalism as democracy’s Fourth Estate is shrinking, uber wealthy tech giants like Twitter or Facebook are able to sell lucrative advertising to web-surfers, boosting profits while disseminating absurd conspiracy theories that perpetuate racist and sexist cultural myths.  Also, our democracy itself could use a reboot:  U.S. governmental representatives skew drastically toward being comprised of old, white males.  More diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, and age, among other variables, could increase the inclusivity and sense of participation and buy-in from those who are government purports to represent but often fails to.  Even many of the supporters of the Democratic party were disappointed that Joe Biden as another elderly, white male was the best their party could do to get their candidate for President elected.  Women are half of the U.S. and world’s population:  democracies worldwide, however, have fallen short of reflecting that in their representation by government officials.  Institutions and policies match those who make and sustain them:  the nonviolent perspective asks us to wonder, why are governmental officials not more inclusive and representative of those who elect them?

Last, to stem the tide of cultural violence, we would do well to find ways to impede unethical leaders and social media from spewing propaganda.  Social media critics suggest revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (1996); this law essentially gives free reign to internet trawlers, liars, and propagandists of domestically and internationally located cubicle farms, often paid for by adversaries of our democracy.  By removing loopholes that enable social media producers and consumers to participate in denigrating historically marginalized and oppressed individuals and communities, democracy can better support its citizens. By electing more diverse representatives to Congress and other governmental posts, and by including working class whites and persons of color, democracy may become more attuned to and listen to all citizens. By focusing on what we can do, individually and collectively, to peacefully support our democracy, we can gain hope and a roadmap of action, so that a repeat of the events of 8 January 2021 on the U.S. Capitol won’t happen again so easily.

 

Ellen W. Gorsevski (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is Associate Professor in the School of Media and Communication (SMC), and Affiliated Faculty in American Culture Studies (ACS), Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS), and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Program (WGSS) at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Dr. Gorsevski’s research focuses on contemporary rhetoric of peacebuilding, social justice and environmental justice movements. Research interests include environmental rhetoric and critical animal studies, international/intercultural rhetoric, political rhetoric, social movement rhetoric, media criticism, and nonviolent communication. Her sole authored books include: Dangerous Women: The Rhetoric of the Women Nobel Peace Laureates (Communication and Social Justice series of Troubador Publishing, 2014) and Peaceful Persuasion:  The Geopolitics of Nonviolent Rhetoric (SUNY Press, 2004).  She has published in journals such as Journal of Multicultural Discourses; Quarterly Journal of Speech; Western Journal of Communication; and Environmental Communication.  She serves on the Steering Committee of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Global Warming: Can It be Stopped?


 

Concerned about the Earth your children and grandchildren will inherit?  I am, so I have written a book about global warming/climate change hoping to inform and encourage action.  The book, Global Warming: Can It Be Stopped, subtitled, The Science, Psychology, and Morality of Climate Change, is available from the publisher, Archway, or from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever books are sold.

The basic premise of the book is that climate change is as much a human behavior issue as it is a scientific, factual one.  Facts are useless unless the mind is willing to accept them.  In this book the scientific facts are presented in an easy to read Q&A format.  The facts are examined in the context of the war against climate science.  It will become clear to the reader that the science about the anthropogenic (human) cause of global warming is settled.  There is no doubt among the overwhelming vast majority of scientists that humans are unequivocally responsible for the unparalleled rate of global warming we are witnessing.  An important distinction is also made between beliefs and facts.

The reader is challenged to think about the psychological, religious, and spiritual aspects of the issue.  The reasons people reject the facts of global warming are detailed.  The psychological mechanisms for doing so are explained.  The hope is that people will develop better insight about how they and others treat the facts of global warming. In addition, the 4.2 billion children of Abraham are challenged to get informed and involved in saving our planet for future generations.  It is argued that it is their moral duty to do so.

The book encourages love of our lonely little planet and all its inhabitants by stressing that we should not take Earth’s blessings for granted.  The reader is challenged to make “sacrifices” in order to prevent further damage to our environmental system.  Principles to guide a discussion of the issue with family and friends are offered. Steps we all can take to reduce our carbon footprint are listed. Questions for further thought and discussion are included at the end of each chapter.

A strong case is made that we must act now. It is not only in the interest of future generations that we do so, but our own as well.  The book has been described as a passionate and rationally persuasive plea to reduce our carbon emissions.  If we can accomplish that, we can reduce global warming and preserve the benefits we all have enjoyed from our Mother Earth for future generations.


Paul Robinson is Professor Emeritus at North Central State College where he taught for 22 years.  He has been a practicing psychologist for over 50 years.  He is one of the early members of the ACN where he served on the Steering Committee.  As the father of two sons and the grandfather of four grandchildren, he is deeply concerned about the Earth we are leaving our children and grandchildren.  Paul feels a moral responsibility to speak out about the state of our planet and the health and wellbeing of future generations.





Monday, November 30, 2020

The International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education



    The International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education has been held in Ohio for the past fourteen years. Usually, a university or college campus hosts the multi-day event and opens its doors to speakers and participants from all over the world. This year the conference’s theme was Transforming Conflict and Crisis to Justice and Hope: An Initiative for Peacebuilders and it was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event had two sections. The first was a student-led pre-conference that lasted from October 30th through November 1st and the second was the main conference that went on from November 6th through November 7th. Many speakers from national and international organizations participated. Each discussed their work in the field of peacebuilding and some held workshops for emerging professionals. Several student members of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence served on the conference planning committee. While the event was being put together, ACN Peace Scholars were also developing a new peacebuilding initiative titled Peace Talks. Peace Talks were partly inspired by the International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education. They are group sessions composed of Ashland University students and faculty who meet bi-weekly to discuss issues near and dear to the campus community.

    The student-led pre-conference portion of the International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education occurred the final weekend of October and lasted Friday through Sunday. The first session was titled Justice in Images: From the Amazon Rainforest to the United States of America. In this event, award-winning journalist Tyrone Butler shared photographs of indigenous Brazilian communities within the Amazon rainforest. His narration and use of visual story-telling gave attendees insight into the critical environmental issues that threatened the natives’ existence. The second talk titled Cultivating Peace: Thriving Attitudes and A Resilient Mindset was held on Saturday. It consisted of a panel of experts discussing sources of both unity and disunity in the United States as well as the role young peacebuilders could serve in fostering productive change. The final session on Sunday was titled Young Professionals and Students Resume: Review and Career Information. This workshop allowed attendees to submit their resumes and receive feedback from senior colleagues with experience in the field of conflict resolution.

    The main conference of the International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education was held on November 6th and 7th. The first event was an opening panel with speakers from the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, the Minnesota Department of Education, the Organization of American States, and UNESCO. Members touched upon issues that impacted the United States as well as other countries like racial violence and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Afterward, multiple workshop sessions were held. These focused on researching and teaching civil resistance, listening training in conflict management, and the history of peacebuilding institutions. The following day included workshops on peace pedagogy when studying abroad and facilitating community conversations with the purpose of social justice reform. To finish things off, there were a couple of seminars on Sunday. The first was about the effects of gun violence on communities and the second was on the Take Heart Initiative, a program where formerly incarcerated men mentor inner-city at-risk youth.

    Peace Scholars from the Ashland Center for Nonviolence who helped plan the International Conference for Conflict Resolution and Education have also created a new peacebuilding initiative titled Peace Talks. Peace Talks is about holding important conversations in a comfortable setting and a casual manner. These gatherings aim to share ideas and expand participant's understanding of topics by learning about other's experiences. Furthermore, to imitate the forum-like structure of the International Conference for Conflict Resolution and Education, Peace Talks are open to anyone from Ashland University. As of right now, the ACN has held two sessions on the themes of violence and community.

    The 2020 International Conference on Conflict Resolution and Education was a success. Dozens of people participated and obtained valuable skills from professionals in the field of conflict resolution. Hopefully, all attendees will go on to use their newfound expertise for the betterment of their communities as the Peace Scholars have done at Ashland University.

Carolina is a student at Ashland University. She plans to double major in Political Science and Political Economics. She is a Peace Scholar for the Ashland Center For Nonviolence as well as a member of the Ashbrook Scholar, Diversity Scholar, and Honors Programs. 









Thursday, October 29, 2020

Nothing to Worry About

By Craig Hovey

Of course there’s plenty to worry about. Between COVID, civil unrest, and an important presidential election, American life right now is filled with a lot of anxiety. But you and I don’t need to worry about that stuff. I don’t mean those things are unimportant. I just mean we don’t need to worry.

As lovers of peace, we know that our way of being in the world—even a world in crisis—doesn’t need to be determined by what is going wrong. Our calm is a peaceful spirit, unshaken and non-reactive. We can be like James Bond… and hobbits.

Several years ago, movie critic A. O. Scott noted that the new James Bond differs from his predecessor. Daniel Craig’s new Bond is brooding, vengeful, and ruthless. He has a chip on his shoulder that perfectly matches all of the bad that villains have done to him. He’s darkly resolute and grieving.

But this is all very boring, Scott observes. James Bond used to be different, but now is just like every other movie hero. 

I know grief has always been part of the Dark Knight's baggage, but the same can hardly be said of James Bond, Her Majesty's suave, cynical Cold War paladin. His wit was part of his—of our—arsenal, and he countered the totalitarian humorlessness of his foes with a wink and a bon mot.

Reactive strength is only as strong as what it opposes. Stronger still is a blissful naivete that has its own positive way of being, undetermined by the threat of labeling all of life a tragedy. With wit and humor, the James Bonds of Roger Moore and Sean Connery didn’t let the aggression of villainy become mirrored in themselves.

Likewise, the bravery and confidence of Tolkein’s hobbits surpassed that of fellow travelers who were aware of the depth of the evil they were up against. The hobbits only knew the friendship and peace of the shire where it never occurred to anybody to lock their doors. Hobbit peace isn’t a goal for violent Middle Earth, but an origin, a foundation, an unwavering and unending source of harmony and strength.

 With heroes like these, there’s no need to worry. My heart is calm.

  

Craig Hovey is executive director of the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Christians and Violence: A Modest Proposal



For the church throughout most of its history the question of the Christian and violence has been controversial. Should Christians ever pick up the sword? If they can, is there a limit to the kind of violence they can inflict? If they cannot, can they still support the war effort in non-violent roles (e.g. working in hospitals caring for the wounded)?

For the first three centuries of Christianity, there is little doubt that the church rejected violence and going to war as an option for Christians. Some have questioned this suggesting that the church's prohibition against military service in the Roman army was largely due to the inability of Christians to participate in pagan worship and declaring allegiance to a divine Caesar. Christian historian Ron Sider has effectively countered that latter argument. The first generations of Christians embraced nonviolence as a hallmark of following Jesus.

Nevertheless, a change did happen in the third century. It did not take place overnight; it took some time. But, what John Howard Yoder refers to as a Constantinian Shift did take place when that notable emperor formally codified toleration of Christianity in 313 CE.. Among other things that were changing for the church in that time was the possibility to serve in the military and bear the sword. But once the church began to tolerate and later commend waging war in support of the empire, there still needed to be some rules. When is it acceptable to go to war? Once war is declared how is it to be fought? It was Augustine (354-430 CE), theologian, philosopher, and Bishop in North Africa who would put bones and then flesh on those two questions, which would become known as the Just War Theory and with the passing of time the Just War Tradition.

There are two questions of the Just War Theory/Tradition (JWT) that must be answered in the affirmative for war to be a just endeavor: The first question concerns the acceptable conditions in which war can be declared (Latin, Jus ad Bellum), and the second inquiry concerns how the war is justly prosecuted (Latin, Jus in bello). Joe Carter* outlines both:

There are six criteria that must be satisfied before entering war can be considered just:

1. Just Cause-- There must be a just and proper reason for going to war. Some of the justifiable reasons include self-defense, protecting the innocent (e.g., preventing genocide), restoring human rights wrongly denied, and assisting an ally in their self-defense. 

2. Proportionate Cause-- The good of going to war must outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. In other words, going to war must prevent more evil and suffering than it is expected to cause. 

3. Right Intention-- Our reasons and motives for engaging in warfare must noble and in line with the ethic of Christian love. We can go to war to right a wrong or restore a just peace but not to restore our "national pride" or to seek revenge against an enemy. 

4. Right Authority-- War can only be authorized by a legitimate governing authority. This means it has to be a governing authority we would recognize as fitting the criteria of Romans 13. But it also means that the proper governing authority has actual sovereign authorization to engage in war. For example, the President of the United States has the proper authority to initiate warfare against Canada while the governor of North Dakota does not. 

5. Reasonable Chance of Success-- The initiation of warfare brings violence, pain, and suffering. This cost is only worth paying if it will, as we noted, outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. If there is no reasonable chance of success in warfare there can be no reasonable chance of using warfare to restore a just peace. 

6. Last Resort-- Engaging in warfare must be the last reasonable and workable option for addressing problems. Any peaceful alternatives, such as diplomacy or non-violent political pressure, must first be exhausted before going to war. 

Historically, Christian thinkers have proposed two primary criteria for just execution of war, discrimination and proportionality. 

Discrimination-- The criterion of discrimination includes two key components, "innocence" and "deliberate attack." The first rule of just warfare is that we do not target or kill the innocent. In this context, the term innocence refers to whether individuals are able cause direct harm-- whether willingly or reluctantly-- either to us or to our military forces that are engaged in just warfare. Such people are considered "noncombatants" and are immune from attack because the meet the qualification of innocence. 

Proportionality-- The criterion of proportionality in waging warfare is similar to the criterion of “proportionate cause” in deciding to go to war: The good of going to war must outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. In other words, going to war must prevent more evil and suffering than it is expected to cause.

It is not the purpose of this post to get into the details of these criteria. The crucial point to be made is that in the history of the church, the burden of proof has rested on those who would wage war, not on those who oppose it. Specific criteria need to be met in order to go to war, and then once the war is being fought, it must be fought in certain ways. Any war that does not meet the criteria of the first question is unjust if war is declared, and any war is unjust if it is fought without regard to the criteria of the second question. These criteria are so important that theoretically once war is being waged, if one side realizes it cannot win the war without fighting it unjustly, the only recourse is surrender. In other words, those who embrace some aspect of the JWT theoretically are situational pacifists. If the criteria are not met, there should be no war. In other words, for pacifists and just warriors nonviolence is the default position.

I cannot speak for war in other religious traditions-- Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and others will have to speak for themselves. But what I can say is that throughout church history, the default position for Christians has always been one of nonviolence. That is the church's natural state. Peace is the normal condition.

Sadly, that has not always been so. Indeed, it seems that for much of the church in America, nonviolence is not the default position. Even from a superficial glance of the church in American history, it appears that the burden of proof no longer rests with those who are beating the drums of war, but those who are opposed. In the lead up to the War in Iraq that began in 2003, it was obvious that those who urged caution were the ones that had to explain themselves. Churches throughout America almost immediately after the drums started to beat, threw themselves into patriotic worship and casting the soon-to-be conflict in terms of holy war. Christians who objected were accused of being unpatriotic and called all manner of disparaging names by other Christians! Pope John Paul II rightly came out in opposition to the war because it did not satisfy the criteria of the JWT (the official position of the Catholic Church) to the consternation of many Catholics in America.

For many Christians today, a just war means nothing more than a war we want to fight, and fight in any way necessary to win. There is no longer any consideration that in order to stay away from noncombatants, we must be willing to sacrifice more of our combatants, not because we want to, but because to target those unarmed would be unjust. No longer is surrender an option if the war cannot be fought justly. We must win at all costs even if more harm is done in winning the war as opposed to suing for peace. Is it possible to imagine during the Gulf War, President George W. Bush going on national television to say," I have consulted with our generals and we have come to the conclusion that we cannot win this war and fight it justly. Therefore, I have sent a communique to Saddam Hussein asking him for terms of peace." Of course, that would never happen, but for those who say they take just war seriously, that truly is an option. Nonviolence is the default position.

That is a long introduction to my modest proposal. My proposal is that for Christians, regardless of their views on the church and nonviolence-- what if all of us could affirm what our historic tradition maintains-- as followers of Jesus, nonviolence is our default position; and those who seek our support in going to war are the ones who bear the burden of proof. What if Christians in all their various understandings of war and violence could sit down and at the very least, say with one voice to the powers, "It's your task to convince us." If we could take that modest step together as Mainliners, evangelicals, conservatives and liberals, we would in a small way be able to bear witness to Jesus as the Prince of Peace; and perhaps there will be a little less bloodshed in our world.

___

* Joe Carter, "A brief introduction to the just war tradition: Jus ad bellum," https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/a-brief-introduction-to-the-just-war-tradition-jus-ad-bellum/; "A brief introduction to the just war tradition: Jus in bello," https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/a-brief-introduction-to-the-just-war-tradition-jus-in-bello/.

___

Allan R. Bevere is the pastor of Ashland First United Methodist Church (Ohio) and a Professional Fellow in Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He serves on the ACN Steering Committee. He blogs at allanbevere.com.


Friday, October 2, 2020

How Listening Helps Talking in Divisive Political Climates

 


      As our presidential election draws near in what has become a very divisive political climate, we may find ourselves spending more time reading posts on social media and viewing news programs, both of which tend to present polarized views.  This polarization can affect how we think and talk about political issues.  How do we talk to family and friends who may have different political views without harming those relationships?  The answer may well be found in research associated with conflict resolution.  This research finds that conversations about political issues can become argumentative or emotionally charged. An effective communication strategy is to identify your listening purpose. Listening purposes include critical listening, listening for understanding, empathetic listening, and listening for enjoyment.  Our choice of listening purpose influences what we listen for, how we interpret information, and how we respond.  In most conversations involving political or social issues, our listening choices tend to be critical.

    In political conversations, critical listening provides one the opportunity to construct counterarguments and rebuttals in support of one’s position or opinion.  This listening purpose may produce a victor but does little to make the conversation comfortable for all participants, especially family and friends. Listening critically also contributes to the potential of a conversation spiraling into a serial argument. Over time, these patterns can erode positivity in relationships.

Listening to understand, on the other hand, allows participants in the conversation to possibly find common ground, even if they disagree about candidates or issues.  This purpose requires one to paraphrase what was heard and to ask questions for clarification of position and underlying interests. An example is asking what the most valuable quality in a chosen candidate looks like to the other person. A follow-up question could be asking what we expect someone with that quality to do as a leader. Listening to understand shows family and friends that you have an interest their views. It also can set a pattern of reciprocity for the conversation in which listening to understand becomes a focus for both people as they take turns.

We do find ourselves living in and coping with a divisive political climate.  However, that does not mean that our political conversations have to be divisive.  In conversations with family and friends, there should be an expectation of being heard with respect, albeit sometimes without agreement. When we have a listening purpose to understand, that expectation is better realized.

 

Gwen A. Hullman, Ph.D. is Associate Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at Ashland University. She studies conflict resolution and health communication, and has served as a volunteer mediator for several years.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Iceberg Dead Ahead! Key Threats Which Will Sink America

image.png

“Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12, NIV)

If the American people were to wake up to the wisdom of the words above, we would realize - as some undoubtedly have already come to suspect - that America’s perceived greatness and its near-global hegemony stand atop a house of cards. As even the Chinese dictator Mao Zedong could clearly see, American dominance was and continues to be “a paper tiger… unable to withstand the wind and the rain,” the foolish man who builds upon a foundation of sand instead of rock.

Much of this underlying weakness is ignored because of the haughtiness of the ruling political class, made evident by the continued lack of accountability in the government in facing up to America’s major systemic problems: police brutality, suppression of the right to peaceably assemble, lagging school systems, child poverty and hunger, the obscene costs of higher education, and the titanic military-surveillance matrix. All of these problems have occurred and intensified under what many refer to as the “Pax Americana,” and, adding to the already paralyzing ironies, are almost all issues of illiberality and lack of resources in what we are told is the freest and wealthiest nation in the history of, well, history.

I am interested here in pointing out the two major contemporary reasons that the heart of America is being steered on a treacherous course toward a wider downfall. The first culprit is American exceptionalism, the religion of the patriot and the tool of many a phony statesman to remold the sensibilities and good intentions of the common man. While the civil religion of American exceptionalism should ring warning bells in the minds and hearts of American evangelicals, they tend to be one of the main proponents of its pillars and precepts. Instead of worshiping God, our timeless, loving Father, so many Americans profess a form of Christianity which aligns itself nigh-inseparably with the fleeting, hateful interests of the modern federal government. It is one thing to believe that the maxims of liberty and equality of man at America’s founding are ideas worth continuing, and it is quite the opposite thing to mock God with blind reverence for the rusting hull of our ever-growing ship of state. One way that we as citizens can work to clean the barnacles from her side and help her push past these choppy waters is to recognize that we have a problem. This may seem simple, but American exceptionalism thrives when we do not ask simple questions like: “where are my tax dollars going?”; “why do so many other nations hate us?”; “would I trust the people I vote for to watch my kids for five minutes at Wal-Mart?” This last question brings us to the next large part of the problem.

The other guilty party in this “haughtiness dilemma” is the President of the United States. Not simply the current chief executive, mind you. In reality, all of our nation’s Presidents since the Second World War have either overlooked America’s harmful trajectory or been actively complicit in it. It is a prerequisite of the office since its founding to appeal to some form of American exceptionalism, but this can come in forms less putrid than its modern manifestations. It can come in the form of calls to live up to the noble ideals of our Declaration of Independence or in calls to hope and the perseverance of community after disaster strikes. The latter occurred briefly following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and far more recently in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd murder. However, both times were short-lived. The character of the people had been poisoned by the prevalence of American exceptionalism; its rabid supporters and those who see its evils manifested cannot long see eye to eye. Disappointingly, it has been so long since America has had a President who consistently works to build hope and community at home or abroad that a good number of people alive today have not lived in such an America. I know I certainly haven’t had that experience, even when I was too young to remember such things. Presidents certainly have their shining moments; even those of the “polished turd” variety. Southerner President Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation. Radical cold-warrior President Nixon opened talks with China and established arms limitation treaties with the Soviet Union. Regardless, one thing that holds modern Presidents together is their hubris and inability to let haughtiness give way to humility. Even when a President is forced to apologize when scandals see the light of day, they keep working on their next schemes behind closed doors.

The lack of humility and honor in the modern executive branch is exemplified in its current leader, President Trump. Something new is happening; where Presidents once put on at least a facade of apology, President Trump has realized a level of executive arrogance that causes him to feel no need to admit to his wrongs. Instead, he gloats and spins tales that are often so absurd that they cannot be disproven by traditional means. This should not necessarily be an issue in a republican form of government, but President Trump wields the simplistic and worshipful rhetoric of American exceptionalism like few others; he certainly wields it well enough to keep a vast proportion of eligible voters convinced that things like health-care reform, defense spending reductions, or a less violence-prone policing system are steps toward the rebirth of Joseph Stalin.

I do not propose that the solution to a marvelous new America would be to give up all vestiges of American national pride. Pride in the incredible scientific and industrial achievements and founding values of the United States is something that I never give up despite my misgivings about America’s modern violence, corporatism, and hypocrisies. I propose the rejection only of the core tenets of American exceptionalism doctrine. Devotion to a flag and an anthem and a powerful President obscures the uses of critical thinking, reasoned judgments, and the right of the people to decide their representatives and their destinies. Faith should be placed in the Almighty who died for our sins, not in the power of a hellishly equipped military to exert our will on the unwilling. Schools should pass out more Constitution booklets instead of pounding the Pledge of Allegiance into our children's’ impressionable heads. Before our President holds up a Bible in the streets, his government should guarantee that those same streets are not the sites of police shootings or chemical attacks on the peaceably assembled.

Those in command and in places of privilege on board the Titanic when it sank were those most confident in its invincibility. They were also the least likely to perish should anything go awry. They plotted full steam ahead into the abyssal night despite reasoned judgement. Their level of “Titanic exceptionalism” was unchecked. Before our national vessel is torn asunder by the mass on the horizon, we the people must reject American exceptionalism for a reasoned love of nation; nation not as a machine of progress, but as a community meant to seek domestic tranquility and promotion of the understanding of the equal station naturally given man by his God to all nations, not as their barbaric invaders but as their willing company.
________________________________________________________________________
Konrad Hodgman is an ACN Peace Scholar and currently sits on the ACN Steering Committee. He is a Junior at Ashland University majoring in International Political Studies, Political Science, and History with a minor in Ethics.