President Trump: NOW WHAT?

 

by Jerry Leaphart, Wilton Meeting

 

For eight years, I enjoyed being able to say a colloquial phrase--"Obama President, y'all"--even though I came to believe that President Obama was far too centrist oriented in his policies during his tenure for my liking. I nonetheless respected the fact that "Obama [was] president y'all."

It is fair to wonder whether more boldness on President Obama's part would have made a subsequent Trump election less plausible? That latter query looks back in time and while it might be worthwhile to think about it and address it, that query will not be developed here beyond observing that mandates for change need to be acted upon. Otherwise, reactionary energy may gather in forcefulness, resulting in an unexpected shift in public sentiment. 

The attempt here is to introduce queries based on apparent similarities between the present and certain prior eras in American history. It is hoped that doing so may help Quakers discern what can be done in such circumstances.

Is past, prologue?

I put forward the following widely separated time periods as possible antecedents to the present:

  • 1776
  • 1860
  • 1968
  • 2000

1776

The present lacks the fervor of revolutionary opposition to existing sovereign authority that characterized 1776; though, perhaps, not by any great degree. Post January 20th (2017), may mirror the revolutionary time period in terms of the degree of division among the people. In the 1770's, there was a divide based upon having either "patriot" or "loyalist" sentiment. For Quakers, the primacy of our peace testimony all but mandated a loyalist stance, whether our forbearers in the faith supported the patriot cause or not. Because Quakers could not and would not take up arms, they were seen as being loyalist, even if they believed in the "patriot" cause, and otherwise voiced support for that cause. 

There is at least one significant example of where the assumption of Quakers being loyalist, when in fact a Quaker was not, worked out to the benefit of the revolution. I refer here to Oyster Bay, LI, NY, Quaker, Robert Townsend. From casual research, I have come to understand that Townsend was a central figure in the "Culper Spy Ring" that engaged in high level espionage that resulted in the delivery of crucial, even decisive, information to George Washington. Two examples:

  • The Culper Spy Ring obtained information that Benedict Arnold had defected to the British side and was planning to capture George Washington at West Point, NY.
  • The Culper Spy Ring enabled delivery of misinformation to the British causing them not to send troops to attack the French fleet upon its landing in Rhode Island. As a result, the French were able to then proceed to Yorktown VA, where the decisive military engagement took place.

NY Quaker, Robert Townsend, was an integral part of the spy ring, his code name was Samuel Culper Jr. His home, in Oyster Bay, known as Raynham Hall, is maintained as a museum and historical site to this day. 

Is the example of Robert Townsend and 1776 apropos to the present? And, if so, what should Quakers do?

1860

The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 occurred in a context of a deeply divided nation. The South rejected Lincoln's election, with some states authorizing secession before he was inaugurated; and with Civil War commencing within weeks after Lincoln took office. Nothing quite as drastic as that appears to be looming on the horizon at present, but the degree of social angst is nonetheless very high. The present may be a time when spiritual discernment calling for leadership by example of peaceful, silent, will-to-good, may be essential. How can Quakers best work to fulfill that objective? How can we lead by example?

1968

That year was similar to 2016 in that democratic presidents had been in office for consecutive terms. A progressive, civil rights agenda had been pursued and major health care legislation (Medicare), had been enacted. An unpopular war, in Vietnam, was still raging and episodes of serious civil unrest were occurring. Republican, Richard Nixon, won the presidential election, resulting in a sense of shock among more progressive voters. 

Because democrats had pursued the war in Vietnam, it was difficult for people who supported nonviolence to wholeheartedly support the Democratic Party nominee, Hubert Humphrey. In fact, many democrats were rallying to support Robert F Kennedy, who might have succeeded in getting the nomination were it not for his assassination in June of that year. 

Did the intense rivalry between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary voting serve a similar purpose of weakening progressive resolve?

2000

The disputed election of 2000 led to what some accounts refer to as "America's lost decade." A time period bookended by 9/11 at its beginning and by the financial collapse of 2008 toward its end. Characterization of Bush the younger's term in office frequently use terms like "worst president" that served to further the partisan divide as much as anything else. Here, the cause for comparison consists in addressing the query of whether and to what extent does personal acumen, or lack thereof, in the person who is president, matter? 

The US is not only divided along partisan lines at present, the background and leadership style of the person who is president as of January 20, 2017, has generated doubts about competence, intentions and several other factors, including sanity. Many do not trust him. How should Quakers respond to the present reality; and how should we prepare to be useful in the immediate future? 

One thing that is common to the time periods of 1776, 1860, 1968 and 2000, in American history, is that war and suffering followed each of the named time periods. Through all of them, Quakers held fast to their testimonies, ideals and faith. That is what we are called upon to do at present as well.  

The challenge for us may also consist in the detail and the specifics of our plans and actions. There is no short or easy answer to that, beyond remaining faithful to divine guidance. One thing seems certain and that is that we will be called upon to be as active as we can be. 

 

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