Years before Alex P. Keating, my father was a young Republican. He believed in Richard Nixon until the very end, voting for him in 1968 and 1972. Before Donald Trump decided, as late, to adopt this opportunistic moniker as the so-called “law and order” candidate, my father believed in its original distillation. I love my father dearly, but note with much sadness that he has become a Trump apologist. While he is offended by the notion that I have grown as liberal as I have, I strongly hate the fact that, in recent days, we can’t even have a civilized conversation before heading directly for fisticuffs. And on that note, I’m sorry, Mr. President. Sometimes family dynamics are solidly red and solidly blue states of being. Never are they purple.
Conversation between myself and the old man recently have become especially heated. Smoldering resentment and a fear of change are the elixir of Trump supporters and he has fallen into the same trap. It is the same rhetoric that raises blood pressure and accomplishes next to nothing. White baby boomer men will necessarily break for the Donald in a big way and there’s little to nothing Hillary Clinton supporters can do to win those votes. Every election cycle hopes to sway the votes of those whose minds can be changed. Dad made up his mind a long time ago, and since Hillary has been on the public scene for about twenty-five years, he’s had twenty-five years to despise her.
Retirement has given my father the opportunity to tune into Fox News on a consistent basis. If it simply reported facts, albeit with a conservative spin, I could agree to tolerate it. That said, the aforementioned network and its counterpart, conservative talk radio, encourage Pavlovian fear and anxiety in those who consume them. Both feed the diet of the modern day Archie Bunkers, part angry son-of-a-bitch, part grump. Speaking of Archie Bunker, I was recently in a taxi cab wherein the driver was listening to one such over-amplified broadcast, one of those where everyone seems to be half-shouting, half-speaking. I was quite glad my trip was short.
I wonder if other fathers and sons are fighting this same verbal battle. In our last skirmish, my father went a step forward and upped the ante. Should a second Civil War break out, according to him, the two of us would be fighting on different sides. That’s a strong statement and also a bit of a ridiculous one. And if we examine the none-too-distant past, the comparison made is hurtful on more than one level.
My great-great grandfather Camp (and Alabama native) fought for the North, but many of his close relatives fought for the South. Before that, a father and son in my family tree were separated forever, never to be on speaking terms again, when the son opted to join the Patriot cause during the American Revolution. The father decided to stay loyal to Great Britain and the crown. I do not wish to create this kind of fissure in my own life.
War, be it with guns or words, has a way of creating hurts and slights intense enough to last a lifetime. Quakers are not perfect people, but, to our credit, we know what it’s like to experience persecution and to shoulder the burden with dignity. Conscientious Objectors during World War II had their patriotism robustly questioned and were sometimes the victim of violence at the hands of those who did not understand their religious beliefs. Our stance against war and participation in war has many Scriptural antecedents, stated plainly from the very beginning in 17th Century England. We are to remove the occasion for all war. The words are those of our founder, George Fox.
I have no doubt that if Trump were to be elected and to become a war President, he would call for today’s COs to be roughed up, too. He might see CO’s as having some kind of unholy, noxious alliance with the radical Islamic terrorism he seems to find evidence of everywhere. I don't put anything past Trump. In contrast, the peace I advance is for everyone, not only for the battlefield soldier, not only for the site of armed combat, and not only for the divisions inside families.
The application of our Peace Testimony is that broad. It encompasses daily human behavior, not mortars and shells. We can live in this world and yet not be of this world. Most organize religions teach that much, but the approach differs.
In all three Gospels, the Prince of Peace has some tough medicine to administer. The passage was worthy enough to be included three times in three separate books, so clearly whomever transcribed those passages must have known its importance. It speaks to our collective understanding of the recent tragedies, events that have combined to lower our flag to half-stand.
“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other! From now on families will be split apart, three in favor of me, and two against--or two in favor and three against. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
This is not an invocation for violence. Instead, it is a path for us to take. Living a just life in a spirit of love is possible. But in so doing, one will leave behind those who have been poisoned by bitterness and their own blindness. This isn’t a kind of rapturous event or belief in the end times. Neither should this attitude be adopted with smug condescension, the kind I see in the countenance of many social conservatives.
Believing that love is a superior force requires a discerning, critical eye. We must pick our battles, so to speak, and refuse to escalate conflicts that might lead to directions that are in no one’s best interest. Quakers refer to prayer as “holding (something or someone) in the Light. On that note, I am holding the United States of America in the Light.