As the Jan. 6 insurrection unfolded, I was shocked but not surprised. In March, 2016, eight months before election day, I published “Will Fascism Trump Democracy?”—and we’ve been in the foothills of fascism for the past four years.
I remain committed to civil dialogue across the lines that divide us, as I know is true of many of you. But that kind of bridge-building has never been easy—and it will get even harder in the near future, now that the MAGA president has disgraced himself.
I’m not talking about dialogue with a guy in a horned helmet, carrying a spear, painted up as if he were in a Mel Gibson movie. That’s above my pay grade. I’m talking about dialogue with people of the sort you and I have regular access to—colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family members who embrace MAGA beliefs. They aren’t violent people, but even in polite silence they shore up a movement that endangers all of us in ways I don’t think they understand.
Then, of course, there are online strangers. In response to my last post on this page, one reader replied with “Go to hell!”—not the first time I’ve been given that kind of travel advice since 2016. I admired her editorial brevity and exemplary spelling, both of which are rare these days. So I replied in kind with, “Already there.”
We all have vital local roles to play in restoring democracy—even the best leaders can’t do the job without us. But our task must be done from an inner place of nonviolence. For me, at least, that means a steady search for inner peace, even as I seek ways to bring peace to the world around me.
As I’ve been working my way thru a lot of inner agitation—the kind that comes to some of us when democracy and the rule of law are attacked—the words of my longtime mentor Thomas Merton have helped settle me. As I settled, I found a question that’s helping me hold what’s happening in a life-giving way. It reminds me to look for possibilities, not just problems, as I pick thru the wreckage of Jan. 6: How can I creatively engage family members, friends, folks online, and other MAGA adherents in the urgent questions of this moment, when democracy itself is on the line?”
That question puts me between a rock and a hard place, which feels like an honest place to be. On the one hand, I don’t want to miss the good that’s in most people, no matter how toxic their politics may be. On the other hand, I cannot play the game of “false equivalencies,” as if conspiracy theories like QAnon and “election rigging” are in the same league with demonstrable facts. Gray areas abound in life, but some things are either true or false, right or wrong.
At the moment, I have no clear answer to my own question. But because it feels life-giving to me, I’m not going to lay it down. I think it’s a question worth “living into” and maybe (to steal from Rilke), find myself one distant day living into an answer.
In the meantime, companionship and a sense of humor help!
Notes for the Way
This is a space for Journey Guides to post "field notes" and observations along the path.