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Bending the Arc

Maybe this much is true. Donald Trump, pseudo-president-elect, loser of the real election, charismatic stump-speech populist whose actual ability to govern may well be non-existent, has inflicted significant damage on America’s political infrastructure.

This is scary, of course, but not necessarily a bad thing. I say this even, or especially, if he manages to assemble a far right, white-nationalist-friendly cabinet and inner circle and start attempting to implement some of the promises he made on the campaign trail. If the Trump pseudo-presidency is “normalized” and we-the-people and the media shrug our shoulders at the rebuilding of Jim Crow Nation — the Wall, the Muslim registry and God knows what happens next — then yes, this is a disaster and moving to Canada is a viable option. But if Trump, instead, is the reincarnation of Bull Connor, someone who makes a dark, hidden ugliness suddenly clear to the public at large, then his rise to power may be the harbinger of profound, positive change.

“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe,” abolitionist Theodore Parker wrote more than 150 years ago, prefiguring the words of Martin Luther King. “The arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

But the arc doesn’t bend by itself.

The Trump era may be defined less by the damage he inflicts than by the outrage he incurs: the outrage of a public that loves this country but also manages to love the whole planet and revere the principles of compassion and connection. This may, indeed, be an era of change, but not the change that Trump himself expects. Perhaps he’s just the trigger.

Consider, for instance, the idea of creating a Muslim registry, notoriously defended last week by former Trump-backing super PAC spokesman Carl Higbie, who told Megyn Kelly of Fox News, “We did it during World War II with the Japanese.” He proceeded to cite the internment camps, quasi-prisons in which as many as 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live between 1942 and 1946, as a “precedent.”

“Look,” he said, “the president needs to protect America first.”

What does it mean to “protect America”? This is now a concept that is up for grabs, thanks to the non-election of Donald Trump. As his baldly racist plan to pretend to protect America gains publicity, determination to oppose it also grows, and, in that opposition, bring deeper values into play in our national politics.

Thus: “We need to stand in solidarity with Muslim people who are being targeted by Donald Trump,” “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah said to a cheering studio audience. “If they start registering Muslims in America, we all register as Muslims.”

And slowly the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

“Noah said that if all citizens stood with immigrants and said, ‘I am a Muslim,’ it ‘would take away any power the registry might have,’ according to Huffington Post reporter David Moye.

And several websites have sprung up creating this opportunity, including a site called Register US, which contains a pledge signed, so far, by nearly 30,000 people:

“Donald Trump has said he would ‘absolutely’ require all Muslims to register in a database. This is just one of Trump’s racist and Islamophobic proposals that threaten our ideals of freedom and equality. We must come together and fight back before he takes these dangerous, hateful and unconstitutional ideas any further.

“We pledge to stand together with Muslims across the country, and around the world. Because when we stand as one, no American can be singled out by their race, religion, income, gender identity or sexual orientation.”

If such a movement grows, its effect would not be simply to defeat a bad plan and return the country to some sort of pre-Trump normal, but rather to push the nation further beyond the us-vs.-them mentality that still imprisons it and keeps it tied to fear and — yes, oh Lord — war. Trump could foment a revolution that is the opposite of the one his campaign rhetoric called out for.

I believe a larger consciousness is waiting to lay claim on American politics.

Trump says build a wall. Even if the wall is mostly a metaphor, the effect of that metaphor is to lock in consciousness, as though “America” is the only truth Americans are capable of understanding: Fifty states and that’s it. We’re exceptional and the rest of you, keep out. Locked-in consciousness never keeps people safe, but it does keep them scared. You might call it patriotic absolutism, which yields fear, violence and war.

Trump or no Trump, this caged thinking has had its day. The primary characteristic of truth, someone once said, is that it willingly yields to greater truth. It’s convenient to organize a nation state around the lesser truth of us vs. them and the ever-lurking presence of The Enemy, but the time has come for this truth to yield to the greater truth of one planet, one humanity.

Perhaps it begins with these words: “I am a Muslim.”

More articles by:

Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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