From MLK To Nathan Phillips: Love Can Defeat Hate

The U.S. ruling class wants desperately to put its electoral duopoly back together again, with both parties serving corporate interests, interchangeably. They are betting that Donald Trump is a temporary disruption to the smooth operations of the system, and that the Republican Party will be recaptured by the dog whistlers. Odds are, they are correct, and the ruling class electoral political crisis will end when Trump leaves the White House, although the emboldened racists will doubtless continue to embarrass the corporate managers of the GOP. With the corporate consensus re-established, both parties will speak the same language as they collaborate to manage the last days of capitalism – and, maybe, of human existence on Earth.

—Glen Ford

Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincided with a viral race-fueled interaction between a Native American man by the name of Nathan Phillips and a gang of budding Trump fascists. The video went viral not so much for the events of the day itself, but for the chilling feeling, one got after watching the video. As Nathan Phillips plays his drum, chants and prays, he is surrounded by a group of devilish children who appear to lack any form of feeling other than the desire to humiliate and degrade. As the gang leader stares at Mr. Phillips, one can see the coldness in his eyes. The smirk on his face declares that this is all a sick joke. Mr. Phillips’ sincerity, passion and desire for a better world is nothing but weakness to this young man. It’s a haunting picture of Trump’s America.

The leader’s followers are no better. One begins to feel trapped as it feels like the gang is surrounding the viewer. You get the sense that they could do something awful and go home, without a care in the world. The gang looks homogenous, organized and ruthless. They even look modern—a new image of fascism, away from the black and white photos, begins to emerge. There at least feels like a threat of violence is about to boil over. We should be glad no one was armed. This is Trump’s America, ready to blow.

But after every single one of the white bourgeoisie left-liberal establishment dumped on this kid, I was struck with a desire to read this situation differently. I wanted to read this situation through a Henry A. Giroux lens. Giroux is like a left intellectual version of David Bowie. He is funky, open and sincere all at once. I was wondering what Henry was thinking. Could it really be hate? It seemed unlikely.

After white outrage broke the floodgates I looked back at the response of Nathan Phillips to the fascists. There was a metaphor here. Even as the fascists jeered, Phillips remained steady, playing his drum and praying. It struck me: Phillips was literally marching to the beat of his own drum.

This was an incredible image because our society has become so reactionary to everything Donald Trump does. He moves his tiny hand and the entire country moves as well. Mr. Phillips stood as a man with a consistent narrative. A man who unfortunately is of a community that has faced a consistent arch of genocide, theft, exploitation and poverty throughout the history of the United States. An arch of ruthless white supremacy that has been relentless as it has been resilient. And while the arch, to quote King, may bend towards justice, it is only so slightly.

Donald Trump is not only bending the arch away from justice, he is breaking the arch all together. But nothing Mr. Trump believes is necessarily radical. It is only consistent with American ideology: government is tyranny, America is the best, self-interest is a virtue. Donald, sadly, does not have radical believes. 40% of the country agrees with him.

It’s not so much the believes that are radical, it’s the actions. While many politicians have threatened to get rid of government as we know it, Mr. Trump has been the only one willing to eliminate it all together for more than an entire month to prove his point. And while many politicians preach about the liberal hysteria around climate change and the dangers regulations pose to the American workforce, few have stripped environmental protections like Donald Trump. And while there never really has been a pro-immigrant President, Donald Trump is the only one to make xenophobia the only thing that determines his success as a President. Nothing about the current stand-off will hurt Donald Trump. The attitude now is: build that wall and we win. The future of humanity, let alone the future of immigrants, does not matter.

There is a newness to Donald Trump then, but not in the way we think. He is not bringing new ideas to America, he is merely letting them out of the box. Imagine an electrician wired your entire house. It took hours of work and planning. If someone walked in and turned on the light switch, you would have to acknowledge that person changed what your house looks like. Yet the groundwork was not done by the person who flipped the switch, but by the electrician. The 1% has spent decades hallowing out America’s institutions, deregulating our markets, rigging our profits, and corrupting our politicians and media. They liked to do this all behind closed doors, with the lights turned off. Now a goofy man without a conscious walks in—sees a switch that says DO NOT TOUCH, and precedes to flip it on with an evil grin. Chaos ensues, much to this man’s delight.

Donald Trump may have little to no plan but he does have a profound influence on American culture. And I think this can largely be blamed on the way the media covers him. What became clear to me this week was that Donald Trump’s anger has overtaken the country. In the age of Trump literally the only emotion accessible to the American public is anger. Love is seen as compromise, love is seen as weakness, love, to quote Amy Winehouse, is a losing game.

There was no outrage by Phillips. Imagine what would have happened had he responded in kind. He would have been made a villain. We would have had to engage in the disingenuous “two sides” debate again.

White outrage then seemed to me to be first and foremost an expression of privilege. Anger by people of color is marked as dangerous, even criminal. And maybe that is why we should be angry—because we can afford to be. But I found that anger was crippling for my fellow white people for completely different reasons. Anger cripples white America spiritually, not legally.

Everything changed when Donald Trump hijacked the country’s zeitgeist and turned us into a hate-filled nation with more race based tension than anytime in recent memory. I was moved by Nathan Phillips, who went to a higher place than anger. He said about his interaction with the young men, who were at an anti-reproductive rights rally: “I wish I could see that energy of that young mass of young men, put that energy into making this country, really, really great, helping those that are hungry.” This was such a pleasant statement, and such a healthy one. And to me it seemed to be just the opposite of the intimidation tactics used against Mr. Phillips. It was a quote that invited the world to love.

But the left has to acknowledge that Phillips’ words could apply to us too. If all our anger about this one kid was turned into love for the oppressed, what kind of world could we make?

And what I see now is distance. Despite a lot of well-intentioned anger, I see distance. I don’t see honest conversations happening. In the age of Trump, white people have only doubled down on narcissism, insecurity and guilt in the name of racial justice. As the privileged race, it is our job to take responsibility and stop letting guilt drive wedges between us and others. Especially under a dangerous race-baiting Trump Presidency.

I see white guilt come alive in the reactions to the kid in the MAGA hat. And in the age of Trump, it’s mostly mean-spirited anger and attacks that come out as the expression of this guilt. Who are we impressing when we degrade this young man for his settler-colonialist punk ass ways? Aren’t we, as white people, also benefits of the same colonialism and the same punk behavior?

But I don’t think it goes that deep. History is sighted, but merely in passing. In 2019, the only thing we can deal with is 2019. There is just too much information around us. We are overwhelmed. What happened a week ago feels like a year in our 24/7 news cycle of hysteria and anger—little of which is directed at the 1%.

What this is about is not the colonial-settler history, for it’s always been about that, and for the most part, the real injustice surrounding that as failed to register. A real reparations movement would be a beautiful thing. The anger at the MAGA hat kid isn’t about Natives, it’s about Trump. Trump has burrowed his way into our brains and we can’t get him out.

White people, in the age of Trump, feel so much guilt and shame that we constantly feel the need to distinguish ourselves. What better way, we think, than humiliating Trump supporters—especially of the white variety (that’s the only variety). By picking apart Trump supporters we can tell all our imaginary P.O.C. friends, that hey, we aren’t Trump, so love us.

But I propose something new. Something not so self-centered. Why not just say, I’m white, I love being white, white people are cool, and I like you too. Or better yet, why talk about race at all? The American obsession over race is odd to people in other countries.

In organic atmospheres, where we are actually with other humans of other races, there is little of this race theory going on. People find a way to get by. And there’s a lot of racism, and some people who stand up to it too. But there isn’t the same fixation. All people have lives to live. Hard lives to live. And people get by, one way or the other, with or without the race theories and battles.

As white people hyperventilated about this young man in a stupid hat, I began to wonder a serious question: had any of these people had a real interaction with a so-called person of color lately? If so, could they even talk about something other than Trump and race? And if that conversation was about Trump and race, would the white person have enough courage to say how they really feel about race?

My honest feeling about race is mainly sadness. I am sad that there is such a distance between the races. I am sad that the ruling class wants this and manufactures it in part through viral videos like these. I am sad that as white people we are the instigators of this conflict, and warily relieved that we are, relatively speaking, the benefactors of it.

Yet I am also sad that white people are so afraid of people of color that we feel the need to transform ourselves into the monsters we assume they are. I am sad that the liberal side of the white middle class is not comfortable enough with people of color to honestly say when we have a problem with them. I am sad that the only way to express racial solidarity is by attacking other white people. I am sad that this reaction only cements the racial prejudices of the racists—and that it never has to be dealt with by the self-righteous liberal left who sees themselves as warriors for the cause.

I say this because I don’t think it was always that way, or at least Martin Luther King leads me to believe there was some other way to deal with people we disagree with. I remember going to a talk by a Black Panther leader, and a well-intentioned white person asked her what she recommended we do. And she said quite simply: go talk to your brothers and sisters of the white race. Because they don’t want to talk to us. They might even hurt us if we say something we don’t like. Here it was. A member of a supposed terrorist organization that allegedly fosters hate telling us to engage in an act of radical love with the Trump people. Even the people of color who were supposedly the most dangerous to a common cause of racial solidarity were much more open-minded than the white people who were supposedly the most in favor of racial justice.

It’s important to note her distinction too though. Because this exact scenario is being purposed now for Nathan Phillips. The fascists now want to have a meal with him and talk. He said he wasn’t ready to do that. And after what they did to him, I wouldn’t expect him to be—now or ever. But I would love to sit down for a beer with the MAGA kid. Although he looks too young for a beer, maybe we could see a movie with explicit language. We would have a lot to talk about actually as fellow white guys. We could rail against Obama, talk about acne, assert that Radiohead is the best band of all time, reflect on how great our genes are, complain about political correctness, laugh at Trump’s jokes, and maybe slip in a little talk about how reparations for Native people would primarily come from the 1% and that he would be less likely to be called a fascist pig by that woke guy down the street if he just agreed to it already. Unlikely to work, but it sounds like a fun night. And I’m sure I’d like the MAGA kid. Why wouldn’t I? Doesn’t he believe that I am genetically superior and wants to build a wall to prove it? It’s like meeting a long lost brother.

The left finds themselves in a place they aren’t used to being under the reign of Donald Trump. We spent months basically saying that Trump and Hillary are the same and that identity politics are a sham. Not entirely true, obviously. Now, if anything, Trump has scared us too far the other way. Noam Chomsky, another rare balanced leftist simply argued that Hillary would be better because the resistance to her could be more left. Indeed, it’s true. Resistance to Trump includes the CIA for goodness sake! Hillary resistance went as far left as Bernie Sanders in the mainstream, and even farther for many.

But perhaps there can be a better class analysis as we confront this “privileged” kid and that “lowly” elder, who just happened to cross paths. For all his privilege, the MAGA hat kid does not control the means of production. And maybe the worst injustice of the interaction was that it was clear that the kid was chosen, and the elder wasn’t. Whoever was pulling the strings always picked that kid, and it rubbed off on him.

Trump Derangement Syndrome only helps the ruling class. There is only one group of people, that I can tell, who have not budged during the Trump years. That’s the people of Black Agenda Report, who refuse, under all circumstances to buy into the Trump phenomenon, the Russia phenomenon, and even the race wars in general, as anything other than class warfare with disproportionate consequences for people of color. Read any week of Black Agenda Report and it sounds the same, no matter who is in charge. Like Nathan Phillips, they march to the beat of their own drum.

It could be that Americans are weary of love. Too many times has it been co-opted by the ruling class. Recall Hillary Clinton’s campaign: when you go low, we go high. Too bad she wasn’t talking about corporate tax rates there. That slogan was accurately parodied by ResistanceHole: “When You Go Low, We Go Viral.” But now is the time when we need love more than ever.

Unfortunately the left engages in a cleansing pattern of purity politics that parallels white supremacy in its logic. We are perpetually proving ourselves to some invisible judge of justice who will determine whether or not we can be let in the pearly gates of leftism. Donald Trump presents himself as so unworldly that he most be cleansed immediately. He and his followers embarrass the great white race in their honesty about race relations.

Clearly, this country still needs to talk about race. Like the corporate duopoly, we are only presented with two options on the menu. Either you agree with us or you a racist who will be shunned. And for better or worse, I don’t want to be against anybody. America is in a deep moral and spiritual crisis in the age of Trump. Our only response to anybody we dislike is to be mean to them. The only victory we can imagine is eliminating them all together.

Martin Luther King, and now Nathan Phillips, provide a different path. Will white America, caught in a desperate attempt to prove itself woke in the age of Trump, choose it? Or will we continue down a righteous path of anger that only inspires hate? If we choose hate and anger, the dark forces within our society will only continue to bubble up—and the victims of conflict will ironically be the very same people we claim to be defending. The fascists will be exactly who we thought they were, and our only victory will be: we told you so.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at