ne day, when this nightmare is over, we will need a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission. In the Commission, among other things, we will have to ask ourselves hard questions about the conditions that have allowed violent extremism to take hold.

Already, a pre-autopsy of how Trump took over America highlights crucial issues.

Most of all, the greatest danger is not Trump himself. The greatest danger is the wedge that exists within our society. Without this wedge, Trump would not be able to operate.

It was this wedge — rooted in the failure to implement a unifying agenda of national economic justice — that originally brought Trump to power. And, now, it is this wedge — having gone unaddressed and, in fact, having been exacerbated by actions on all sides — that threatens the very existence of our country and the survival of multiple oppressed groups within it.

As the wedge is now ignited using the stain of racial injustice that has been central to our country’s existence since its founding, the United States may well become an inferno.

While we might have failed to address the deeper origins of our societal wedge over the past several decades, Trump’s election in 2016 should have been a wake-up call.

Over the past four years, we have faced a choice: to chip away at the wedge, or to widen it. We have faced this choice in multiple dimensions, ranging from the policies we advocate to the empathy we model to the social and political discourse we promote to the political candidates we choose to the anti-extremism strategies we support.

To date, rather than working toward eliminating the wedge, we have chosen to allow a demagogue to divide us further.

Rather than focusing on universal human rights, we have become more preoccupied with different human identities. Rather than pursuing social justice while building unity and inclusion, we have fallen for a form of justice that drives divisions.

Rather than focusing on universal human rights, we have become more preoccupied with different human identities. Rather than pursuing social justice while building unity and inclusion, we have fallen for a form of justice that drives divisions.

Rather than responding to dehumanization with humanization, we have decided to respond with the original insult. Rather than responding to human rights violations with efforts that respect even the rights of the perpetrators, we have opted to violate the rights of the perpetrators in kind.

When we violate human rights, we deny the existence of the humans whose rights we violate. When we fall for the retaliatory impulsivity of dehumanizing those who have dehumanized us, we commit the very evils that we hope to eradicate.

We cannot sacrifice our principles in the fight for those same principles. Our means must be morally consistent with our ends.

And when we dehumanize other people, we otherize them, planting the false belief in our minds that we do not share the same humanity. Consequently, we lose sight not only of our own capacity for dehumanization but of the common bonds that tie all of us on this planet together.

We cannot sacrifice our principles in the fight for those same principles. Our means must be morally consistent with our ends. Above all, we must work against our societal wedge using a humanistic approach that is grounded in empathy for our oppressors.

Now, we do not have the power to change our past. But we have the power to change our future.

Even at this late moment in our crisis, we still have the opportunity to change course. Most importantly, even though we do not have the luxury of time to undo all of the fundamental determinants of extremist hate, our short-term response to hate must nevertheless be grounded in an understanding of those long-term causes.

Even in the event of war, the use of human-centered strategies against the opponent will help minimize the length and damage of the war.

But if this conflict is to be resolved by force — and there may seem to be no other option in the face of atrocity — we must recognize that, though war may appear to defeat hate, violence is only a form of suppression.

Consequently, as the hate may seem to dissipate and as our society may seem to stabilize for several decades following a war, we risk deceiving ourselves that we have defeated hate. But the roots of this hate will always remain in our soil, ready to resurrect.

Until we revolutionize our social structures and address the underlying causes of extremist hate, the stain of hate will persist in our society, and we will never achieve social resilience.

Anyone who believes that we can continue to defeat this ill by outnumbering — or outpowering — the other side is gravely mistaken. Even if we outnumber a group, the group will not disappear. Instead, structural fissures will continue to eat away at our society, as the group possibly even becomes increasingly hardened.

Thus, until we revolutionize our social structures and address the underlying causes of extremist hate, the stain of hate will persist in our society, and we will never achieve social resilience.

As King stated, “In the long run of history, destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends” [1].

Additionally, we must remember that we will all lose in a war — victims and perpetrators alike.

As King also warned us, “The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or nonexistence. Unless we find some alternative to war, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments” [1].

Therefore, no matter how righteous our causes may be, they will mean nothing if we no longer exist.

All of these realities also tell us about the central role of reconciliation following any conflict. Without an earnest effort toward reconciliation, the curse of violence will forever tear apart the fabric of our nation.

In the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, truth will be the beginning but not the end.

We must tell the truth about our country’s history. We must tell the truth about the racial and ethnic subjugation on which our nation was founded and which has infected our institutions from the beginning. We must tell the truth about the exploitative arrangements of labor and production that infest our economy. We must tell the truth about the political corruption that has sacrificed people for personal power and profits.

And we must do justice on all of these fronts. We must establish equality for all. We must restore equity to our economy. We must hold all of the major perpetrators to account.

The choice will be stark: a collective future or a collective death. Reconciliation will provide the only path forward for the future and survival of our society.

But while we must bring the leading criminals to justice, the majority of the population will have to engage in the monumental undertaking of reconciliation (lest we wish to reproduce our country’s mass incarceration system). This task must be rooted in truth and justice and will be most difficult following the collective trauma of conflict.

It will require all of us to find a form of courage and strength that we never felt existed within us. The choice will be stark: a collective future or a collective death. Reconciliation will provide the only path forward for the future and survival of our society.

To quote King again, “We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools” [2].

Until we learn to have honest, authentic, human exchanges with one another, until we learn to honor and build on one another’s lived experiences, until we learn to respect the existence of everyone, until we learn to empathize even with those whom we dislike, until we learn to liberate ourselves from the dehumanizing spiral of otherization, until we learn that our commonalities unite us, until we learn to let go of our instincts for tribalism, until we learn that we are more powerful together than divided, until we learn to solve conflict through dialogue rather than violence, until we learn that our destinies are all symbiotically tied together by the common bond of humanity, none of us will ever be free.

Until we learn to be together, we will not be free.

But when our many voices learn to sing in harmony, we will produce the symphony that is togetherness, we will discover the real power of humanity, and we will watch the awesome sight as freedom and justice flow through all the waters and cover all the lands of the world.

Works Cited:

  1. King, Jr., Martin Luther and James M. Washington. 1986. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. New York: HarperCollins.
  2. Moore, Doug. 2018. “50 years later, King’s ‘Dream’ speech remains benchmark for progress.” St. Louis Dispatch, August 8, 2013. https://tinyurl.com/yc2l964z.

Written by

Human, activist, scholar. Physician-Economist-in-training @UMich. CEO @proghealth. @FulbrightPrgrm Awardee. I work on anything that matters, locally & globally.

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