Graphic by Shay Suban
“Historically low approval ratings for President Trump signal that an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of – if not despise – this administration. But what good is that when the goal of resistance is, or ought to be, to defeat hatefulness in the first place?”
On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump, the real estate heir and reality show host whose sole previous claim to political fame was his refusal to accept the first black President as a legitimate American, was inaugurated as the forty-fifth President of the United States. Following a chaotic campaign dominated by vicious cynicism and bigotry, and against the hopes of those who believed Trump could become “presidential,” this presidency began with a resounding brushstroke of darkness, painting America as a hellhole that Trump alone could fix. “This American carnage stops right here, and it stops right now,” declared Trump on the gloomy, rain-drenched steps of the Capitol Building that day.
America’s democratic institutions have been pushed to the brink of crisis in the year that has followed, setting off a firestorm of fervent resistance. America’s rejection of Donald Trump and his politics of hate began on Election Day, when Trump lost the election by nearly three million votes. Despite this, he won the Electoral College and therefore, as dictated by the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, became the next President.
From the progressive Women’s March, one of the largest protests in the history of the world, to unprecedented public support for and donations to progressive institutions like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood, the American people have demonstrated a political energy that has laid dormant for years, and used that energy to fully condemn the beliefs and actions of this administration.
However, as we act out our resistance, it is crucial not to get lost in our disgust or hatred for Trump and his politics. Historically low approval ratings for President Trump signal that an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of – if not despise – this administration. But what good is that when the goal of resistance is, or ought to be, to defeat hatefulness in the first place?
Without love, every oppressed individual’s struggle for liberation would be quashed by another’s as dominance becomes the only plausible means to an end. Without love, rather than joining together in solidarity, individuals would be motivated to commit violence against each other. Without love, every individual would have to live with crushing, indelible hate in their heart as others serve as cynical competition rather than cooperative kin. Without love, the collective human race would fail to recognize its own capacity for good. Without love, ultimately, the world would become a zero-sum game in which only one person out of billions could ever possibly achieve a favorable outcome. The choice is clear: a world of entirely apathetic people would lead to unimaginable chaos and destruction, while a world of entirely empathetic people would lead to order, solidarity, and unimaginable progress. To be consumed by hate instead of resisting it with love is to bring about mutually-assured destruction.
The idea that our political action and rhetoric ought to be embodied by love is nothing new; we have been told by history’s greatest leaders that this is the ideal. Plato marveled that “Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.” Jesus commanded us to “Love one another.” Buddha implored that we “Love the whole world as a mother loves her only child.”
In the American context, looking back on history, the grandest victories for justice and equality also stemmed from a politic of love. As he famously shaped the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. preached that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” To this day, the most powerful socio-political movements are those that are fueled by love. DeRay McKesson, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, has the mantra “Love is the why.” Linda Sarsour, feminist leader and Women’s March organizer, says, “We must love and protect one another.”
Some seemingly common beliefs about involvement in resistance (and activism generally) are that it takes a lot of dedication or experience, is physically and/or emotionally demanding, or is perhaps even dangerous. Many people see it as something that’s too inaccessible or not for them. For the sake of civic engagement, this notion can and should be dispelled; resistance based in love, by definition, is for everyone. My own story is just one example of how easy and accessible an experience it can be.
Out of both summer boredom and concern for what might happen in the election, I became a volunteer with the Clinton campaign in June of 2016. At this point, Secretary Clinton had secured enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination for President, and Senator Sanders, her primary opponent, was coming around to supporting her. I simply signed up to volunteer at HillaryClinton.com and then got a call inviting me to an hour-long voter registration event. My first time in the field as a volunteer was a blast. Though the goal was to register voters, I did not have any success that time, but I had fun trying. I signed up for a second voter registration shift, at which it was suggested that I should interview to become a Fellow and fully commit to the campaign.
I officially became a Fellow on the night of Secretary Clinton’s nomination acceptance speech headlining the Democratic National Convention. As a Fellow I basically had the full powers of a Field Organizer, but worked only part-time and was not paid. I was helping run the voter registration events, the phone banks, and the canvassing. After a few weeks, I began creating and directing events by myself, scheduling my own volunteers, and even recruited another Fellow to help me out! By the end of the campaign, I was directing staging locations full of volunteers for multiple Field Organizers at once. The volunteers were people of all backgrounds with different abilities and talents, but we found a way for everyone to help out. We established carpools among the volunteers to accommodate those who could not drive. We kept a box of flip phones for phone banking volunteers who did not have their own cell phone. For one elderly woman who was not comfortable with leaving her home but still wanted to volunteer, we delivered pages of phone banking data right to her door.
Throughout this time, working around thirty hours per week from July to November, I made great friends with other Fellows and Field Organizers and learned a lot about my local community. To this day, volunteers who met on the campaign are still good friends and still resisting together. Also to this day, the group chat between the Fellows and Field Organizers of the Tampa suburbs remains active as we keep up with each others’ lives and accomplishments. We became a family throughout the campaign and were all the better for it as we endured the great loss together. Everyone knew everything about each other. We loved and we were loved.
All of this is not to say that activism based in love will always work. Sometimes, the conditions are simply not in our favor. Nevertheless, while Secretary Clinton’s role in her loss amid massive Russian interference and FBI Director James Comey’s public announcement of the potential reopening of the Clinton email probe eleven days before the election continue to be widely relitigated, it is simply undeniable that a large column of her 2016 presidential campaign was the theme of love. Her official campaign slogan was a pronouncement that people are “stronger together.” She also frequently cited the old Methodist saying, “do all the good you can,” and coined the phrase, “love trumps hate.” Around the Clinton campaign offices hung posters reading “do the most good,” “engage with purpose,” and “organize with heart.” The playlist for her rallies included songs like Sara Bareilles’s “Brave,” Demi Lovato’s “Confident,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” and various other songs with optimistic takes on self-love.
This approach is what made her campaign, despite her election loss, a success. I call the campaign a success because, in my home of state of Florida alone, we registered hundreds of thousands of new voters, welcomed tens of thousands of first-time volunteers into the political process, and brought about a voter turnout only ever seen before with the election of President Obama. Indeed, Secretary Clinton won more votes for US President than anyone in history except President Obama. Many of the college-age field organizers who worked for her campaign have gone on to run for office themselves. Latinx voter engagement in Florida reached historic highs. Women are now running for office in record numbers and broke records with their donations to and involvement with the Clinton campaign; the majority of donors were women for the first time in history. The only way things as humongous and meaningful as this can happen is through genuine love-based community building.
Logically, as the result of trying to keep a love-based mindset, I do not hate those who voted for Donald Trump. I struggle with forgiving them, but I do not hate them. I do this knowing that plenty of Trump’s voters, should they meet me, might hate me – if not for being gay or a liberal Clinton campaign worker, then for being perceived as a college elitist. In fact, once during the campaign while I was canvassing a trailer park with another gay student volunteer, we were told by a menacing woman with a Confederate flag bumper sticker and several Trump signs in her yard, in summation, “your type ain’t welcome here, so y’all better walk right down the street past the stop sign and keep on walkin’.” I refuse to let hatred of the other corrode my heart the way it has theirs. In our pursuit to defeat them, we must not become them.
For us to approach the looming 2018 midterm elections and the presidential election in 2020 from a place of detestation would be a mistake. Just because love lost the election last time does not mean the same idea cannot win next time. After all, that is the meaning of “love trumps hate.”