Guilty Minds Provoked

The ceremony marked the first time since the attack by the Empire of Japan that a Japanese head of government had visited Pearl Harbor. Prime Minister Abe paid solemn tribute to members of the US military who had fought against the Japanese attack 75 years ago. He spoke of the generosity of spirit at the heart of later US efforts to help the defeated people of Japan to recover from the devastation of the resulting War.

But the focus of his remarks was more global.

There is no end to the spiral where hatred creates hatred. The world needs the spirit of tolerance and the power of reconciliation now, and especially now.

He spoke of the decades of friendship between the two former adversaries as a lesson for the modern world.

That is precisely why the Japan-U.S. alliance is an alliance of hope.

President Obama responded in agreement with the theme of hatred transforming into peace.

Wars can end. The most bitter of adversaries can become the strongest of allies. The fruits of peace always outweigh the plunder of war. This is the enduring truth of this hallowed harbor.

His message did not seem controversial: The world needs a little more tolerance, a little less hatred.

It is here that we remember that even when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different. The sacrifice made here, the anguish of war, reminds us to seek the divine spark that is common to all humanity.

News coverage mentioned the overarching theme, but emphasized the President’s use of the word “tribalism” and his call to “resist the urge to demonize those who are different.” Was this a sort of implicit code meant to criticize Donald Trump? Although the overt message was a reduction of ethnic and religious hatred, it didn’t take much of a leap.

They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

Donald Trump, June 16, 2015

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States…

Read by Donald Trump, December 7, 2015

It seems apparent to many of us that, even if President Obama did not have Mr. Trump in mind, the President-elect could have played Cinderella, the slipper fit so perfectly.

Trump apologists have always denied that any of Donald Trump’s oration came from tribalism or xenophobic demonization. Mr. Trump insisted that he merely wanted to protect the country from the crime and violence these suspect groups always bring with them.

The intelligent response by Mr. Trump and his staff to the President’s remarks seemed obvious to me. A blogger once disagreed with something I wrote. Hard to believe, I know, but it happens.

He began: “To all idiots named Burr Deming…”

I responded briefly. Since the blogger hadn’t been more specific, I assumed he was talking about some other Burr Deming.

The Trump folks could have agreed with the President’s call for less hatred. Or they could have ignored it. After all, they could have noted, he was talking about those who hated!. He could not have been referring to Mr. Trump.

David Knight quoted President Obama’s words, then spoke for many conservatives:

He used this to promote political correctness. He used this to slap Donald Trump!

David Knight, December 29, 2016

Among other things that generated irritation that day, Mr. Trump was reported to have been provoked into a simmering anger by the President’s words at Pearl Harbor. He soon posted a reference to what he saw as a provocation.

Several years ago, I wrote about an elderly relative, one whom I love dearly. A few decades back, she became distraught when her Social Security check did not arrive. What would she do now? So much, for her, depended on that check.

Her husband was not a popular character within the family. He was pompous, preening, had a tendency toward self-serving untruth, and a reputation for sticky fingers. He enjoyed spending his wife’s meager funds. He always forgot to mention it to her until much later.

I was pretty sure of what had happened to her check.

He was sullen as he listened to me reassure her. The check was probably just late. But if it was lost or stolen, she could simply report it and get a new check. Social Security had a legal procedure.

If anyone had anything to worry about, it would be whatever dishonest lowlife might have taken the check from her mailbox. Stolen government checks are always traced and thieves are dealt with harshly. If the check had been stolen, authorities would see to it that the culprit would go to prison.

Her hard-to-take husband jumped to his feet in anger. How dare I threaten him with jail!!!

Sometimes a guilty mind is easily provoked.

At Pearl Harbor, the President agreed with the not-so-novel idea that lessons could be drawn from the post-war friendship between Japan and the United States. He proposed that hatred based on ethnic and religious differences might yield to an appreciation of our common humanity: that we might someday live in a world a little closer to international partnership.

It is no surprise that those of us who are repelled by Mr. Trump would detect, in the President’s remarks, a personal rebuke to what we see as a campaign of hatred.

… when hatred burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different.

It is especially notable that Mr. Trump and his devotees can listen to President Obama’s description, and that they so easily recognize what they hear.

Like that thieving husband, the leader of the incoming administration, and those who support him, are angry and indignant.

They peer through a glass, darkly. In the ugly reflection, they are certain that they see themselves.

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2 thoughts on “Guilty Minds Provoked”

  1. I think Prime Minister Abe and President Obama’s words were very hopeful and appropriate. Lessons can indeed be learned from a friendly alliance of once bitter enemies. Sadly, those enemies had to travel through much blood, darkness, and death before a friendship could be kindled though.

    Whether President Obama’s words were meant to tweak Donald Trump or not, the President is correct. We must resist the urge to demonize those who are different simply because they are different from us. However, when others who are different from us wish to do us harm, we should try through all means to come to some non-hostile resolution whenever possible. If it is not possible, then we should also not be so foolish as to embolden and even further enable our would-be enemies as they prepare to strike against us and our friends. That, sadly, is where President Obama has grossly failed us.

  2. I’m reminded of Charles Dickens relating that, when he included the character of the horrid schoolmaster Wackford Squeers in “Nicholas Nickleby,” he got dozens of letters from schoolmasters up and down England cursing him for basing Squeers on them.

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