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A Re-Frame That Matters - Mahan Siler

Once in a while an idea comes along that reframes cherished notions, and ends up making things better for everyone. For me, Michelle Alexander’s New York Times piece “We Are Not the Resistance” is one of those once in a whiles…

The frame: resistance to Donald Trumpism (the man, his worldview, spirit and followers). 

The re-frame: Donald Trumpism as resistance to the historical, vital and ongoing movement toward justice. 

Alexander values the position of resisting the daily crises – “a new jaw-dropping allegation of corruption, a new wave of repression at the border, another nod to white nationalism or blatant misogyny, another attack on basic civil rights, freedom of the press or truth itself.” She notes the “wave of courageous activism” including marches and protests alongside the broader resistance taking hold that “seems to include everyone from establishment Democrats like Nancy Pelosi to figures like James Comey, from the Civil Rights legend John Lewis to democratic socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez . . . the only common denominator for ‘the resistance’ [being] a commitment to resisting Donald Trump.”  

Yet Alexander points out the limits to this “reactive state of mind.” She wonders whether the downsides to the resistance frame outweigh the benefits. 

She offers a re-frame. What if Trumpism is the resistance to the “radical evolution of American democracy” with its on-going “struggle for human freedom and dignity [that] extends back centuries and is likely to continue for generations to come.” She quotes Civil Rights leader Vincent Harding. This reaching toward freedom is “like a river, sometimes powerful, tumultuous, and roiling with life; at other times meandering and turgid, covered with the ice and snow of seemingly endless winters, all too often streaked and running with blood.” We can hear echoes of the prophet Amos, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream.”   

This re-positions Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent leadership as a “surge of resistance to this rapidly swelling river, an effort to build not just a wall but a dam. A new nation is struggling to be born a multiracial, multiethnic, multifaith, egalitarian democracy in which every life and every voice truly matters.” Trump and his followers are less the river we must resist and more the resistance to this river of egalitarian striving that pre-dates him and will post-date him. We are not the resistance. Trumpism is. 

I find in Alexander’s re-frame a question with an option. Where do I place my energy? I will continue to give myself in conversations, writing and actions that embody resistance. But I will watch for the downside I will. The signal for decisive choice is finding myself in a reactive state of mind, setting up camp in that space, relishing the over-against, blaming, judgmental energy. 

At that point a choice is always available. A re-frame is possible. I can turn toward the River of justice, not just noticing it’s flow, not just observing its movement. But I can choose to re-align myself with the River. I can wade into it and allowing myself – once again – to be carried by its energy. This is an old river. Here and there, sometimes noticeable, sometimes not, it’s been under-minding domination-ranking, power-over, privilege systems for a long time. Trumpism, while a huge bolder in the water, will not last. The River will. No stopping this River. It will keep moving for generations to come. My reactive state of mind can be the very trigger that invites the choice to get back to the River, re-enter its currents, add to its energy and be carried by its hope.

I’m thankful for the re-frame.

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