The date was September 16, 2017. The era: Trump’s America. That was the day that a group of Trump supporters assembled for “the Mother of All Rallies Patriot Unification Gathering” at the National Mall in Washington, DC. As was typical of the times, they were met by counterprotesters from Black Lives Matter, numbering 82 in total, who proceeded to shout at them. The Trump supporters shouted back. One individual onstage told the Trump supporters to ignore the hecklers, crying “They don’t exist!” Some might see something symbolic of the historical era in that statement.
The leader of the BLM counter protestors that day was a man named Hawk Newsome, who later admitted his intention was to stand about and militantly raise his fist and insult the Trumpsters. Later, the Trump rally organizer, Tommy Gunn, took the stage and announced that the gathering was about “freedom of speech.” All this was rather expected, but what happened next was anything but. For Gunn suddenly invited Newsome and his supporters to the stage.
“We’re going to give you two minutes of our platform to put your message out,” said Gunn. “Now, whether they (the Trump supporters) disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.”
Newsome accepted the offer, and began to talk. “I am an American. And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.”
It was when Newsome began to speak about a black man being killed by police that elements in the crowd began to jeer him. A woman shouted, “Shut up! That was a criminal!”
Newsome explained, “We are not anti-cop!”
“Yes, you are!” people shouted back.
“We’re anti–bad cop!” Newsome clarified. “We don’t want handouts. We don’t want anything that is yours. We want our God-given right to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
That was when things got really strange. Members of the crowd began to cheer. One shouted, “All lives matter!” which might normally be considered a provocation by Black Lives Matter supporters. But that day Newsome was embodying something quite different from the drama-prone projections of the Twitterati, responding.
“You’re right, my brother, you’re right. You are so right. All lives matter, right? But when a black life is lost, we get no justice. That is why we say ‘black lives matter.’ . . . If we really want to make America great, we do it together.”
Suddenly the crowd began to chant, “USA-USA!,” cheering Newsome’s speech. As Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianov note in The Coddling of the American Mind, that was when the two groups transcended “us” and “them.” Despite their differences, they had found something in common, something greater than their enmity, something that unified them. Suddenly, they were common humanity. Americans, all.
When Newsome finished talking, a fearsome looking man approached him and shook his hand. Then they chatted for a while, finally posing for a photo together, with Newsome holding the man’s young son in his arms. The child’s father was one of the leaders of Bikers for Trump. Newsome later admitted, “It kind of restored my faith. Two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today.”[i]
Such headway, both online and offline, is too rare today. And unless we find ways to make it more common, some societies and cultures – perhaps the US’ more than any other – may implode. So we should ask, why can’t a culture of engagement be the norm? One of my goals in writing Power and Presence has been to help make it more “normal.”
But how is that to be done? I believe that it is not enough to simply provide technocratic solutions devoid of deep reflection – not without a concurrent transformation of our systems and of our hearts. Bureaucrats aren’t going to pull us out of this. Ultimately, we must transcend the civilisational impasse where we find ourselves. And for that to happen, we must change the stories, the metaphors, and even the way we use our minds. That will require deep thinking, deep questions and Deep Futures.
This is an extract from Marcus T Anthony’s upcoming book, Power and Presence：Reclaiming Your Authentic Self in a Digitized World
[i] The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt. https://a.co/d3JIJ7i. Brett Weinstein and Heather Heying also discuss this incident on their Darkhorse podcast. Weinstein argues that “Appeals to common humanity still work just as well today as when Dr. King made them.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=70We5pb_q-8, “Coddling of the American Mind” (from Livestream #40), DarkHorse Podcast Clips, Aug 25, 2020.