“It’s a binary choice.” That’s how a lot of people account for the vote they plan to cast for Trump or Clinton.
Given the vast ideological differences between the “bases” of the two major parties, it was inevitable that the choice would present itself as a stark either/or. The left views Trump as a demagogue, and the right sees Clinton as a crook. For many people, me included, the election does feel like a binary choice.
But, we frame many other decisions as binaries when they aren’t, or, at least, don’t have to be.
It’s not a binary choice, for instance, between “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
Because of this nation’s long history of enslaving, segregating, and marginalizing African-Americans, it’s crucial that we give special and reparative attention to the value, dignity, and equality of blacks.
At the same time, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the vast majority of public safety officers serve honorably.
To be sure, there are unsolved problems and unhealed wounds in the relationship between minority communities and the police, problems and wounds are rooted in prejudice and suspicion. It won’t help us, though, to build a better culture if we falsely choose between redressing with the effects of centuries of oppression of blacks and respecting law enforcement officials who serve ethically. We can and must do both.
It’s not a binary choice between dealing with terrorism and protecting the freedom of religion.
Among the complex motives of terrorists are distorted interpretations of religion. Members of the KKK, most of whom identified themselves as Christians, based their violence against blacks on a false and racist understanding of Genesis which enabled them to view blacks as less than fully human. Lynching was an act of terror which the Klan justified by its twisted understanding of its faith.
It’s true that some of the deadliest terrorists in our world justify their actions by means of a false understanding of Islam. Our defense is against their acts of terror, a defense which must be wise, vigilant, and strong.
We need not forfeit our core freedoms in the course of defending them. One of those cherished freedoms is the right to practice one’s faith according to the leadership of one’s conscience.
Our best hope for dealing with extremist religion is to encourage the free and full flourishing of healthy and peace-loving faith. The mainstream of virtually every religion flows with a healing stream of peace. Religious pluralism is a fact and gift of contemporary American culture, something we should cherish and celebrate.
I regularly face a binary choice between fear and love. The choice is clear, but enacting it isn’t always. Facing our fears is messy and complex. Knowing what love demands in any concrete circumstance can be difficult.
When we’re angry or depressed or both, fear lurks beneath those conditions. We need to come to as full an understanding as possible of the origins of our fears, to ask whether those fears correspond to reality, and, when our fears prove unfounded, to move openheartedly toward reconciliation with the people who once unsettled us.
We can’t see with eyes of love, unless we remove the cataracts of caricature.
Love helps us see what is true. It doesn’t blind us to evil, including to our own capacity for it. Instead, love teaches us that the anger and despair we see in others come, just as ours do, from their fears.
For a while, force will contain fear; only love will finally heal and fully transform it.