In a December 6 interview with Rolling Stone, former Obama administration official-turned-cable news commentator Van Jones, who is enjoying a surge in popularity as one of the only sensible people at CNN, outlined his plan to start something called a “Love Army” to help fight against Donald Trump.
He argues, as he also did on The Daily Show, that while Donald Trump and his inner circle are bad—racist, sexist, anti-semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, anti-immigrant, greedy, profoundly selfish, etc.—Trump voters themselves do not necessarily share these qualities and should be given the benefit of the doubt and our love.
Tight around Trump is a little hate army – not every Trump voter – but tight around him is a little hate army of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government. We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction. That is completely doable.
There will, of course, be a hashtag.
We’re going to do national teach-ins starting very soon—once a week, every week, standing up for the most vulnerable people: Muslims, the DREAMers, Jewish people, women, trans people, black protestors. And once a week, give the whole country a chance to show a whole lotta love – both to demonstrate and deepen a solidarity with those groups, all under one hashtag. #LoveArmy is an opportunity to reassert at a values level.
This explanation doesn’t say much because frankly there isn’t much to the idea that complex issues can be solved with a kumbaya circle. Jones’s plan is similar to, albeit better branded than, the tired calls from Republicans, Trump supporters, and a handful of well-meaning liberals for us to now heal and come together as a nation under our new demagogue president who wants to reject Syrian refugee orphans and put Muslims in a database.
This nebulous sentiment that we should “just love one another, dammit” tends to reemerge following a tragedy or particularly heinous crime, and the election of Donald Trump is, of course, both. We all need to love each other. Be nicer. Show a bit more kindness towards each other. Sure, kindness, not stricter gun laws, is what will prevent another white man from storming a mall and mowing people down with a machine gun.
Like all pleas of this sort, Jones’s Love Army is vague and reductive and much too casually casts aside the damage Trump’s campaign caused. There is also little attempt to define what exactly “love” in this context looks like. I don’t love Trump voters anymore than I love Hillary Clinton voters. I love my friends and my family and those who I’ve chosen to include in my life. What I do have, however, is empathy for other human beings—even the ones who don’t look like me.
I don’t revel in the suffering of others. I don’t spend my time and energy deliberately making people’s lives worse because I don’t agree with who they go to bed with at night. My heart hurt just as much for the victims of Sandy Hook as it did for Tamir Rice.
Jones’s vision of love suggests blindness, endless patience and a great deal of emotional labor on the part of people who are already exhausted. It puts the onus on us to prove we are worthy of compassion and justice.
Those who ask us to face hatred with love find an easy champion in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But King never offered love as the only way, and simply being kind to white people who hated him certainly wasn’t a cornerstone resistance tactic. More to the point, however, is that one cannot untangle King’s calls for love from his Christian faith. And though his religion informed his tactics of nonviolence and compassion, many are not beholden to those values by their religious or spiritual beliefs. And others still interpret Christianity in a starkly different way.
The trope of the magical negro often includes an endless well for understanding and forgiveness on the part of black people until their white oppressors finally comes around (see: Driving Miss Daisy-The Help), wherein black people must bear the burden of our abuse and the weight of forgiveness as the white conscience is allowed to float about freely.
The efforts of Jones and other are both noble and ahistorical. The rights of the minority have never been granted simply because the majority finally came around and changed its mind. Racism and bigotry are not the result of unfriendliness nor will they be undone by the opposite. We must ask if changing the minds of the few who are both reachable and open is the best use of our energy during a time that demands so much of it.
Jones and others can rise up with their Love Armies and their op-eds and cupcakes and continue to have fruitless conversations with people who would applaud and defend any cop who shot them dead in the street. But you don’t have to love your oppressor or those who would sleep just fine at night with full knowledge of your oppression.
There are more of us than there are of them—2.6 million more, it turns out. Our time is not best spent waiting around for those who will ultimately realize making the life of a Mexican immigrant worse isn’t going to make theirs better.
We can no longer fight solely for harmony; we must fight to win—the safety of the vulnerable depends on it. Be the opposition your opposition deserves. Be the opposition that can defeat them. Because on the other side—on their talk shows and Facebook pages and Twitter accounts—they aren’t worried about our economic anxiety or the fear behind our decision-making. And they aren’t talking about loving us.