Saturday, March 12, 2016

On the Escalating Violence at One Candidate's Campaign Rallies

[I hope that this won't be construed as a "political" post. I am not here advocating any policy position. I am talking about leadership and civility. And I feel that because the candidate in question has said he is a Christian, it's fair to point out how that should impact his approach to things.]

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down by an assassin.

The streets of America's cities were restive.

Bobby Kennedy was campaigning in Indiana's Democratic primary and was in Indianapolis on the night of King's death.

Kennedy, who was highly popular among African-Americans, was in an African-American community and broke the news to a crowd to which he was speaking.

He reminded people that King had been an advocate of peaceful change and that, while understanding their rage, because he had lost his own brother to an assassin's bullet and had felt rage, he insisted that they must follow King's example.

He urged the crowd to remain at peace and to keep working for change politically.

While violence erupted in other American cities that night, Indianapolis remained peaceful.

I've always remembered that story because it's a vivid example of the impact that leaders can have on those they lead.

I think of that story again tonight. Kennedy risked a lot in asking the aggrieved to refrain from the kind of violence to which King and their people had long been subjected.

But in America, leaders, even as they often reflect and amplify the grievances of those they lead and represent, are bound by love of their country and its Constitution (and if they are, as they profess, Christians, by love of God and neighbor) to peacefully represent those grievances in the political process, not legitimize punching opponents in the face.

Every individual is responsible for their own actions, of course.

But when political leaders observe that their rhetoric seems to give their followers permission to be violent, they need to lead by pointing out that the political process isn't about violence. It's about persuasion, debate, and the vote.

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