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A Political Tale of David and Goliath


Romand Coles and Lia Haro

Here lies the mighty Hillary Clinton, armed with an enviable chest of funds, an incomparable ground game for voter turnout, a singular record of high-level political experience, far superior debating skills, endorsements from every major U.S. newspaper and support from an array of political and military leaders from across the spectrum.

There stands the victor, Donald Trump of the small hands winning with a poor hand to play: no experience in political offices, little ground game, having alienated a substantial portion of his party, with little knowledge of policy and even less of what constitutes a strong argument. Trump, a most improbable David has slain Clinton, a bizarre Goliath.

Lia Haro-2_1001profile

Dr Lia Haro, Research Fellow Institute for Social Justice

And, here we are: Shedding tears and wringing our hands, baffled by a U.S. election map that we watched turn red, county by county and state by state, in a right-wing populist wave. As many moved from assured confidence in a Clinton victory through various currents of shock, fear, indignation, sorrow and righteous outrage, vociferous denunciations of white supremacy, xenophobia, stupidity and sexism among the Trump voters buzzed throughout the internet. We feel many of these emotions.

Yet even as we affirm truth in many of the critiques, we worry that they risk consolidating a political mode that is highly problematic and thwarts deeper questioning that is needed now to develop an effective strategy.

The David of biblical lore won by fighting in a most unconventional and unexpected way. Instead of fighting with conventional armour, he imaginatively played his shepherd’s game. He picked up five smooth stones from a river and, with his slingshot, achieved a quick and resounding victory against a much larger and supremely armed opponent.

In today’s tragic rendition of the tale, Trump went to the river of white working class American suffering and attentively listened to its intensities – something that both Goliath political parties had failed to do for decades. He took those currents of fury at the establishment and greatly amplified the fear and loathing of otherness within them. He, then, crystallized the brew into a lethal stone that he heaved into the forehead of every Goliath he approached.

Now let us turn to an autopsy of the Democratic Goliath whom most of us never expected to fall so hard to such a seemingly beatable opponent. Behold the massive, thick armour through which most receptive senses have been blocked – the impenetrable technocratic edifice that manages the world and all people according to the data of its reductive algorithms and armies of experts. Consider the great projective weaponry – the advertising, the voter turnout infrastructure, the javelins of media, government, military and cultural leaders.

As we peel all these away, we see an ill-formed, lacklustre collective body with atrophied sense organs and rigamortic muscles lacking all suppleness of response. It is an oversized mouth for bellowing precariously balanced on that stick of a body with only a few narrowly over-developed muscles for bearing armour and hurling weapons, showing signs of repetitive motion stress syndrome.

What brought this body to defeat was a deafness that could not perceive that which did not fit well into the script and a rigidity that prevented it from radically modulating its game in response to mounting frustrations among many subjected to it, whom it had failed to serve. It could not sense how repulsive this form of political being itself had become to so many, beyond whatever message. (Of course, the failures of the Democrats cannot be grasped except in relation to the relentless politics of sabotage conducted by the Republican Party. Still, the parable illuminates.)

In the aftermath, we are watching as Trump casts off his thin Davidian guise revealing a new and far more awful Goliath that is already striking at the heart of the demos. We worry that those stumbling in shock on the battlefield, bemoaning an America they do not recognize, have grown so accustomed to this one style of politics that, even as they try to envision alternatives, they repeatedly reincarnate this unreceptive form by reducing politics to a matter of honing and projecting messages and policies. While we think the left side of this political vision is crucial, we suggest that the future of democracy, equality and planetary ecology hinges upon reimagining how we engage in politics such that we begin, at long last, to cultivate our receptive senses, our democratic ears, and reacquire suppleness in our political muscles.


Professor Romand Coles, Institute for Social Justice

What the 2016 defeat shows us is how bad we have become at listening to the intensities of those who discomfort us. Only from within a hardened bubble could we so thoroughly miss the grief and fury of those around us even as it was propelling Trump. Our first task, then, is to regenerate a body politics that is profoundly receptive and relational, that does more than mock and condemn the white working class while further alienating them with our disregard. Like the great civil rights activist Ella Baker, we need to lead at the grassroots with our ears – reach out beyond our armour with a newfound curiosity, unscripted questions and a desire to learn with myriad different others.

We need to listen to intensities of grief, fury and dreams of a better life – coming from working class White America, the movements of Black Lives Matter, Native Americans struggling against settler colonialism, and countless others – with an ear toward unexpected solidaristic possibilities, amplifying these rather than the hatreds. Otherwise, our tone deafness will undermine any possibilities for enhancing democratic power and vision, no matter how good we take our message to be.

Even as we strive to regrow receptive organs at a grassroots level, we cannot allow Trump and the Republican party to advance one step in their deadly assaults. Our customary modes of protest politics too often enable a self-righteousness inattentive to emergent possibilities while feeding backlashes that undermine the best intentions. Additionally, the dark secret familiar to those who have been organizing in many of today’s social movements is that, having lost our capacities for receptive engagement with differences even amidst ourselves, we are repeatedly vitiated by vicious internal fissioning that exceeds even the parodies of Monty Python.

In the aftermath of the election, we need a politics of radical receptivity that opens beyond our existing scripts and familiar practices, a politics of serious disruption that solicits a broadening and diverse wave of active engagement that weaves connective tissues of commonality across myriad differences while adamantly refusing the destructive and diminishing forces.

The crucial next steps for organizing democratic power now will be to gather a heterogeneous set of actors committed to exploring new possibilities in new ways and to letting go of the armour and withered body of the Goliath that has failed us while beginning to practice arts of creative, receptive combat.


This article originally appeared on Religion and Ethics

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