The art of coexistence

In a January 20 article in The Atlantic, “Coexistence Is the Only Option,” Anne Applebaum writes about seditionists, those who engage in conduct or speech that incites others to rebel against the government, “not just the people who took part in the riot, but the far larger number of Americans who are united by their belief that Donald Trump won the election, that Joe Biden lost, and that a long list of people and institutions are lying about it: Congress, the media, Mike Pence, the election officials in all 50 states, and judges in dozens of courts.

Applebaum has seen this before, particularly in her husband’s native Poland and where she has spent half of her adult life. She describes in sobering, and somewhat shocking detail, events such as the armed men who stood outside the Ohio statehouse a few days ago. A poll as recent as last week indicated that 32% of Americans do not believe Joe Biden is legitimately our president. Applebaum says that if the poll is off by 50%, even 16% is a disturbing number. She says, “We have no choice except to coexist.”

From her experience in Europe and the U.S., and from her research, Applebaum says, “The literature in the fields of peacebuilding and conflict prevention overflows with words such as local and community-based and economic regeneration. It’s built on the idea that people should do something constructive–something that benefits everybody, lessons inequality, and makes people work alongside people they hate. That doesn’t mean they will then get to like one another, just that they are less likely to kill one another on the following day.

Each of us can listen and reach out. When tensions flair in our communities, we can seek to de-fuse and de-escalate. When those around us lose their “inside voices,” we can try to understand their hurt and anger. From the president’s inaugural address: ‘Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.” It’s our only option.

Photo of armed groups at Michigan Statehouse, from “Pro-Trump demonstrators, some armed, start descending on Michigan, Ohio and South Carolina statehouses,” by Associated Press/Nexstar Media Wire, January 17, 2021, WBTW-TV, Florence, South Carolina

3 thoughts on “The art of coexistence”

  1. Ted, your review of Applebaum’s book to the group and my quick read of parts of it are illuminating. There is much to be learned from experiences from others. We are now playing out an experiment in this country. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the end, or if it even has an end.


  2. To Kathy & Ernie: She has valuable life experience and the study of authoritarianism has been her life’s work. So, we’re very fortunate to have access to her insights. She wisely reminds us that while it’s crucial to support and elect persons and parties that espouse and live out democracy, authoritarian leaders (past, present and future) have lingering appeal, and it’s their followers that we must learn to live with. I keep thinking about Karen Stenner’s book, The Authoritarian Dynamic, which Applebaum cites in her most recent book. Politico reported that Trump’s approval rating fell dramatically after the riot at the Capitol, but it landed at 34%.I saw another poll at 29%. Stenner’s thesis is that in any society, about 30% to 33% of the population gravitate toward authoritarian leaders. So, it’s not surprising that Trump would land there. I believe those are the folks Applebaum is thinking about in her article in The Atlantic. This will be a marathon, not a sprint!


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