Lessons from an Assassination

On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi during his nightly walk in New Delhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Godse was a right-wing, gun-toting religious believer with connections to a political party whose goals included making India a Hindu nation, rejecting the secularism that separated religion and state.

Almost every semester I’ve lectured on Gandhi and his advocacy of satyagraha, a term he coined which literally means “holding on to Truth.” You’ve seen it translated “non-violent resistance” and, like Mel White, “Soul Force.”

Gandhi never believed in compromising satyagraha. The very word he chose illustrates that.

He was not a relativist. Non-violence, for Gandhi is the only way to live in this world.

But this semester the class’ discussion of my lecture among its self-selected liberal students who were studying peace and conflict, was dominated by an assumption that was sure to enable the advocates of violence in our world to be winners – Gandhi couldn’t have thought it was true for everyone.

They didn’t want to believe – in spite of Gandhi’s fasts unto death, his Salt March across India, and his jail terms – that Gandhi thought his view was correct and others were wrong. These students had become what right-wingers in our culture wanted them to be.

The students wanted me to agree that Gandhi’s satyagraha was merely a personal position, that he wouldn’t believe it would be true for others. They wanted to like Gandhi, but couldn’t believe he was not fair and balanced. They wanted him to be a “postmodernist.”

No matter what their fantasies, Gandhi didn’t teach that sometimes it was okay to kill others. For him, violence was always wrong. His goal was to coerce others through every non-violent means possible to accept his position and reject violence.

But this doesn’t often represent “good” liberalism. Because others have held their beliefs strongly and absolutely, we are to be afraid of such things.

Relativism is much better, it says. All views have their truth. Sincerity trumps destructive views, and opinions are the same as facts.

The right-wing has been successful at portraying liberals and progressives to the public as “situation ethicists” who don’t really know what they stand for or who are blowing in the wind without a moral compass. Democratic movement toward the right-wing, which Democrats call compromise, only reinforces the belief that “liberals” don’t really stand for anything and will thus cave in to the other side.

What liberal relativists hoped was true worked better before the 1990s Gingrich revolution, before the religious right-wing first tasted political blood, and before conservatives learned how easy it was to portray compromise as weakness, moral softness, insincerity, and the inability to lead. If things don’t change, it’s likely to end the current Democratic majority.

Of course, “Democrat” does not equal progressive. Many, probably including the current president, are corporate centrists. Their leaders aren’t working class people.

So, those of us who do believe that discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, and all the other human categories, is always wrong, have to say so. And we have to say that what we believe is right and that destroying others is wrong as if it really is.

This is not to be mean or unlistening toward others. Gandhi never was, for that was acting in violence. But he was always forceful and absolute. And he wouldn’t compromise with violence.

We have to be willing to face the fact that the right-wing lies. Yes, I said: lies.

They have learned that even when they have been caught lying, they can be effective by repeating the lie. Repeating it long enough will make it seem less untrue.

They know the mainstream media is fickle. It seldom has a long enough attention span to follow-up on a lie. Eventually, it’ll treat the lie as merely one opinion that has as much validity as the other with which it merely differs (the one with the data behind it.)

No matter how often the polls say otherwise, the conservative and Republican talking-point is that the public doesn’t want a health care plan with a public option.

No matter what the legislative process is, the Republicans will say the Democrats rammed their legislation through.

No matter how the historical data says otherwise, Karl Rove and Dick Cheney will stick by their rewriting of history.

No matter what right-wing religious leader is found to be a hypocrite, the right-wing won’t criticize them they way they will any lesser offenses “liberals” are accused of committing.

No matter how they control the media, it will always be labeled “liberal.” No matter how they disenfranchise working people, they’ll claim to be populists.

And they know that they can bully so-called liberals into caving – whether it’s the President not defending his advisors when Glenn Beck targets them unfairly or a congressman’s misstatement turned into an apology. It’s frankly very easy.

They use liberals who don’t want to believe people lie. Put a right-wing justice before the Senate and he’ll say anything to get Democratic approval of his Supreme Court position.

Liberals don’t want to believe that when they’re seated they’ll do everything they said they wouldn’t. Supreme Court precedents? Sure, I’ll tell you that.

It fits your fantasy of the world. But don’t expect me to follow them if I don’t want to consider them.

They’re about gaining power. It’s little different than killing Gandhi or a women’s’ clinic doctor for what they consider a higher purpose.

It doesn’t take much more than knowing how to manipulate liberal guilt and meekness. Just learn from how Bush, Rove, Cheney, and Republicans since have done it.

When those of us who disagree can’t take a stand as if it is meaningful to us, we convince those who are watching that we’re not sincere. We lose their respect.

Even more so, we clear the path for those to rush in who do believe they’re right and others are wrong. We enable them to take over.