What would you do if a stranger came up to you and asked you to help him by tying his tie before a job interview? This video shot on the streets of Seoul, South Korea resonates because the young man asking for help is treated with such kindness from strangers who stop to help. They also wish him luck or give him reassurance about his job interview. They treated him affectionately like a son or a brother.
This video really did make me cry. It is a fact that America has become meaner in the past two years. Trump’s hateful rhetoric is being repeated with aggression even violence by adults and children. This is widely recognized as part of the Trump Effect. Because Trump’s bullying was rewarded and elected to the most powerful office in our country, it emboldened people to bully and humiliate. This is life in America now: dealing with the slings and arrows of a culture that rewards bullying and selfishness.
What Lincoln meant by “Our Bonds of Affection”
My emotional reaction goes beyond feeling the stress of dealing with bullying from Trump and others. Watching this video got me thinking about Lincoln’s plaintive plea to the nation in his first inaugural address in 1861.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. – Abraham Lincoln
I’ve always wondered what Lincoln meant by “bonds of affection.” I think this video actually demonstrates what “bonds of affection” means. This miraculous thing that we are capable of: to care and feel a regard for the well-being of strangers. We don’t have a great word for this relationship, this civic bond, in the English language. It’s not the same as patriotism; it’s more like kinship. It’s an intimate and emotional connection we have with each other.
This bond of affection is not unique to South Korea where I grew up and go visit regularly. I have seen it in action in America and everywhere else. We have all experienced this at some point in our lives. Things like Gofundme couldn’t exist without that bond. We know what it’s like to care deeply about the well-being of strangers.
In 2016, our “bonds of affection” became strained to the point people regularly made references to another Civil War. And, it is this civic bond that Trump attacks with his relentlessly bullying tweets. As Lincoln recognized if we don’t see each other as friends, if we see each other only as enemies, if we feel no “bond of affection,” if we begin to dehumanize each other, we are on a path to war.
How We Must Resist Trump
We must resist Trump by protecting and reviving our “bonds of affection” to one another. This is a political and spiritual imperative if we want to defeat Trump and Trumpism. That means taking time to build caring relationships with members of our community and being kind to strangers. It means treating people the way we wish to be treated.
I have spent too much time being scared about the future or just mourning what we have lost in the last two years. I want to focus my energy on restoring those civic bonds, creating positive and shared experiences, and organizing so that people feel heard and empowered.