Love as a Radical Political Act

We progressives are facing difficult days as we watch the dismal failings of the Trump administration and the hateful machinations of Republicans on Capitol Hill. Authentic dialogue seems impossible when “alternative facts” and outright lies characterize most of the rhetoric we hear from Trump, Republican leaders, and the rightwing media, all of which is parroted by many Trump supporters.

The temptation to return insult for insult and injury for injury is enormous.

But if we are to offer an alternative vision to the insular nationalism and greed that characterize this administration, we cannot become what we abhor. Rather, we must engage in love as a political act that refuses the current moment’s framing of us vs them and its attendant willingness to dehumanize and delegitimize those with whom we disagree.

Love is one of those words that is subject to a wide variety of interpretations—from the sentimentalized Hollywood version of romantic love to religion’s highly abstract love of God that supposedly encompasses us all but rarely leads us to love one another in authentic ways.

I’m talking of love as a radical political tool, an act of resistance to the dividing and subordinating forces of bigotry, inequality, and oppression. In this instance, love is not simply a personal, individualistic act, but rather it is social force that calls for change through the creation of belonging, empowerment, and right relationships and institutional structures.

Feminist theorist bell hooks calls what I’m describing a “love ethic” (All About Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow, 2000). She explains that a love ethic leads our choices to work with others, give all of ourselves to our relationships, and embrace “a global vision wherein we see our lives and our fate as intimately connected to those of everyone else on the planet.” This means, she says, we consciously choose a different set of values to guide our living. In this way, she notes, love is not merely a feeling but is a practice—it is a way we choose to act. Awakening to this kind of love, she argues, “can happen only as we let go of our obsession with power and domination.”

Love as a guiding ethic makes possible the transformation we seek—love is what motivates us to call for racial and gender justice; it is what drives our demands for inclusion, equity, accessibility, opportunity, and welcome. And our refusal to reject loving action, even in the face of insult, lies, and mistreatment must be what sets us apart from the current moment’s tribalism, rage, and hatred.

Love must become our organizing principle on the Left. It must be our end and our means, lest we simply replicate the structures of power, hierarchy, divisiveness, exclusion, and dehumanization we see with such clarity in the current climate.

We must engage in unconditional, undeterred, radical love as a political act to challenge the forces of domination and exclusion that surround us. An ethic of love offers us alternative ways of being in the world and responding to the current political situation. It means we do not ignore current conflicts; nor does it mean we accept the status quo without challenge. It also means we do not respond in kind to those with whom we disagree. It means we choose a different way, a way that honors the humanity of all, even those whose views and actions we find repugnant, but it also means we choose to act, to resist the current administration’s life-depleting rhetoric and policy and to offer alternative, life-affirming solutions to the pressing problems of our planet.

I cannot choose what the Trump administration does or what Trump supporters do. But I can choose what I do and who I want to be, and I do not have to allow those choices to be controlled by the chaos and anger emanating from this regime. I can choose not to become what I oppose. I can choose to love, politically, radically, in the face of opposition and even violence.

bell hooks says that fear keeps us from this kind of love. She says cultures of domination rely on fear to ensure our obedience and divide us from one another. She writes, “Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known . . . When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation.”

We progressives must choose to love. We must love one another, and we must love those against whom we struggle for justice. They are not the enemy. They are afraid. hooks quotes from the first epistle of John in the Christian Testament: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” Radical love overcomes fear, our own, and that of others.

We must have the courage to love radically and honestly, letting our love becoming the force that disrupts and subverts power and dominance and creates new possibilities for life, peace, and community.