A little over a year ago at TomDispatch I wrote about the bloody nightmares rupturing my sleep and the night terrors gripping my little household in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. That piece was reposted by a wide range of publications. And then, in what at first seemed like a terrible mistake, I read the comments.
Some of them weren’t very nice. Some of the names the guys (and they were all guys) called me were downright mean. Shocking, I know. But a common thread ran through those responses, one I’ve been musing about ever since. It was this, as one fellow put it: “There’s nothing to be afraid of. Stop being such a coward.” They were wrong, of course. There’s plenty to be afraid of in the Trump era, from climate disaster to nuclear war to disappearing medical care. But they were half-right, too. Those of us seeking to resist Trump can’t afford cowardice. We need to practice courage.
Remembering that exchange with those trolls has gotten me thinking about some of the personal qualities we’ll need to sustain the movements resisting Trump and the Republican agenda. The ancient Greek philosophers called such qualities “virtues,” by which they meant stable habits of character—a dependable tendency to act a certain way in certain situations. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed we can only develop such habits through practice. We become courageous, he wrote, by acting courageously. In effect, we fake it till we make it.
There are many lists of such virtues. Aristotle himself described a number of them, some of which didn’t even have names—like the ability to be entertainingly witty at a dinner party. But most of the classical and medieval European philosophers settled on four key or “cardinal” virtues: justice, courage, temperance (which, today, we would call moderation), and wisdom. It’s as good a list as any to cultivate for those intent on resisting the transformation of our world into a Trumpian hell on Earth.
Ancient philosophers spent a lot of time defining justice. For the Greek philosopher Plato, a just person was someone in whom each part of the personality played the role it was best suited for. For Aristotle and many who came after him, justice consisted of giving to people what they were due or owed, what they deserved.
We’ve certainly seen the Trump administration fail to give people their due.