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Anti-Trump protesters demonstrate outside a meeting between Donald Trump and minority Republicans at Trump Tower, Thursday Aug. 25, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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David Cook

The most influential contribution we can make to American society isn't strong policy or bulletproof arguments or impeachment procedures.

It's grace.

Grace is the opposite of condemnation and contempt. Grace is beauty in a time of ugliness. Grace is more favor than what is called for.

When everyone else demonizes and mocks, grace doesn't. Grace refuses coarse language. Grace is elegance, but not in a snooty, white-gloved kind of way.

Grace sees past the surface and into the heart. And what's in the heart?

Well, everything.

Mercy, beauty, bravery, love, humility, soaring generosity.

And also violence, rage, bitterness, cruelty, hungry greediness.

In other words, we carry potential for everything.

"The human heart is the same the world over," Billy Graham once said.

"I, too, carry a war criminal inside of me," proclaimed peace writer Jose Luis Gil Monteagudo.

Yet we seem to have fallen into an all-or-nothing moral code which forsakes the complexity of the heart — our good, our evil, our in-betweens — for single-issue politics: either you are one of us or one of them.

We judge one another through a thin gaze of legalism, which creates a fog of judgment. I am unable to see all that you are beyond your politics. By defining you only by your stance on abortion, or war, or Trump, or Black Lives Matter, I don't see your philanthropy, or your work as a foster parent, or the second job to pay for college, or your third straight month of sobriety, or the early mornings writing your first novel.

That's the problem with politics. We identify each other based on our issues, not our humanity.

Look at all the names in the news lately. Andrew Jackson was either a grotesque Indian-killer or an outstanding president. Trump is either a savior or wrecking-ball fool. Ann Coulter? Students at UC-Berkeley? And so on.

It feels like legalism, something that narrows the complexity of the human experience.

Andrew Jackson? Ann Coulter? Obama? They are more than how you see them. So, too, the meth dealer, the U.S. representative and the anti-war poet. All more than our tiny judgments about them.

Grace fuels the language and behavior that honors such depth. Grace recognizes the layers of life, the grayness, the fact that a man can be both a scoundrel and a saint.

Sure, I know: this is the pot calling the kettle black. For years, ink here has flowed with easy criticism of others.

But something shifted in me after the election. I began to see all the planks in my own eye and less of the specks in yours.

I remember that I, too, have been rotten many times over.

I remember all the big and little transformations, my profound changes of heart, like little love letters that come unbidden and certainly undeserved:

Dear David,

You're welcome.

Signed,

Grace.

We love freedom in America, but what is freedom if we can't stomach even the name or image of Trump or Obama or the NRA or CodePink. (You pick your poison.) Emotionally, we react. Over and over. That's prison, not freedom.

Grace is the way out.

Graces invites transformation in a way humiliation and mockery never can. Grace is behavior and language that holds the door open for transformation, remembering that within Saul there is Paul. Within the slave trader, a hymn-writing abolitionist. Within this rogue before me, something beloved.

This is not to ignore protests or good policy or line-in-the-sand truth-telling. Not at all.

But our motive must be more than to defeat. The true motive — the mother, if you will — must be larger, more amazing than that.

"When you love people, you see the good in them," Dorothy Day wrote.

How much do we love other people in America?

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329.

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