America's Flirtation with Fascism | Sojourners

America's Flirtation with Fascism

Donald Trump at a campaign rally Oct. 10 in Atlanta.
Donald Trump at a campaign rally Oct. 10 in Atlanta. Olya Steckel /

Our country is in growing danger, and not just from the real threat of terrorist attacks. We are in jeopardy now from the internal fear that capitalizes on America’s worst instincts. Caution can be a positive thing in response to serious dangers, but panic and fear can be very dangerous impulses, especially when they are used to incite the hatred of others by false leaders who proclaim their own “strength” — people like Donald Trump.

Hatred of “the other” because of fear has created some of the most dangerous movements in human history. Donald Trump is appealing to racial and religious fear and hate in order to advance his own success. But an even greater danger than Trump is the growing popular response to him, the standing ovations to his most vicious attacks on racial minorities, immigrants, and now all the members of a world religion. Because of his notoriety and the ratings it garners, the media grants Trump credibility and constant coverage of his continued falsehoods and ugly assaults against those whom he has named as enemies — who are mostly people of color.

For many years Trump has sought to portray the first black president of the United States as a foreigner and not “one of us.” Trump’s demonization of immigrants, in sharp contrast to the facts, has changed the conversation in America. After lying about Muslim reactions to 9/11, Trump is now calling America to “completely shut down” all Muslims from entering the country. In other words, he is calling for an unprecedented, unconstitutional, and un-American test targeting people based on their faith.

Donald Trump is strategically stoking the racial fears and hate of a solid segment of white America that fundamentally rejects a diverse American future. The real meaning of his famous “Make America Great Again” motto is “Make America White Again.” And with their fears trumped up, his following is itself a dangerous threat to America. Since 9/11, more Americans in the United States have been killed by white extremists than by militant jihadists.

Stopping this hateful spread of Islamophobia and racism must become a bipartisan and trans-partisan issue — because it is now a moral question. Leaders from both political parties must denounce Donald Trump’s statements and distance themselves from his dangerous ideology. Journalism must return to the values of truthfulness, freedom, integrity, equality under the law, and religious liberty in its coverage. His toxic message is becoming a dangerous threat to our most basic American values, and it should treated accordingly.

From a religious perspective, Trump’s “strength” is a falsehood. Arrogance, lies, greed, the will to power, and the manipulation of racial prejudice and xenophobia are not strengths to us, but are contrary to all of our faith traditions. As faith leaders, it is time to call upon our constituencies to reject these false idols of power and division.

It’s time to name Trump’s dangerous rhetoric for what it is. It is not only racist, but also fascist, with all the dangers that ideology implies. And it’s time for American political leaders, and also for American religious leaders, to denounce Donald Trump’s appeal to our worst instincts of fear and hate. We must act before his movement grows to become even more dangerous. The truth is that we have seen this before. And it’s time to tell the truth.

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