The horrifying, traumatic, and tragic deadly violence against Jews in Pittsburgh and African Americans in Kentucky last week, and the attempted assassinations of national political leaders and private citizens who have been critics of President Trump’s vitriol, have been clarifying. Next week’s elections are nothing less than a referendum on white nationalism in the United States.
I said earlier this week in a press statement, which you can read in full here, that "both U.S. and world history teach us that the poison of anti-Semitism is very real and has deadly consequences."
President Donald Trump is deliberately and unashamedly using a political strategy of fear and hate — that can and has turned to violence. Without racial and hateful words of presidential political rhetoric with its anti-immigrant and refugee attacks, the Jews who are gone today might still be with us and their families.
Our faith is offended by these assaults that contradict the biblical commands to love and protect our neighbors. Our conscience is seared by the lies and strategies of hateful politics that will lead to more and more violence in this country and put the soul of our nation in jeopardy. Words matter and hateful words do lead to violence. Our commitment to our brothers and sisters under attack will lead us to pray, stand, act, and vote against the politics of fear and hate, because of our faith and patriotism.
At a time of moral crisis, we as people of many faiths will live and love side by side.
From very early in his presidential campaign, I’ve argued that Donald Trump was running — and winning — on racial bigotry. It’s how he prevailed in a crowded Republican primary field in 2016, something I wish I could say I didn’t see coming. And it's how Trump has comported himself as president, for example, in his comments on “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville last year.
As we approach next week’s midterm elections, Trump seems to have concluded stoking white grievance, fear, and hate is the most effective electoral strategy for his political party to retain control of Congress. As E.J. Dionne points out in a column this week, “[Trump’s] grip on power depends entirely on splitting the nation in two. Angry division — rooted in race, gender, immigration status, religion and ideology — allowed Trump to become president. Absent a politics of us-versus-them, Trumpism makes no sense at all.”
White supremacists like David Duke, who have cheered on Trump from the beginning, have felt supported and encouraged by Trump’s recent declaration, “I am a nationalist.” Duke tweeted recently to suggest that Trump was declaring his support for white nationalism:
Trump Embraces Nationalism in a Massive JamPacked 99.9 % White Venue in Houston! Zio Journalists asked him if this is White Nationalism! Of course fundamentally it is as, there is no ethnic or racial group in America more Nationalist than White Americans... So What's the Problem?— David Duke (@DrDavidDuke) October 23, 2018
To paraphrase Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in the way he characterized his opponent Ron DeSantis’ relationship to racists — the white nationalists believe Donald Trump is a white nationalist.
Now that the election is less than a week away, Trump is trying to pivot as quickly as possible away from scripted and perfunctory denunciations of anti-Semitism to resuming a deliberate and coordinated strategy of lying about a group of desperate migrant women, men, and children still more than 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border in order to stir up racial hatred and create fear for electoral gain. In the latest, and among the most despicable, lies told about this “caravan” is the suggestion that some of the migrants may be bearers of diseases like smallpox and leprosy, which they could then spread through the United States.
Invoking leprosy doesn’t seem like an accident, as it’s a disease we seldom hear about today. It was declared to be “eliminated as a public health problem” by the World Health Organization in 2000, just as smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980. But leprosy is a disease we read about in scripture. In my view, the goal of raising “leprosy” is to spark fear among the white Christian members of Trump’s base of the migrants as a threat of biblical proportions.
The irony is that even an elementary reading of the Bible would suggest a very different treatment of people afflicted by leprosy than Trump is proposing. Jesus did not call for Roman legions to keep people with leprosy away from him and the rest of the Judean populace. Rather, Jesus directly related and ministered to people with leprosy and many others who were marginalized, cast out, feared, and hated by the society of his day.
Unfortunately, an anecdote from a colleague whose family goes to a mainline church in a deeply red area of a Southern state suggests that Trump, Fox News, and other right-wing media’s lies and fearmongering about the long walk of migrants are having their intended effect. At the end of a recent church meeting, the prayer asked God’s protection for Americans from the violent criminal and dangerous disease carrying caravan approaching the border, and praying for the army to stop them. The lies are getting through to the public, and the fear they are falsely fomenting is real.
On Tuesday, Trump sought to bolster his white nationalist credentials and further incite his anti-immigrant base by claiming he can end the 14th Amendment to the Constitution’s guarantee of citizenship to any child born in the United States. While Trump has gotten pushback from legal scholars and politicians in both parties, if he sought to take such an action the only thing that could stop him would be the Supreme Court, which means that at least one conservative justice would need to side with the Constitution over Trump. After seeing the Voting Rights Act gutted in 2013 and the Muslim ban upheld in 2017, I cannot say that I am confident that the Supreme Court will be the one institution that stands between Donald Trump and his white nationalist vision for the United States.
In light of this climate of lies, fear, and hate, and resulting violence, what are we as Christians to do? There will clearly be a great deal of long-term work needed to repair our nation’s soul even if we survive the Trump presidency. In the short-term, what we can and must do is vote in the election against hatred, against lies, against the strategies, tactics, words, and policies of white nationalism. We must cast our vote for a return to checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.
And, in particular, given the way in which voter suppression is being deployed in key races around the country in order to maintain the status quo of white supremacy, we must protect the rights of all voters to exercise their franchise of citizenship. That’s what our Lawyers and Collars partnership is all about, and there’s a simple message all of us can help get out to everyone with a role in overseeing next week’s elections: We are watching.
In addition to watching and sharing this video, there are other concrete ways you can get involved: This toolkit contains valuable information about protecting the right to vote for all eligible citizens.
The Bible proclaims all human beings are created in God’s image and likeness — so suppressing a single vote is at root suppressing the image of God in some of the children of God. You can also find useful resources for your state at our Lawyers and Collars website and the website for the 866-OUR-VOTE election protection hotline. It’s time for pastors and priests to become chaplains at the polls to help protect the image of God.
Let’s send an overwhelmingly clear message to Donald Trump next week that white nationalism with its fear, lies, hate, and resulting violence are not what the United States wants for our future, and using these tactics will not be politically and morally rewarded.