"What would Trump do?" appears to be a question his growing flock asks themselves, even when their answer leads to a crime.
On Aug. 19, two brothers ambushed a homeless man in Boston because he was Hispanic — "inspired in part by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump," the Boston Globe reported.
One brother is said to have told police, "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported."
Folks acting out in the name of Trump necessitates two questions: how much is Trump culpable for what others do in his name, and what is our response as Christians?
Trump’s hateful speech toward immigrants seeks to coalesce his overwhelmingly white base together in opposition to a perceived threat. It's the worst of American politics. Trump's rise is fueled by the flames of xenophobia and nativism — somewhat dormant recently, but always present in the United States. The harsher the rhetoric, the heartier the poll numbers. The more he lobs incendiary claims, the more those people become a despised class of individuals in the eyes of his followers.
History teaches us that hate speech engenders hate crimes.
Susan Benesch, director of the Dangerous Speech Project and a professor at American University, argues that hate speech harms both directly and indirectly. She has found that hate speech "may directly offend, denigrate, humiliate or frighten the people it purports to describe — such as when a racist shouts at a person of color."
But even more than that, "Speech can also bring about harm indirectly — and with equal or even greater brutality — by motivating others to think and act against members of the group in question."
Benesch has shown how hate speech has led to hate crimes across the world and in various historical situations.
In the case of Trump, we have long seen his anti-immigrant speech offends, denigrates, humiliates, and frightens immigrants in the United States. He wears hate proudly on his sleeve. He wants a Great Wall of China-eqsue edifice on our southern border and "want[s] it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they're going to call it the Trump wall."
With this hate crime now in Boston, we can see the indirect effect of his speech as it motivates people to do harm in his name.
Crowds flock to see him speak. Will more people take keeping out immigrants into their own hands?
For Christians, if it wasn’t already clear that Trump’s anti-immigrant stood as an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which proclaims welcome to all, and Hebrew scripture, specifically identifying immigrants as a class of people to be protected, then we can now turn to Jesus’ fruit imagery.
Jesus proclaimed "every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit" in Matthew 7:17. Today we can see how clearly the Trump tree bears bad fruit.
The Trump tree bears bad fruit when it calls all Mexican immigrants "rapists and drug dealers," while Christian teaching calls us to see all people as made in the image of God.
The Trump tree bears bad fruit when it proposes a constitutional amendment to punish the children of immigrants who are born in the United States, while Christian teaching calls us to show special concern for children.
The Trump tree bears bad fruit when it claims to be a follower of Christ himself. The measure of following Christ is summed up in Matthew 25, including Jesus proclaiming "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." This tree fails to show the compassion and welcome towards immigrants that is inextricably tied to following Christ.
Trump is not the first tree to bear the bad fruit of xenophobia and race-based violence. His immigration policies have a long history of producing bad fruit from the trees named Senator Sessions, Rep. Steve King, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The fruit isn't just bad anymore, it's rotten.
Trump, to the amazement of many, has asserted himself as a political leader. And people are following. In yet another way today, we see clearly that he does in fact "lead." Trump's response to the hate crime only underscores how rotten his tree has become. After mentioning he hadn't heard of the attack, he said, "I will say that people who are following me are very passionate" and that "they love this country and they want this country to be great again."
Passion and hate fuel a scary fire.