Last night I spoke to my congregation about having tried to remain mostly silent during this campaign, for fear my thoughts would be viewed as partisan.
But now that the election is over, I want to speak.
During the course of the political campaign, I did write several blogs and shared several posts. A blog I shared over a month ago, however, drew an angry, partisan response, so I have refrained from further posts until now. To be fair, my wife Amy warned me that no one (right or left) would be able to hear beyond our nation’s highly polarized frame, and she was right.
Someone recently reminded me, however, that just because everyone will not understand doesn’t mean we should not speak.
So, out of my desire for honest dialogue, the lack of which is the cause of our deep distrust and which presents an ongoing threat to our democracy, I want to try to express my concerns with Trump’s candidacy – which have never been based on partisan bias.
I have never been a flag-waving Hillary fan, and my concerns in this election have never been anti-GOP. I am not anti-Republican. I vote for some Republicans in every election.
My concerns are much larger than partisan loyalties, more important than platform policies.
The first of two long-standing concerns about this race involves Donald Trump’s divisive language and his derogatory and demeaning condescension of so many people. Immigrants, Muslims, blacks, women, and the disabled have all been stereotyped and insulted. I am not criticizing “Republican language.” I am criticizing Trump’s unique rhetoric, which has inflamed anger, incited violence, and provoked the worst fears and hatred and misunderstandings of one another.
Words may be the most important power there is, and a leader has a responsibility to understand the power of words and must have the integrity to use them judiciously. Donald Trump has not. I am embarrassed by words he has spoken in public rallies and in his campaign – slights, insults, vulgarities, and childish put-downs. There is no cause, nor rational justification, for such incivility.
It is possible to speak honest truth without stooping to the gutter language and the shameful disrespect of people that has characterized his entire rhetorical campaign. If he just wanted to “tell it like it is” he could have done so without sounding hateful.
My second concern has nothing to do with Trump, directly. Rather, my concern is with the stunning hypocrisy of the Evangelical Church.
For decades we have listened to self-righteous diatribes, preachy condemnations of the failures of “liberals” and “elites.” “Morality matters,” they tell us – unless, as it turns out, it’s their candidate, and then personal morality can be “condemned” yet relegated to the arena of personal privacy.
Conveniently, personal morality can then be regarded as incidental, non-influential to presidential character and conduct. Even noted Evangelicals have called out their own church for “selling their souls,” endorsing a man whose serial philandering, filthy language, and tax-evading irresponsibility would have more than disqualified anyone representing the other side of the aisle.
I’m angry about such a fickle standard because The Church at large will pay for this inconsistency. People on the margins of church don’t know the difference in Evangelicals and fundamentalists, mainliners and progressives. We’re all just “the church,” and such a lack of integrity condemns us all, by association, as shallow and power-hungry.
I have shared these concerns previously. But today I have another and even deeper fear -- which nation-wide riots protesting Mr. Trump’s election indicate is not mine alone.
My greatest concern for Trump’s agenda is the backward-moving vision he has clearly articulated.
“Make America great again.” It’s hard to imagine any patriotic politician selling the nation on a stump speech decrying so loudly what a horrible country we have, how stupid are our leaders, and how incompetent our generals – though this is hardly the only irony of Trump’s successful bid for the Oval Office.
If you can get over the overt pessimism and defeating criticism, however, you have to ask, “Great again?” So, exactly when were we great before? To what by-gone era will he take us – and who will be left out if he leads us down such a regressive road?
I’m not sure if Mr. Trump realizes it or not, but the focus of his campaign deeply offends a majority of America’s great citizens (so it’s no surprise he was elected without majority approval). It wasn’t so long ago that women were honored only by being barefoot and pregnant. In my own lifetime blacks were relegated to separate fountains and facilities. In the past, if you weren’t white and Protestant your race was subordinate and your religion was suspect. Homosexuals weren’t even acknowledged, much less legally recognized.
Mr. Trump and his supporters need to recognize that taking us “back,” regardless of what he means by that, threatens to do just that – and we got where we are through great pain and anguish. We will not go back to any past.
We have many faults, to be sure, but the repair for all our ills is forward, only.
Likewise, when the angry billionaire rallied his angry base, “We’re going to take America back,” the implied question is: "Back from whom?" It’s not a giant leap to connect the dots. Using his own divisive language it is easy see who gets left out. It is clear who has been, and will continue to be, alienated by Mr. Trump’s vision for America.
Apparently the data show that a large segment of Trump’s support came from rural, white, Christian, working class America. In many ways these good people, like my four grandparents, have made America what we are – but they are not the face of what we are becoming. If you still want us to look like his rural base, therein lies the heart of our divide. This is just not reality.
Simply put, we are no longer a majority, white, male, protestant, Christian nation -- and this statistical fact and cultural phenomenon should not be lamented but celebrated.
We are what our beautiful democracy, the promise of our daring constitution, has made us! We are (demographically) mostly people of color who practice a wide assortment of religions, or no religion at all, who live in diverse and pluralistic, concentrated and growing urban centers. An old mentor of mine liked to say, “When you get old you just get more so,” and the diverse America we now are will only become more so in the days to come!
We are not going back.
Mr. Trump’s resentful campaign won the day, and as our president he will have my support. But if he can only lead us to look back -- to long for what was, and to alienate most of who we are becoming -- then the destructive division we witnessed during his campaign will be just the beginning of a sad legacy for this country I love so deeply.