Barack Obama’s presidency exposed the underbelly of bigotry and Donald Trump is exploiting it. To paraphrase a friend’s question: Can we do again what we did with the protests of the 60’s and 70’s? It could get rough but in this case America isn’t Germany in the 20’s, ’30’s and 40’s.
Germans, a proud people who, perhaps with some arrogance, saw themselves as the center of Western European sophistication and learning, were humiliated by WWI, their economy was in shambles, they were looking for a scapegoat and Hitler exploited the situation by providing one — the prosperous banking and merchant class of “the other,” the usurpers, the despised foreigners, the Jews, who, “undeservedly,” were taking their money, who were right there in their midst and were caught in the cross hairs as a very easy and vulnerable target. Those were the perfect conditions for the very worst to happen.
On the other hand our economy is solid (if severely unbalanced in favor of the 1%), the majority has their heads screwed on straight and I cannot help but believe that there is just some unique, core cultural value in America where people actually want to get along with each other and who really do support the notion of “promoting the general welfare.”
Yes, we certainly are tribal, but, more and more, I think, if my own experiences and impressions are valid, we want to get along with other tribes and, in some cases, transcend tribal boundaries to incorporate each other, affirm the rights of each other and affirm the multicultural and ethnic makeup of our unique experiment in republican democracy.
Have we as a country had our share of shame? Oh, my, yes — the attempted and nearly successful ethnic cleansing (what a euphemism for extermination) of Native Americans, the continued oppression and economic marginalization of Blacks, the prejudice against Hispanics and Asians, We European whites have had it pretty good for a long time at the blatant and shameful expense of other ethnicities and now we are fearful of losing some of those ill-gotten gains and privileges.
And who are the ones who are feeling the economic pinch the most, whether completely justified or not — the white, working class. In the face of the attention given now to the rights of minorities, it is the white working class, the one’s who fear being left behind and who are reacting in anger against those minorities, the ones most easily exploited by hateful, inflammatory rhetoric being used by those in power as scapegoats for their own agenda. The white, working class are pawns in an unholy, chess match.
The administration’s rhetoric of material prosperity to these people is hollow as seen in the initial action of the administration in choosing cabinet members from the Wall Street, financial elite who don’t have the interests of the working class and poor in mind. Initial talk of a tax plan which aids the richest belies the president’s phony rhetoric to his base.
Those who wanted power and who now are in power exploit that fear and try to reinforce racism, jingoism and rabid nationalism to their own advantage and the promotion of their ideology.
Trump’s inner circle concerns me most: Bannon, Miller, etc. Trump is full of egotistical bluster and is an expert at conning the masses but knows nothing of what has already made our country great, knows nothing of constitutional law, knows nothing of the spirit of what is etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty and is listening to those who have weaseled their nefarious and dystopian way into his confidence. They know weakness when they see it and use it as the pathway to gain influence for those sick ideologies.
As an old, retired preacher who still believes in the power of The Word of God, I’m hoping some brave white preachers will preach prophetically but com-passionately serving as prophet and priest to their white congregations, so that hearts will bend toward the inclusive Jesus and away from the fear that leads to hateful, destructive action.
It surely will cost some their pulpits, but as a wise minister asked me when I was a young, wet- behind-the-ears minister with a Northern, urban background serving a Southern, rural, yoked parish and having a bit of a rough time of it, “Who is your leader? Look what happened to him. They haven’t nailed you to a cross yet, so count your blessings.” It wasn’t particularly comforting at the time but his words guided me along the way.
I had become friends with the local African Methodist Episcopal minister and she suggested a pulpit exchange. I thought it was a great idea and brought it before the elders of the two congregations I was serving. The town church welcomed the idea but the country congregation turned it down telling me that they were perfectly happy having a Black preach to them but they would not allow a woman in the pulpit.
This was the early 70’s and that Southern, white congregation was willing to listen to a Black minister just so long as it wasn’t a woman. They were ahead of their time regarding race if not up to speed on gender. And the white, town congregation was happy to hear the word from a Black female.
The AME minister preached in my town church; I preached in her church and the country congregation used lay preaching that Sunday. Because they, for whatever reason, refused the pulpit to a respected member of the clergy in our county, I felt compelled to resign the congregation which I had served for four years and thankfully the town congregation picked up the tab for my full salary for six months while I sought another call.
My point? That was the early seventies; the ink of Civil Rights legislation was not yet dry; those were Southern, rural, white people and, yet, they made moves toward racial harmony.
That’s an example of what I believe is an underlying, core, uniquely American value influenced by the very best of Jesus’ message of inclusivity. These are always the better angels to be affirmed while the devil tempts.
We Americans are called to extend and expand that inclusivity to those of all religions and ethnicities and rights to all minorities whether gender, sexual orientation, etc. because that is what Americans are supposed to do and it is here that the expansion of the very fabric of our democracy is being stretched and tested.
I think working class whites were duped in the primaries and in the presidential election, but I don’t believe they are the hard-core, right-wing supremacists. I think the fringe haters numbers are very small even if they seem to be crawling out of every sewer in America right now.
If push comes to shove, I don’t believe the a majority of the white, working class will support hate and bigotry if it is really unleashed on people and we see a significant rise in hate crimes. Actually I feel empathy toward those folk. I am a middle-class, white male, the child of working class immigrants. I think today’s working-class whites are envious of and, at the same time, have adulation for the white, super-rich of America and have lived under the illusion that they, too, could be right up there and now they see the push for the rights of others and it has them scared.
I pastored a lot of working class urban and rural whites and their hearts are good and I saw them affirm the “general welfare,” but right now they, unfortunately, are feeling sorry for themselves and are vulnerable to their less than noble instincts. Again, metaphorically speaking, it is time to affirm these American’s better angels while the devil appeals to their darker motives. It is a battle against principalities and powers.
In what surely is legislation passed under the influence of the better angels of the Obama administration (health insurance for twenty- some million more Americans), we could be seeing the positive effect of self-interest. I think the Affordable Care Act may be the thing that wakes up these working class and old, white folks (many, I assume, who voted for Trump.) to their own best, self-interest. It’s like the dumb, old, white guy who told his elected representative to “keep the damn government out of my social security and Medicare.” They bought the lies about “Obamacare,” but now that they have insurance under the Affordable Care Act, as they have had the benefits of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they are discovering that they don’t want to lose it.
The fact that working class and old, white folk at town hall meetings are shouting down their Republican representatives and senators is a heartening
Whatever one’s ethnicity, religion and life circumstance, we cannot allow the devil what he thinks is his due.
What is everyone’s due is peace, harmony, justice, mercy, love and full human rights.
Jesus, the Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and others turned the world upside down toward love through non-violent resistance. We only have to help flip America right-side-up or maybe that’s “left-side-up.” Surely, it is the
side that “promotes the general welfare.” See you at the protests!
Yes, these are interesting, disturbing but not yet despairing times.