On Monday, March 21, students at Emory University in Atlanta found “Trump 2016” and similar campaign messages written in chalk on the sidewalk. A group of students organized a protest, and went to the university president to express their feelings of fear and intimidation.
It is silly to protest the chalking of Donald Trump’s name on a sidewalk. Those students need to buck up and take a deep breath and realize that this incident is not life-threatening. Part of growing up is learning to sort out the less serious from the more serious, the trivial from the significant, the molehill from the mountain. I pray that these students will chalk up this incident as a learning experience.
In another example of pandering to wimpiness, the Georgia legislature passed a law to coddle religious congregations and organizations whose delicate sensibilities might be injured if gay or transgendered people were able to exercise their rights. Facing a business boycott of the state, the governor vetoed the bill. The states of Kansas and Oklahoma passed laws to coddle evangelical clubs on college campuses who are frightened that inclusion rules for student activities might result in their clubs being taken over by atheists or gays. But it ought to be obvious that atheists or gays are highly unlikely to show up at fundamentalist Christian campus clubs at all. Christian conservatives are whining about the equivalent of chalk on the sidewalk. Instead, they ought to be putting the faith of Jesus into action against poverty. It is time say no to over-reactions to minor provocations, on our campuses and in our communities.
The students at Emory should not be protesting chalk. They should be protesting Trump, because he really is a life-threatening problem. He disqualified himself for the presidency when he said he would pay the legal bills for anyone who got arrested for beating up protestors who disrupted his rallies. It’s utterly unacceptable to run a campaign that way, nor should it even be conceivable to run a country that way.
We must say no to his incitement to violence. We must say yes to respect and peaceful dialogue about our nation’s issues. But there can be no campaign dialogue with Donald Trump about the future of America, after what he has done.
I think we have to be clear about this in conversations with our fellow voters. There is a long line of Republicans whom I did not like, did not agree with, and did not want anywhere near the White House, the Congress, or the statehouse. But this situation is worse by an order of magnitude. Donald Trump isn’t just the latest in a long line of impediments to social progress. He is a thug.
Trump cleverly obscures his thuggery by blasting a blizzard of baloney that drifts over any attempt to grapple with any one of his lies and distortions. His blather comes so thick and fast that it overwhelms the sensorium. It is a calculated method to keep his ego-balloon full, to mesmerize people into believing he’s a big, powerful, blunt guy who can shake things up and make America great again. Instead of trying to respond, item by item, to the countless outrageous things he says, he must be deflated by focusing on the one totally unacceptable thing that sums up all else that is wrong about his candidacy.
Ted Cruz is a plenty scary candidate for the presidency, too. For him to prevail over Trump would be like going from the fire into the frying pan. If Cruz gets the nomination, he’d be the most dreadful Republican to run for the White House in living memory. I need not list the abundant reasons for this postulation. I invoke his name only because of this: he’s a terrible candidate, but he’s qualified to run and he is worthy to engage in debate about the nation’s issues. Trump is not, and for one crisp, simple reason.
In my experience managing people in organizations, I learned that it was not a good strategy to give employees a long list of things they need to fix about their work performance. Particularly when a case had to be made for termination, I learned to keep the message short and clear. If we don’t sort out the truly significant problems about Donald Trump from the ones that are less so, we’ll get lost in page after page of ten-point type trying to argue the facts against his proposals. His supporters won’t respond to that approach any more than he will. Meanwhile, there’s a powerful, one-sentence indictment against his candidacy, looming over all else. Let’s use it as we talk with people who may be tempted to vote for him: “Don, you’re fired. It’s totally unacceptable for a presidential candidate to encourage supporters to beat up people for any reason.”
The Rev. Jim Burklo is an author and the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California.