Following the most recent bomb attempts on several of the President’s critics, President Trump said several things that are typical for presidents during times like this of national tragedy caused by horrible violence. He called for unity and civility, though he was, within days of the bombs being intercepted, back to calling the media the enemy of the people. But at a rally following the bomb attacks, he made an equally telling statement, and it made me wonder about the path that the President’s phenomenal support from white Evangelicals will take. Here was the statement during a rally for a mid-term election:
“You see how nice I’m being? . . . Have you ever seen this?”
Of course, the bomb attempts were then followed, tragically, by other devastating hate crimes in Pittsburgh and Kentucky. Let me be clear. I don’t think the President is antisemitic. I don’t think he intended the violence of Charlottesville, or the recent, failed, bombs sent to his critics, or the shootings by the white supremacist in Kentucky, or the attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh. What he has done, and continues to do, and absolutely intends, is to inflame and exploit common cultural fear, resentment and anger among whites in the US by pointing toward vulnerable outsiders as scapegoats. As he pointed out his own (brief) period of what he called being “nice,” I’m glad he asked his supporters, “Have you ever seen this?” Of course, he meant if we had seen such civility from him, and the rhetorical answer was, of course, “No.” or “Not as a rule” and I was reminded again how white Evangelicals are notorious for supporting a man who recognizes that he is notorious for stoking anger with personal attacks, among other problematic practices. And it is on this very feature in which his campaign and presidency parts from others. He routinely employs what is known as “demagoguery” which isn’t new, though none have used it as their political mainstay within the US Presidency until Trump. Demagoguery is, simply, “a manipulative approach — often associated with dictators and sleazy politicians — that appeals to the worst nature of people. Demagoguery isn’t based on reason, issues, and doing the right thing; it’s based on stirring up fear and hatred to control people. For example, a politician who stirs up a fear of immigrants to distract from other issues is using demagoguery.” – Vocabulary.com. He does campaigning, both before and after taking office, by insults, by smears, and by appealing to and exploiting cultural fears and prejudices, in his case, of whites. He does not generally call us toward our highest and best. Rather he appeals to and excites the fear of outsiders that is among the lowest common denominators of human kind.
From VP Mike Pence, prior to the Pittsburgh shooting: “What the president of Honduras told me is that the caravan was organized by leftist organizations, political activists within Honduras, and he said it was being funded by outside groups, and even from Venezuela. So the American people, I think, see through this – they understand this is not a spontaneous caravan of vulnerable people.”
Pence makes it clear that this caravan is a political stunt or plot, perhaps even a Trojan horse assembled by hostile foreign powers. Don’t be fooled by the children, the abject poverty, the human suffering or need, argues Pence. This caravan (which is about a thousand miles away, moving as fast as people with small children can walk), according to the Trump administration “is not a spontaneous caravan of vulnerable people.” So, what is it?
From Trump, prior to the Pittsburgh shooting: “the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy.” and “if take your cameras and search … you’re gonna find MS-13, you’re gonna find Middle Eastern, you’re gonna find everything.”
The Administration has alerted our military to respond to this “National Emergy.” And that’s because “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in.” If we looked closely, we’d “find MS-13,” “Middle Eastern . . . everything.” So what is the proof of these most serious of allegations? Why should we regard this group of what seem to be the poorest of the poor with fear as as a threat rather than with common human decency and concern? When pointedly asked for the evidence of the Administration’s claims of terrorists among this caravan, Trump said: “There is no proof of anything. There’s no proof of anything.” Yet he goes out and leads political rallies, saying that the Democrats are behind this caravan, organizing it, and that this group includes terrorists and the worst of criminals.
And it is to this “threat” which lacks any evidence that, it appears from early reports of the shooter’s online interactions, the Pittsburgh shooter was motivated to act against by way of attacking members of a local synagogue, whom he believed to be at least allied with these migrants / refugees / invaders.And when it comes to the pipe bombs sent to several of Trump’s more notable critics and political foils, Trump doesn’t talk about several of these these folks, even after the bomb attempts (!), as mere opponents, but as criminals, and as the truest enemies of the American people. They aren’t political opponents, they are, in Trump’s words, the enemies of the people of the US–like MS-13, and the terrorists that are on the very slow march toward Texas, hiding among desperate people seeking refuge.
Some folks who support Trump, even in the Church, have embraced and feel liberated by his rhetoric. But more have said that they don’t like all about him, but wanted, out of desperation, someone to be the wrecking ball in D.C. that he tends to be. They resonated with his anger, even if they thought he crossed the line sometimes. Others didn’t like him much at all but preferred him to Clinton and needed more conservative Supreme Court picks. And there are many more stories for Trump support, especially among white evangelicals.
But to all such folks, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ, I have a simple question, “Is it enough yet?”
Do we have enough conservative judges now to offset the constant scapegoating of everyone who tries to come here to flee poverty and/or violence? Have we had enough venting of our grievances, both real and imagined? Have we had enough insults, smears, and inciting of fears of those different from us? No wall can stop his fans from sending pipe bombs to folks he calls enemies of our nation. Praising a Congressman and actual violent criminal for his crime of physically attacking a reporter won’t lead to less physical attacks on the press. Retweeting all kinds of false statistics and other lies about black on white crime, or praising stop and frisk and rough treatment by police won’t encourage justice or better race relations. Repeating and repeating conspiracy theories and other lies won’t increase the respect for the truth. Doing politics and even foreign affairs with name-calling won’t increase civility. Whipping up fear against people seeking refuge instead of urging compassion won’t make our nation, or others, safer, or “great.” Please don’t bother telling me all the nonsense that somebody on the left does too. Whoever they are, they’re not the President; they don’t speak for the nation as part of their job. No President in my lifetime has praised torture, until now. No President in my lifetime has praised a criminal assault on a reporter, until now. No president in my lifetime has invented a “national emergency” out of thousands of the poorest of the poor from our southern neighbors, hundreds of miles away, traveling on foot, by emphasizing, without any proof (!), that they contain the most brutal of criminals and terrorists, and in so doing gave or at least agreed with a conspiratorial motive for a madman’s murderous attack on a religious community who dared support the plight of such desperate people seeking refuge and asylum.
He’s going to keep lying repeatedly each week or even day. He’s going to make all kinds of personal and false attacks against individuals and whole groups of people and even nations, which will play well at his rallies–lots of laughter and applause!–and sow deeper resentments and fears in others. He may even continue to praise dictators, torture and other violence, whether against reporters, critics or others. He will be vengeful as he admits getting revenge is both necessary to his success and one of the great pleasures of life. He will scapegoat outsiders, immigrants and the most vulnerable people in the greatest need in the world for political gain. His love of money and the things of the world will continue to be central to who he is, and he will insist that he has done nothing wrong and is a victim all the while. His brief, teleprompter-led moments of resisting demagoguery, what he calls being “nice,” will also come from time to time, when his advisors manage to convince him he must, at least for a speech or two, deviate from his staple practices. And we can all think back to the few other times he did so, perhaps even at his suggestion: “You see how nice I’m being? Have you ever seen this?” Then he’ll go back to demagoguery.
What I wonder is when the white evangelicals will no longer lead the way with the support of it all. How long are we going to let his mockery of others make a mockery of our faith with our support and defense of this man? Will the perceived gains ever start to taste like gravel? Do we want more anger, fear, demagoguery, division, more xenophobia in the US and the Church? With these latest reminders of how much hate is waiting in our nation to ignite into murder, have we had enough demagoguery yet, or do we want more?