The Pharisees often valued symbols more than the tenets of their faith. Trump values the flag and the anthem more than the things that they stand for.
In the New Testament, Christ often clashed with a group of clerics called the Pharisees, teachers whom he accused of valuing the symbols of their faith more than its actual doctrines and precepts. He condemned them for making a show of donating money to religious institutions while ignoring the plight of the poor; for valuing the symbolism of the Sabbath day more than healing the sick; and for wearing ostentatious displays of their piety while failing to minister to those in need. In effect, he told them, “Don’t tell me what you believe – show me what you believe.”
These biblical confrontations have a secular analogue in modern times, one that has been front and center as Trump and many of his supporters have made a great show of “defending” American symbols. For example, Trump has repeatedly criticized people like Colin Kaepernick who refuse to stand for the national anthem or those who choose to burn the American flag as a symbol of protest. Granted, I believe that these protest tactics are ill-conceived and that the people who use them could find more constructive ways to express their grievances. But while Trump parades around bragging about his “safeguarding” of American symbols, at the same time he ignores the very values that those symbols stand for.
Take one of the most basic values of American democracy: the right to vote. Shortly after Trump took office, he convened a Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity for the alleged purpose of combatting voter fraud. But everyone knew what this was really about – making it harder to cast a ballot. The fact is, numerous studies have been done on the incidence of in-person voter fraud (I once worked for a Republican BYU professor who conducted one) and they have found that it is a virtually nonexistent phenomenon (my professor’s study reached the same conclusion). Despite such facts, Trump has asserted that 3-5 million people illegally cast ballots in the 2016 election, denying him the popular vote. Now, he seems prepped to use his committee to manufacture “evidence” to justify making voting harder by enacting measures like voter ID laws and prohibitions on same-day registration.
Look at another value: religious tolerance. During his campaign, Trump proposed a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States. Upon claiming the Oval Office, he promptly moved to make this proposal a reality, issuing a Muslim Travel Ban that has been repeatedly found unconstitutional by federal judges. Trump’s Islamophobia goes deeper than just the Travel Ban: in November 2015 he proposed creating a database to track all Muslims in America and made the false claim that he saw thousands of American Muslims celebrating when the World Trade Center collapsed. And in March 2016, he seemed to condemn all Muslims everywhere by stating that, “I think Islam hates us.”
Let’s also talk about racial equality. Trump gained traction among the Republican electorate by trafficking in the ridiculous conspiracy theory that (1) President Obama was not born in the United States and (2) that he was in fact a Muslim. Do you think he would have said the same about a white president or presidential candidate? Trump’s racist attacks on Obama were only the most recent embodiment of Trump’s racial prejudice; in the 1970s, he and his father were sued by Nixon’s Justice Department for discriminating against black tenants in their apartment complexes (the case was later settled). Later, in 1989, when four black and one Hispanic youth were falsely accused of raping a white woman, Trump took out full-page ads in New York City’s major newspapers calling for them to receive the death penalty. And of course, we know about Trump’s deplorable equivocation about race-based violence in Charlottesville and his statement that people marching in a neo-Nazi torchlight parade were “very fine people.”
Face it: Trump’s life and presidency have shown again and again that he rejects the most basic principles of American democracy. He is working to deny people the right to vote, despite the vicious battles that activists waged to secure that right. He has singled out all members of a religion for persecution and has implied that they are not loyal Americans. And he has stoked the fires of racial animus, seeking to upend the racial harmony that America has fought to cultivate over decades of struggle. Though Trump may, through his words, claim to be a fervent defender of the American flag and anthem, his actions show that he cares nothing for what those symbols stand for. Football players may kneel for the anthem, but Trump has burned the flag with his bigoted views and drowned out the anthem with his religious intolerance.