This guest post was written by Kenneth Vandergriff.
Another young, black man shot in the back by police. The cycle of unending black and brown death pushes me to tears. The young man wasn’t innocent. There was a warrant for his arrest. But he was trying to make himself a better person. A father of two working on his GRE who couldn’t escape the life he once led. Unending black and brown death.
A disenfranchised young man half a world away and two generations prior to this shooting sits in the back of a packed room of disenfranchised men. He watches as someone takes a podium and begins to talk about how the country was great once, how it could be great again. It resonates with him. Over the next few months he begins to speak the same way. It turns out he has a way with words, a charisma that few can match. He begins a movement which overtakes the country. What is wrong with the country? How can we make the country great again? Eliminate the Jews.
A young man longs for the American dream. He starts a business. He fails multiple times but he keeps moving forward. He has a brashness about him that is charming in one moment and revolting in the next. He marries and divorces. He files bankruptcies. He finds his niche in reality television and a hairstyle that looks like the worst hair piece ever made. He runs for President. At first it seems like a joke. It seems that at some point his “movement” will blow over. It doesn’t.
What do the cycle of unending black and brown death, the rise and power of Adolf Hitler, and the unfathomable rise of Donald Trump have to do with each other?
The cycle of unending black and brown death, henceforth The Cycle, at the hands of police officers and others is a tragedy the majority of White America wishes to sweep under the rug. The idea that if The Cycle is ignored it will somehow miraculously disappear is a narrative fallacy. America is no more reconciliatory than it was during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. seem to fall on deaf ears. Yes, some strides have been made in the way of rights, but no significant progress has come in the last 50 years. The disproportionate incarceration rates of black and brown men, the economic disproportion between white families and families of color, and The Cycle itself have led to continued modern-day slavery.
Enter the Nazi party. Hitler claimed Germany’s problems were due to the Jews. The way to get rid of the problems was to exterminate the Jews. It didn’t happen overnight, but instead through slow and carefully crafted rhetoric that incited a frenzy in the country. Blond hair and blue eyes ruled the day. The Third Reich was the new Kingdom of God. The extermination of an entire people group couched in religiosity. People were convinced that the way to a better society was through the elimination of a lesser group.
The rise of Donald Trump in the Presidential Race baffles me. He has little to no political experience, his rhetoric is demeaning and at times outright hateful, and his following continues to grow. What began with an off-color comment about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle grew into building a wall on the Mexican border. While I condemn both comments I understand that some Americans desire a wall on the border. What is troubling to me is the way in which Trump’s rhetoric continues to escalate. After the Paris attacks, Trump called for bombing the sh*t out of terrorists and began to make suggestions that to make America great again the Muslims had to go. This escalated to comments that torture is a good means of gleaning information from terrorists and that killing terrorists family members is also a solution. For me, the final nail in the coffin was the endorsement of David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. When Trump was asked in an interview with CNN if would disavow Duke and the Klan, he failed to do so. He later blamed an earpiece for his guffaw.
What will make America great again? For Donald Trump it sounds a lot like what Hitler suggested. Trump’s rhetoric leads one to believe that making America great again requires making America white again. It is not a great leap from building a wall to building camps for Muslims or black and brown citizens.
My fear is that America didn’t heed the warnings of the Holocaust. My bigger fear is that all of this is couched in religious rhetoric. Donald Trump wants to stand up for Christians and claims he is persecuted for his faith, but he must be reading a different Bible than I read.
The heart of the Gospel, to me, is Matthew 25. What we do for the least of these we do for Jesus. What Donald Trump wants is to ignore the real issues surrounding The Cycle, immigration, and pluralism in the United States. I’m not convinced America was ever really great, so the goal shouldn’t be to make America great again, it should simply be to make America better than it is currently. To do so we must honestly and meaningfully grapple with the issues of The Cycle, economic disparity, and global refugee crises.
About Kenneth Vandergriff
Kenneth Vandergriff is a graduate student at Campbell University Divinity School, a father of four, and a minister. He anticipates pursuing a PhD upon graduation. He lives in Cary, NC with his wife and children.