The title of this blog is a line from a Jim Croce song written during the Vietnam War. The song was a challenge to Americans to think deeply about our involvement in the war and all that it implied. Did we really believe that American democracy was a force for peace in the world, that if we lived up to our ideals the rest of the world would follow our example and the threat of tyranny would fall by the wayside? Or did we in our hearts believe that our best interests and self-preservation could only be served at the point of a gun?
In the wake of the awful developments in Charlottesville and the mind-numbing and morally reprehensible response of President Trump to the devastation, we are faced once again quite clearly and unambiguously with a different but equally stark moral question. Now that it is so devastatingly clear whose interests the President has at heart (spoiler alert – it is not the common good) what will we do?
The night that Donald Trump was elected President, I couldn’t sleep. The next night was even worse. I relived a childhood trauma at the very thought that the country would be in the hands of this crazy man for the next four years. What I most feared was that his slogan of “Make America Great Again” contained the implicit additional prepositional phrase -“by restoring white men to their rightful place.” By the light of day on the Thursday after the election, however,I thought that perhaps my own fears had gotten the best of me. So I wrote a letter which I sent to everyone in my email address book, calling upon all of my friends, but especially my Republican friends, to help me understand why Donald Trump won. Much of what they wrote back made sense to me. Even if I didn’t necessarily agree, I could understand how a person of good will might see things that way. Perhaps what was most reassuring was that not one person threatened to stick a knife into my bleeding liberal heart!
What troubled me a bit, however, was that none of my friends addressed the possibility that a subtle (many, I know, would say not so subtle) racism and sexism was operating just below the surface in this election. Still, I am an American before I am a member of the Democratic party (heck, my loyalty to the New York Mets is stronger than it is to the Democratic party) and so I hoped the subtext I was hearing might be lodged in my own guilty conscience. And I also hoped – and prayed – that I was wrong about the President, that his much touted business acumen (much touted certainly by himself, but not only by himself) would help us get a handle on the ever burgeoning national debt and, perhaps, find a bipartisan home in the rebuilding of our country’s infrastructure.
And then came Charlottesville. Can any reasonable person doubt now that Donald Trump has emboldened the hate-fueled racists in America? (An important point of clarification here – while anyone of any race and ethnic group can be prejudiced- because prejudice is a function of ignorance – in America, only white people can be racist. Racism includes not just prejudice, but the ability to impose one’s prejudices on others.) Is there anyone who is not sickened at the realization that not only is white supremacy ideology alive and well, but that it is actually attracting a new generation of white young men? Given the President’s unbelievable comment that there were “good people” among the Nazis and other white supremacy groups which made up this sad parade of humanity in Charlottesville, can anyone now doubt that somewhere in his blackening heart the President has at least some sympathy for hate speech? Doesn’t it seem now that “Make America Great Again By Restoring White Men To Their Rightful Place” was EXACTLY what Donald Trump meant?
There is another line in Jim Croce’s song that’s worth reflecting upon. In reference to America’s supposedly overwhelming Christian faith, Croce writes: “You say you love the baby, but you crucify the man.”
Please don’t crucify the man. Recognize hate speech and actions for what they are. Don’t confuse the spontaneous actions of a very few of those repulsed by white supremacy who unfortunately allowed their anger get the best of them with the actions of those who are committed to an ideology of hate -and to spreading it by whatever means they can.
To all Americans, but especially for those who voted for Donald Trump truly believing this was the best decision for the country.
Now that you have seen….
Which way are you going?
Jim Philipps (3rd millennial pilgrim)