I’m not going to lie, Trump’s win a few weeks ago felt devastating. For a number of reasons. Some people will understand that and some others will be left scratching their heads as to why. Let me seek to explain. This might be long and it might be messy.
I think for all of us, this has been a really hard election cycle. It has been unusually long and unusually dirty. There was drama even way back in the primaries, with Trump’s unexpected rise and Bernie’s surprising challenge to Hillary. Right down to the wire.
And then came the general election. There were vicious attacks back and forth, but with Trump to my mind going especially low. Attempting to brand his opponent as corrupt, dishonest, and a literal murderer and criminal. He used her husbands former mistresses and accusers against her. He promised to lock her up to her face. He physically mocked her when she was ill. He said literally anything he thought he could make stick, whether it had any basis in reality or not.
Trump supporters will of course see this differently and smart at their perception of Hillary’s tactics, but that is my vantage point.
And then there was the drama with Hillary’s e-mails, an FBI investigation, Russian hacking and interference, surprise video recordings surfacing of Trump bragging about sexually accosting women, a number of women coming forward to testify that he in fact did attempt to force himself on them, Comey’s questionable insinuations about a new investigation eleven days out from the election, and wild poll swings back and forth throughout.
Exhausting. We all felt it. We were ready for it to be over. For some of you it is. Those of us who opposed Trump were ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Hillary was leading in the polls. Our worst fears looked to be averted. Some who openly admired Hillary were ready to celebrate our first female president.
And then the results started coming in. Our anxiety started to build and then full-on panic began to set in. Trump was not only winning, but winning by a landslide (in terms of electoral college, at least). Not only that, but Republicans kept the Senate and dominated in the House. It felt like a sucker punch.
Ok, so my preferred candidate/party lost. So what? Suck it up and move on, right?
It’s not that simple. But before explaining why, let me acknowledge a few things. I respect our democratic process. Trump won and barring evidence of malfeasance, I’m bound to accept that. I hate the illegitimacy Trump sought to tarnish our democracy with when it looked like he was losing. What other candidate has refused to accept the results – unless he wins? What other candidate has sought to germinate revolt in his followers by lobbing baseless allegations of rigging? That’s shameful and I wont stoop to it myself.
To be clear, there was a handful of instances of voter fraud – at least some of them on Trump’s side. There was voter suppression and voter intimidation from the GOP (see below). And of course there is the related issue of gerrymandering. These need to be corrected, but sadly they wont. At least not for a while.
There was Comey’s unprecedented use of a federal agency to influence the election, counter to protocol. There was Russian influence in obtaining troves of hacked e-mails and then releasing them through WikiLeaks. There was all these things, but I have no way of knowing if that was enough to definitively sway things toward Trump. As I said, at this point I am bound to accept the results.
This does not mean that I will not oppose many of Trump’s proposals in every ethical way I can (more on that in a minute). But it does mean I accept the outcome of our election process.
Let me also say that unlike the Republicans’ response to Obama, I do not seek to be an obstructionist simply for obstructionism’s sake. If and where Trump seeks to accomplish things I think could do good, I will support him. The problem is that much of what he has been about is bad. Disastrously so. And that brings me to some of the other reasons I lament Trump’s victory.
My wife Jen
My wife Jennylyn is a Filipina woman of color. She is not here yet. We are going through the Spousal Visa process. Trump has entertained a number of different ideas about limiting immigration. He infamously called for a ban on all Muslims from entering the country. My wife is not Muslim, but other ideas he’s thrown around could affect us. That scares me. Not knowing how this will effect us scares me. That’s on top of the normal anxiety of missing my wife. We have been separated by distance for over a year.
In one of his more recent versions of the ban, Trump seemed to call for a restriction on ALL immigration from countries that have some connection to terrorism. Although he hasn’t laid out exactly who those are or how that would work, he’s (selectively) referenced the Philippines and basically a dozen or so non-white countries as ones where terrorists have come from.
I don’t know what he will actually do and my hope is that she would be here before he could be able to take such drastic measures. My bigger fear is that he might pass something post-arrival that could effect her. I’m also afraid of the attitudes towards foreigners Trump’s presidency has already emboldened.
Lurking at the back of my mind too is fear of what our deteriorating relationship with the Philippines and Filipino President Duterte’s inflammatory words and actions might do to Americans’ perception of Filipinos. I’ve already seen openly bigoted, nationalist sentiments against Filipinos in the comments sections on news posts. Trump has been vocally against China, but Duterte has become more friendly with China and harshly critical of the US.
I see now that Duterte has been more positive in some of his comments about Trump and that Trump has called to support Duterte’s violent, extra-judicial killings of Filipinos accused of drug violations (which is deeply disturbing). However problematic that may be, hopefully that bodes well for the relationship between our two countries.
So I worry about my wife. I worry about how we will be reunited and where we will live. I feel sadness and anger about the hate and bigotry she will face. Would face no matter who won, but I fear will be elevated by Trump’s vindication.
Muslim and Refugee friends
I also worry for my Muslim friends, especially my former refugee clients. As a student in grad school for social work, I interned this last year at an agency that helps resettle refugees here in Chicago. The case worker I interned under is Iraqi and many of the clients we worked with were either Syrian or Iraqi.
Refugees by definition have fled their home country because of a well founded fear for their lives. The situation for refugees in America is a little different than in Europe. We are not directly connected to Africa or the Middle East, so we can better control the volume and flow of people coming here. Refugees go through a vigorous screening process before they are given the ok to come.
Yes, it’s not always possible to obtain original documents and no screening process is one hundred percent reliable. But the refugee process is more rigorous and time consuming (it can take two years) than any other way of coming here. There are easier ways for foreign terrorists to slip in and US refugees have rarely been implicated in terrorism. As of October 7, 2015, only three of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11 have been caught plotting terrorist acts.
If that still sounds like a scary number, it’s worth noting that, statistically speaking, terrorism is a minor threat compared to other everyday risks. Americans are more likely to be killed by lightning or peanuts than they are to be killed by terrorism. Its also worth noting that most US domestic terrorism is committed by white Christians (self-professed, at least). But we know its ridiculous to stereotype all such people, right? No population is completely free from potentially dangerous elements. It’s unfair to expect that or scapegoat entire populations based on the actions of a very few.
As a side note, the refugee crisis is broader than the Middle East and it is only going to get worse. We can’t fix everything, but many less affluent countries are doing much more than we are. And in light of our environmental habits and foreign policy choices, I think it would be hard to dispute that we bear at least some responsibility for what is going on.
And for the most part, refugees and immigrants more generally do not take jobs away from American citizens. They often add to a countries economy as they did in Germany. Many other common notions about immigrants, such as the idea that they bring increases in crime, are wrong or at least simplistic.
Donald Trump has consistently whipped up fear and hatred toward Muslims and refugees. He called for a ban of all Muslims from entering this country, suggesting that any one of them could be a terrorist. He has entertained shutting down Mosques, registering Muslims, and insinuated that they know who among them is a terrorist (i.e. even innocent Muslims are in some way culpable if one of them commits an act of terror). According to him, “Islam hates us.”
He insists that terror attacks committed by fringe Jihadi groups and which violate the Qur’an and Hadith be branded “Islamic.” (How would we feel about someone insisting that the KKK be labeled a “Christian terror” group?)
Although he will not tell us what his plan to defeat ISIS is, he is clear that he wants to bring back torture and also kill the families of terrorists, even if they are innocent. Trump has indicated that he is willing to violate the Geneva Convention and even steal invaded countries’ resources. The way he describes Muslims, and especially refugees, is as an invading horde or an infestation. He regularly lies about refugees not being screened and being a Trojan horse for terrorists. He has promised to deport all Syrian refugees we have taken in.
Many of the advisors and cabinet Trump is choosing to surround himself with also hold extremely Islamophobic views. For example, his chief strategist Steve Bannon is an “alt-right” white nationalist who, as executive chair of Breitbart, spread anti-Muslim hate speech.
General Michael Flynn, his pick for national security advisor, once tweeted that, “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL.” According to the New York Times, Flynn appears to believe that:
“Islamist militancy poses an existential threat on a global scale, and the Muslim faith itself is the source of the problem, he said, describing it as a political ideology, not a religion. He has even at times gone so far as to call it a political ideology that has ‘metastasized’ into a ‘malignant cancer.'”
I can’t imagine how terrified many of my Muslim and refugee friends must feel right now. Their futures and possibly their very lives hang in the balance. Where will they go and who can take them in if they are deported? Their home countries are war zones and most surrounding countries are flooded with refugees. How will they survive (let alone thrive)? And if they remain here, they are subject to discrimination, harassment, and even violence. If, God forbid, another terrorist attack occurs, they will likely be scapegoated mercilessly.
To be honest, I fear that Trump’s belligerence toward Muslims will incite more radicalization; and this in turn could endanger more people (including Westerners) and snowball into escalating violence.
We know that terrorists often come from marginalized groups that feel oppressed. We know that both Jihadi radicals and many far-right conservatives want to sow a “clash of civilizations” narrative where (Western) Christianity and (Eastern) Islam are irrevocably at war with each other. Not just extremists on either side, but the cultures in toto.
We know ISIS is already using Trump in their recruitment videos. They are saying (essentially), “look how much they hate you. Look how they treat you. You will never be accepted there. Come join us and have your vengeance.”
We have seen how Western colonialism and violence have bred anger and responding violence. More terrorism. (Not unlike what their terrorism and historical violence has done to us.) If Trump enacts policies that violate the civil rights of Muslim Americans and is willing to target innocent Muslims, bomb Iran, etc.; can there be any doubt this would invite push back? Trump can kill groups of terrorists, but he can’t “bomb the hell” out of an idea, an impulse.
What happens when new terror groups rise up and new terrorist acts are committed? Can we count on a Trump administration to make careful distinctions in policy and rhetoric between extremists and Muslims in general? Why would we, given what he’s already said and done.
And what happens if Trump’s domestic promises of restored jobs and greatness fail to materialize? Can we expect Trump to take the blame or advance a nuanced account of the challenges we face? Of course not. He will find a scapegoat like he’s consistently done. And Muslims are easy scapegoats right now in the cultural milieu we find ourselves.
Constituting only 1% of the population, many people don’t have daily relationships with Muslims. So they revert to stereotypes. Such a small demographic lacks political power. Since most Muslims in the US are ethnic or racial minorities, racism and xenophobia come into play with Islamophobia.
As my friend Brian points out, one difference between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in the West is that some Muslims actually do legitimately harmful things. Most Jews are not committing acts of violence against Westerners. (Though to be fair, Israeli Jews often do harmful things against Muslims, and vice versa). Terrorist acts are visibly and undeniably evil.
Fear and hatred toward Muslims is more widespread than we would like to believe. FBI data shows that hate acts against Muslims have tripled just in the last year. There is an entire cottage industry of books and websites trying to argue that Islam is inherently violent and totalitarian. Muslims that seem nice are either not being consistent or they are crafty, just biding their time to impose Sharia on you.
I’ll never forget some of the comments I saw on a post by Evangelical leader Franklin Graham. In the post Graham is agreeing with Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from immigrating to the US. The post got a lot of push-back, but it also got 167,000 likes and a lot of chilling cheers such as some of the following:
“…This is about a culture of evil power lust based on the twisted teachings of the Quran!…Islam teaches you need only kill people for Allah to be brought into heaven…All Islam carries this demonic seed!!”
“Ship all of them out of OUR COUNTRY, ENOUGH OF THEIR MADNESS!!!!!!”
“Pastor Graham I would go one step further, deport them all. I would feel a little sorry for any peaceful ones, but they had a chance to help this country out by reporting on where the other ones are located.”
“Remember the story of David and Goliath?? David killed him with a sling shot with God’s power. This shows that when your life is in danger you do away with the evil by destroying them. In the Bible times you find walls around the towns. Why? To keep the enemy out!”
“…they only teach hate and death to other religions in there…so yes get rid of all mosques.”
“The man advocating the quarantine of dogs does so not out of hate for the dogs. Rather it is because he knows that many are rabid and a threat to human life….The solution in such a case is not to kill them all, for which a strong argument exits, but to exclude them…”
“Unlike the Judeo-Christian faiths, Muslims are not bound by truth. They are not only permitted to lie, they are commanded to; it’s called Al-Taqiyya. To Muslims Mohammed is the perfect example and they are to follow his example similar to the way Christians are to follow Christ’s example. According to the Hadith…Mohammed was a terrorist, murderer, deceiver (lier) racist, misogynist, rapist, and pedophile and promoted the same for the advancement of Islam. That’s a historical fact…any Muslim that does not subscribe to terrorism, rape, racism, ect. either is not in fact Muslim at all (AKA Secular Muslim) or they are practicing Al Taqiyya to deceive the Kufar (Unbeliever). Allah is referred to in the Koran as ‘The greatest of deceivers” (AKA Liar). To deceive is a central value of Islam. Never forget that.”
With anti-Muslim sentiments like this so high, and now with an Islamophobic administration in power which has promised to do tangibly harmful things to Muslims, there are legitimate reasons for fear.
The accusations in the comments above are scary, but are they true? It is beyond the scope of this post to give that question the attention it deserves, but in a word, NO they are not. A tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists and their brand of Islam is definitely dangerous. They and it deserve to be eradicated, just like every other movement of hate.
There are also other troubling norms that are reasonably widespread in the Muslim world: homophobia, dehumanizing treatment of women, intolerance of other religions, cruel judicial punishments, etc. We liberals need to be honest about that. Yet, these kinds of problems are not exclusive to Islam, not all Muslims fall prey to them, and in many cases there is legitimate theological debate about if they are true to the spirit of Islam.
On the other hand, most Muslims are peace-loving people. For millions of Muslims, their Islamic faith has transformed them to love God and be loving and compassionate toward others. I’ve seen this in my Muslim friends and also read about it in my study.
Are these people simply good in spite of an ideology that is really all about ruthless domination? Again, I don’t think so. The Al-Taqiyya claim that Muslims can regularly lie to deceive others is just wrong. The Quran everywhere calls for honesty, with extremely circumscribed exceptions. The doctrine of Al-Taqiyya is most prominent in the historically persecuted Shia branch of Islam and it has to do with being able to avoid torture.
There are definitely violent injunctions in places in the Quran. Beyond the Quran, Sunnah, and Hadith; there is certainly intolerance and imperial religious violence at times in Islamic history. Though to be fair, the same is true of Christianity and other religions that become intertwined with empire.
The question is, what is the context of these violent passages? Most scholars would agree that there are three main stages of early Islam under Muhammed. Early on, Islam was a tiny persecuted movement in Mecca. At this stage, Muhammed called his followers to pacifism and forbearance.
Later, after Muhammed fled to Medina, he exercised political power but was still in a precarious place, under constant assault by the stronger Meccan coalition. At this point, Muhammed believed Muslims were given the option to fight against those who opposed them – but only defensively and the way they fought was to be bounded by restrictions not unlike our “just war” school of thought: no killing of non-combatants, proportionality in violence, a preference for mercy and peace, no unnecessary destruction of crops, protection of holy places and leaders (including Jewish and Christian ones), and so on (Esposita 132-57; Dagli 1805-17).
After Muhammad retook Mecca (with virtually no bloodshed), he started to have much more control in the Arabian Peninsula. There are Quranic passages after this that strike many as more violent and unbounded than those that came before. For example, this is when the infamous “verse of the sword” was revealed.
There is debate about what passages like this mean and whether this new phase introduced a more aggressive mandate that “abrogated” earlier restrictions or, rather, if it was restricted to a particular situation and (contextually) more bounded itself than critics usually imply. Under the latter reading, earlier passages that urge peace and moderation in justified fighting are not abrogated but are meant to always apply.
Islamophobes and terrorists side with the former interpretation. Most Muslims and Islamic scholars I have read say the latter (for example, see here or read Caner K. Dagli’s essay “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran” in The Study Quran).
It’s important to note that Muslim belligerence sometimes stems in part from their sense of being under assault. Such a perception goes back to the crusades, but more recently it stems from events such as the following:
British massacres of Muslim in colonial India, invasion of Afghanistan, and economic exploitation of Egypt; French exploitation of Lebanon; the creation of the state of Israel (on which see below); the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and violent suppression of Muslims in Chechnya; ethnic cleansings of Muslims in Bosnia and Myanmar; and America’s oppressive Mid-East policies (e.g. propping up regressive regimes, CIA backed coups, dubious invasions with hundreds of thousands of lives lost as “collateral damage,” areas destabilized, drone strikes, carte blanche support for Israel – even when they engage in injustice, military bases throughout Muslim majority countries, etc..) (Goldschmidt 193-408; Aslan 225-77; Atmstrong 302-401).
With Israel in particular, we are simply not thinking empathetically about how it would feel, psychologically, to have Zionism imposed from the outside. At the time of the Balfour Declaration, 93 percent of Palestine was non-Jewish (Goldschmidt 266). It had been under Muslim rule for thirteen hundred years. From an Arab perspective, the creation of Israel broke a previous promise England had made to them (Goldschmidt 202).
I remember reading about a Saudi King who asked President Roosevelt why a national homeland for the Jews could not be carved out from a part of Germany, since they were the ones who perpetrated the holocaust (Goldschmidt 236). Can you imagine how the Germans would feel about that, especially if the Israelis did there what they do in Israel/Palestine.
Or imagine if America became so weakened that some outside power like China could decide to give a good chunk of the American East coast (including culturally important cities like New York) back to Native Americans for a national homeland. We’d be shamed and incensed.
I’m not saying that Arabs, Palestinians, or Muslims haven’t done terrible things to Israelis; but they’ve had a lot of terrible stuff happen to them too. And as a rule, we are not even trying to understand their perspective.
And that ties into a final point. Much of the violence perpetrated by Muslims is as much based on economic, cultural, and geopolitical realities as it is Muslim doctrine. When various peoples are poor, oppressed, shamed, and desperate; they resort to scapegoating and (desperate) violent measures. Where there are power vacuums, they will be filled. Where people feel marginalized and disenfranchised, they will lash out. This is true for people in general, not just Muslims. We’ve seen it here in America too.
Likewise, Muslim attitudes towards those of other faiths is complicated. Islam is a proselytizing religion that seeks to convert others to its way of life. There are places and times it has been intolerant of other belief systems, especially polytheism. But in general, it has not sought to forcibly convert others. Jews, Christians, and Sabeans were protected “peoples of the book” who were allowed to continue practicing their religions under certain restrictions. Both Caner Dagli (1810-11) and Reza Aslan (271-72) argue that this protection was sometimes extended to Hindus, Zoroastrians, and others.
And since “there is no compulsion in Islam” (Surah 2:256 cf 109:6; 18:29; etc.), there is no conflict for Muslims in democratic countries tolerating people of other faiths or no faith.
Similar complexities revolve around the Islamic notion of Sharia. Like Judaism, Islam tends to emphasize orthopraxy (correct action) over orthodoxy (correct belief) (Esposita 159). This does not mean theology is unimportant to Muslims, nor does it mean they are merely “legalistic” (though of course some are).
Sharia has many meanings and is broader than just “Islamic law” – though it includes that. It is a body of Quran-based guidance that shows Muslims how to live. There are different schools of interpretation and different levels of rigidity in how Muslims approach it.
Traditionalists want to equate the early law schools with God’s own unalterable will. Reformers argue that only the Quran is completely divine. The other elements that go into Sharia are human and the products of social custom and human reasoning. As such, they are contingent on social and historical circumstances and are subject to change (Esposita 158-66; Aslan 164-73).
Even in terms of the Quran, as Reza Aslan points out, it was revealed in a progressive and flexible way: with new revelations superseding old ones and adapting to the Muslim community’s changing circumstances (Aslan 170-71). While revelation ceased with Muhammad, reformers argue that keeping true to this adaptive spirit and the (for the times) radically egalitarian ideals of the Quran and early Muslim community means emphasizing those aspects of it; seeing it’s values of justice, compassion, and mercy as the interpretive center and trajectory through which to approach the rest and be able to adapt it where necessary.
Some critics claim that certain communities in Europe with a high Muslim immigrant population have become “no-go” zones where non-Muslims are unwelcome and where regressive forms of Sharia are enforced. There are certainly poor, predominately immigrant communities that face challenges, including crime and a sense of alienation. These problems are as much socio-economic as they are religious (Esposita 233).
While I cannot completely rule out the possibility of some such de facto “no-go” communities, many such claims have been debunked and most of the sources I see such claims in are Islamophobic and in other ways not credible. I and I think most Muslim immigrants would agree that they should follow the laws of whatever country they find themselves in, granted these laws are just. Regressive forms of Sharia should not be tolerated. For more on the challenges of Muslims in the West see Esposita 221-40.
All of this to say, Sharia has different meanings and is subject to a variety of interpretations and applications (not unlike Jewish halaka or even Christians’ use of the Bible). Just like them, some interpretations are more compatible with a constitutional democracy than others. But also just like them, it would be unethical and unconstitutional to insist that Muslims completely disavow Sharia. We would never say Jews had to disavow Jewish law or Christians disavow the Bible in order to live in or participate in our democracy.
Muhammad was a complex historical character. As a non-Muslim, I’ll freely admit that there are aspects of his life that I find troubling. Particularly his marriage to a young girl (although there are a variety of Muslim explanations of what this really meant and when it would have been consummated). And yet, there are also things I admire about Muhammad, like his honesty, compassion, and forbearance.
He was willing to fight and even be ruthless at times, but I think painting him as bloodthirsty is a distortion in light of his overall character as well as the historical and situational context he lived in (see Aslan 3-108). It’s also important to remember that the attributes of Muhammad most Muslims seek to copy are his benevolent ones (Goldschmidt 40-41).
Those who would seek to know more about Muhammad deserve to read from a variety of credible perspectives (including sympathetic ones and not just those out to damn him).
I could write about many other things. For example, I could write about how Muslims view God not just as a harsh judge, but also as profoundly loving. But the bottom line is this: Muslims are basically like everyone else. Some are good people and others bad. Likewise, as with other religions, Islam can be interpreted in a variety of ways. To some, Islam inspires violence and hatred. For others, it leads to love and kindness.
In contrast to Trump’s caricature, the refugees I have worked with are mostly good people. I’ve laughed with them, watched them kiss and play with their children, and even been invited into their homes for coffee and baklava. I know they are not the menace Trump and many of his followers imagine. I weep and rage at the hatred and ignorance I have seen spew forth from many against Muslims and particularly Syrian refugees. I fume at the privileged hypocrisy that cries “religious freedom” and would strip the rights of those of a different faith.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans friends
I fear for my LGBTQ friends. I attend a church that has a higher than usual number of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans individuals due to our welcoming and affirming stance. Through my relationships with them and my own study I have learned how hard many of their lives have been. Even in today’s more tolerant environment, they face prejudice and discrimination. And such an environment is relatively new and by no means found everywhere.
Take gay people as a representative example. Unlike other minority groups, gay people become aware of their unique identities alone. Most of them grow up in straight families and some assume they themselves are straight until they hit puberty. (Others are aware that they are different at a much younger age.) When puberty comes, they suddenly realize they have feelings and attractions toward their own sex. These were not chosen. Puberty is a difficult enough time for any of us, but imagine having attractions that run counter to those around you and (often) are deemed deviant by those others. How do you learn to navigate romantic/sexual feelings and relationships in a healthy way?
Keep in mind that until just recently, “gay” and “faggot” were common slurs. Homosexual acts were illegal in many states. Gay people were seen as psychologically disturbed and even as dangerous perverts or predators. Widespread religious groups viewed homosexuality as the worst kind of sin imaginable. It was talked about in the same way murder, incest, or bestiality was. It still is in many circles. Gay people who act in accord with their orientation are damned to hell. Literally.
One’s sexual orientation was seen as something one could change through prayer or effort. Thousands of gay people have gone through the mental (and sometimes physical) torture that is “conversion therapy.” And in the end it did not deliver the change they so earnestly sought. Some, having convinced themselves that they had changed or would change someday, entered into loveless straight marriages that often ended badly (Lee 70-96). Others tried to suppress their longings for intimacy and accepted the lonely path of life-long celibacy. Those that chose to openly be in gay relationships were often kicked out of their churches and shunned by friends and family.
Gay people are more likely to be bullied, abused, and even murdered than the general populous. They are more likely to be depressed and commit suicide. They still experience prejudice and discrimination in everything from housing to employment to who is willing to bake their damn wedding cakes for them. Ironically, in our more tolerant culture, gay kids are starting to come out earlier and are thus more susceptible to being kicked to the curbs by fundamentalist families. Many of them end up sexually exploited to survive. The cumulative pain from all of this is almost impossible to comprehend.
Trump has promised to back policies and judges approved by anti-LGBTQ conservatives such as those found in The Heritage Foundation or the Family Research Council. Their rhetoric paint LGBTQ folk as perverts, mentally ill, and perhaps even sexual predators in disguise. Their policies would strip the LGBTQ community of many of their rights.
Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, is one of America’s most vehemently anti-gay governors. He supports discredited “conversion therapy” methods. He helped enact a “religious freedom” bill that gave people broad leeway to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
It is not clear to me that Trump himself holds radically anti-gay views. Further, it would take a lot to reverse the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized marriage equality for LGBTQ people. However, if Trump is able to appoint enough far-right conservatives to the Supreme Court, this could eventually be accomplished.
Trump’s anti-LGBTQ wing will surely undermine LGBTQ rights in other ways. The majority of his cabinet picks so far are extremely homophobic. We’re talking about people who opposed the end of “don’t ask don’t tell,” want it to be illegal for gay people to marry the person they love, unable to adopt, and who have fought to defend the rights of employers, renters, and even doctors to discriminate against LGBTQ people simple because they are gay.
I’m not talking about the ostensible right to not be forced to participate in a wedding ceremony one doesn’t approve of. That is it’s own issue. One I have opinions on, but I can at least see there are tricky issues involved and a legitimate debate to be had. But this level of animus is something else .
Trump’s bullying campaign tactics and the vindication various far-right groups feel in light of his win has also emboldened bigoted attacks on LGBTQ persons.
So I fear for the safety of my gay and trans friends. I worry about their mental health in the cultural climate we now find ourselves in. I have read that at least eight trans youth have committed suicide since Trump’s election. According to The New York Times, the FBI has reported an uptick in hate crimes over the last year, including an increase in trans bullying. I worry that equal access to marriage, housing, and jobs for my gay friends could be undermined under a Trump presidency. I worry about the harmful effects to my trans friends of being denied the use of bathrooms that match their gender identity.
Latino/a (Lantinx) friends
I fear for my Latinx friends, especially those with friends or family who are undocumented. Trump started his campaign by characterizing most Mexican undocumented immigrants as rapists and criminals. His central campaign promise was to build a wall with Mexico – and make them pay for it, not less! Both current and former Mexican presidents are adamant that Mexico would never do this. He thought that an Indiana judge could not be fair, simply because of his family’s Mexican heritage. Paul Ryan himself called this textbook racism.
At the Republican convention and in other speeches, he used examples of violent undocumented immigrants to generalize and stir up fear and animus. As with Muslims, the language he uses to describe them was that of an invading horde or an infestation. Throughout his campaign, he has often referred to Mexicans in a derogatory way. His original plan to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants would tear apart families and very likely endanger numerous lives.
Immigration is a complex issue and one I realize I don’t know enough about. I don’t want to downplay legitimate concerns conservatives have about lost jobs, depressed wages, or dangerous criminals (dug cartels, for example) – to the extent these have a factual basis. That is something I will seek to find out. (Though see my above comments about immigrants and jobs.)
However, I am also bound to sympathize with undocumented immigrants themselves. Most of them are not criminals. Most come here out of desperation. People don’t leave their families and familiar communities to make a dangerous journey to a foreign place with a foreign language were they are vulnerable to exploitation and were many people treat them with contempt, just for kicks. Many do it to be able to feed their families or escape rampant violence.
The underlying problems of poverty, oppression, and lawlessness in their home countries stem in part from American military interventions and other political and economic manipulations that unfairly favor American businesses at the expense of the well-being of local citizens. We bear responsibility here.
The reason they don’t come here legally is because our antiquated immigration system makes it hard for anyone but the well-connected to get in. Imagine your son was given this ultimatum: he either joins a sadistic gang like MS-13 or they will murder him and his family. This is not uncommon in some places. Would you wait for years while chancing the long-shot legal immigration process, or would you leave right then and there to protect your family? Be honest.
Same goes for economic desperation. I mean, as exploited as undocumented workers are here in America (and they are exploited), what does it mean that this is seen as a step up for many? How can we not sympathize with that? Especially those of us who claim to follow a holy book that commands concern for the “stranger” (i.e. alien).
When they are here, they are often paid low wages and work in unsanitary conditions for long hours. Sometimes promises of payment are broken. Some employers call immigration right before payday so that undocumented workers are detained and thus not paid for their labor.
I don’t know what the full answer to any of this is. We have to balance the rights and interests of immigrants with a (perhaps) greater concern for those of native born citizens. We have to stop economical exploitation in general. That harms everyone but the wealthy. I understand that we have to have immigration laws and that these need to be enforced in rational + humane ways.
But I know that speaking and treating undocumented immigrants as vermin is not the answer. There is a hatred toward them that transcends sober economic concerns. Much of the rhetoric against “Mexicans” is not merely directed at illegal aliens. There is often a racist underbelly to this. There is a racist history here. And Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals affect all Latinx people.
For example, Trump now claims that he will start by deporting two to three million undocumented immigrants, whom he claims are criminals. Later action may be taken against the other eight to nine million. Actual statistics indicate that only around 820,ooo undocumented immigrants are criminals, and some of these have only committed minor violations . But how is Trump going to differentiate criminal aliens from law-abiding ones?
One of his advisors is Kris Kobach, who wrote Arizona’s racist and now defunct “papers please” law that allowed law enforcement to stop any Hispanic person to verify their citizenship. Just like Trump’s stated wish to bring back unconstitutional “stop and frisk” procedures, this law, should it be implemented again, would allow law enforcement to target and harass minorities at will. And there is a wealth of evidence of bias and injustice toward minorities by law enforcement.
So I fear for my Latinx friends. I fear for those detained and put in detention centers. Long waits at such places can be dangerous and dehumanizing. I fear for those who will be deported. How will they find work to survive? What will happen to their families who have depended on remittance money as a literal life-line? What of those who are going back into violent, life-threatening situations? What of children born here to such families who are US citizens? Do they go back with them into danger; or do they find a way to remain here, with the opportunities that provides but separated from their families?
What of my Latinx friends who are either legal immigrants or life-long citizens? How are they to deal with rent families, increased scrutiny and danger from law-enforcement, and the increases we are seeing in racial harassment and hate crimes?
Friends of Color
I fear for my friends of color in general. Racism saturates much of America’s history. Although many things are better now, systems of racism continue to harm people of color in significant ways, as I have written on here. And some of the gains from the civil rights era have been eroded or are under assault
Trump has a troubling history of racism. He has a history of housing discrimination against black people. He has a history of alleged bigoted statements and discriminatory practices in his businesses. He “encouraged the mob justice that resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five.” Although the five black teenagers were later exonerated by DNA evidence, Trump still insists they are guilty.
He often treats racial groups as monoliths. His odd use of the definite article (e.g. “the blacks,” “the Hispanics”) has the effect of distancing or “otherizing” them. And his use of token minorities is problematic.
Although he eventually denounced David Duke and the KKK, he shamefully equivocated on it at first and has continued to court white supremacists in a number of ways.
On more than one occasion he has retweeted from white supremacist sites. One such tweet pictured a scary looking black man with a gun and a fake statistic from a fake FBI source claiming black people are the primary murderers of white people.
He has incited people at rallies to beat protesters, saying he wishes he could punch them too and claiming he would pay their legal costs. He waxes nostalgic about “the good old days” when protesters used to be assaulted and carried out on stretchers. When some of his supporters beat a homeless Latino man, he said they were “passionate” and “loved this country.”
He opposes the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to change systemic injustice against black people. Instead, he hypes “law and order” as the answer, ignoring how it’s use to this point has been discriminatory and contributed to what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow.” In fact, he wants to bring back discriminatory and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policies. Trump’s tax plan would probably gut funding for social safety nets, affecting needy people of all types but especially people of color.
[Side note: I want to be clear both here and throughout this post that I support law enforcement officers and soldiers in what are (sometimes) necessary and often dangerous jobs. I am critical of abuses, lack of accountability, and the oppressive way such forces are often used. But I recognize, in principle, their need and am grateful for their service.]
Of course, Trump came onto the current political scene by spreading a racist lie about Obama not truly being American. He then lied about Hillary starting it and him ending it. In fact, he continued with the malicious lie for years after Obama produced his long-form birth certificate. Trump has also insinuated that Obama is secretly trying to help ISIS. Like the GOP in general, he has regularly tried to paint Obama as foreign and non-Christian.
Trump called for his followers to go monitor voting sites “in certain areas.” Everyone knew exactly what “certain areas” meant. This was a barely veiled call to “police” minority communities and potentially intimidate them. The GOP has done this before.
Since the voting rights act was gutted, 800+ polling places have been shut down, mostly near minority communities. New ID laws have been passed that disproportionately effect people of color and, at the same time, many DMV offices in minority communities were shut down. Voter suppression is a real issue.
I’ve touched some on Trump’s stances against black people, Latinx people, and Muslims. To complete this picture, it should be noted that whatever Trump’s personal views about Jews might be, he has catered to anti-Semitists in his tactics and advisor picks
For example, Trump tweeted another meme originating from a white supremacist site with a caption about Hillary Clinton’s crookedness with a star of David over a pile of cash. Trump later claimed the star was a sheriff’s badge. One of his last campaign video’s also associated Jewish financiers with corruption. Toward the end of his campaign, the language he used to describe a global conspiracy of world bankers was almost straight out of “The Protocols of Zion.” And of course his new chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been known to be anti-Semitic, as has the “alt-right” movement he represents.
In the past, Trump has also said derogatory things about Native Americans.
Little of this is lost on his crowds of followers. There is a reason David Duke is elated by Trump’s victory. There is a reason the KKK newspaper endorsed him. There is a reason white supremacists are becoming more bold and hate crimes appear to be on the rise. They know their man. There is a reason only twelve percent of black voters voted for Trump. There is a reason so many Evangelicals of color feel deep betrayal from white Evangelicals. There are so many other aspects of this I could get into, such as the racist connections in the people he surrounds himself with or the effect many of his policies would have on vulnerable people.
Toward the end of his campaign and immediately after his victory, Trump toned down some of his most racially charged rhetoric. He has promised to be a president for all people. On a few recent occasions he has disavowed racism and hate crimes. I welcome that, as far as it goes.
However, his appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and his nomination of Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general belie such talk. Despite recent denials, there is clear evidence that Bannon is a white nationalist. In the 1980s Sessions was denied a federal judge seat by a Republican congress (of all things) because of his racist views.
Many of Trump’s other appointees hold a variety of racist and bigoted views or support policies that would disproportionately harm people of color.
So I fear for my friends of color. I fear for their safety and a robust protection of their rights. People all over are hurting and deserve our love and support. Some people of color are better off than others. But statistically speaking, it really is worse for them – especially black people. They face stereotyping, micro-aggressions, prejudice, and discrimination.
They face the residual, structural effects of our racist history. A number of forces still steer many of them toward segregated communities with significantly worse schools and infrastructures and higher levels of poverty and crime. Although some are able to escape or transcend this, such an environment stacks the deck against them from the start.
They are disproportionately harassed, fined, shot, detained, convicted, and/or imprisoned by police; often for offenses committed in equal proportion by all races (see Alexander). I fear rising hate crimes and a government less concerned about protecting civil rights. I fear for what a Party that now depends on voter suppression might do to, in effect, further disenfranchise minority voters.
I grieve for the dismay that many of my female friends feel at Trump’s win. Trump is a man who in many ways has shown his contempt for women. He cheated on his first two wives and bragged about it. He has called women pigs, dogs, slobs, and pieces of ass (including his own daughter). He has derided female opponents’ looks and insinuated that Fox reporter Megyn Kelly was crazed because of her period. He has said that pregnant employees were bad for a business and called female bodily functions “disgusting.” He once said that you have to treat women like shit.
This contempt is manifest in the way Trump has objectified and sexually preyed on women. He bragged to Howard Stern about going into the locker room at his beauty pageant and ogling the naked contestants. He said he could get away with it because he was the boss.
Most infamously, Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and being able to get away with it because of his power and celebrity status. His words are worth remembering:
“…I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”
At least 12 women have come forward and testified that Trump did indeed sexually accost them. Many of these testimonies came out after Trump denied ever doing such a thing to Anderson Cooper in the second presidential debate. However, some of these allegations predate the election and a number of the women who have just come forward shared to others about the unwanted advances years ago. There are a number of well-founded reasons women fear coming forward about abuse from powerful men.
Some of the women detail unwanted kissing, ogling, or grabbing of their genitals – just like Trump bragged he did. More perniciously, at least two have claimed that Trump raped them. Under sworn testimony, his first wife Ivana claimed that he had violently raped her, grabbing out handfuls of her hair in the act. She later walked back the claim and said it felt like rape in an emotional sense, not criminal or literal. She now denies that she was raped. More recently, a woman brought a lawsuit against Trump claiming that he raped her at a party when she was 13 years old. She has recently dropped the lawsuit after receiving death threats from Trump supporters.
I don’t know how many of these allegations are true. Obviously in our justices system accusers bear the burden of proof. But based on my research and experience, I tend to give alleged abuse victims the benefit of the doubt. And there is an unmistakable pattern here. In the second presidentially debate, after Trump claimed that “no one has more respect for women than I do,” the audience just laughed
If Trump’s documented views of women were not nauseating by themselves, the way he and many of his supporters handled the assault allegations has triggered many of my female friends (including assault survivors).
In trying to fend off the Ivana rape allegation story, Trump’s special counsel Michael Cohen falsely and outrageously claimed that it was not possible for a husband to rape his wife. Trump’s nominated Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has said that he doesn’t think grabbing a woman’s genitals counts as assault. Trump has insinuated that some of his accusers are too ugly for anyone to want to come on to them.
He and many of his supporters downplayed his taped comments as just “locker room talk,” which seems to conflate dirty language with talk of violation and assault. Some even said all “real men” talk in this way. Neither Trump himself nor many of his supporters seem to understand the crucial importance of consent in sexual ethics. After the election, my brother Daniel saw a prominent sticker on a truck celebrating Trump’s pernicious line, “grab them by the pussy.” Rape culture is real, and Donald Trump personifies it.
In a very tepid apology for his words, Trump essentially dismissed widespread sexual violence against women as an important issue. In many ways his “apology” mimicked language that abusers use to “gaslight” their victims and downplay the harm done to them. Even worse, he accused his opponent Hillary of being at fault for her husband’s affairs and alleged abuse of other women. To hear Trump talk, she was the real abuser – or at least the enabler! While not wanting to downplay insidious things Hillary might have done, this kind of framing strikes me (and others) as misleading and deeply misogynistic.
Some of Trump’s policies would harm women. His tax plan raises taxes for single mothers. Trump has disparaged women serving in the military. Many women fear what his promise to criminalize abortion might mean for their control over their own bodies and ability to pursue their dreams. I currently hold to a pro-life position myself (on which, more later); however, I recognize that abortion is a genuinely debatably issue and I understand these fears.
Further, I don’t trust that if Republicans strip funding for Planned Parenthood that they will use it to support alternative agencies that offer women the other range of quality low-cost care that Planned Parenthood now gives women. I don’t trust Trump or the GOP to stand up for equal pay, paid maternity leave, or a number of other issues women care about. Many members of Trump’s cabinet are hostile to issues important to most women.
So I worry about what a Trump presidency might mean for the safety, dignity, and rights of the women in my life. I fear for their access to birth control, equal pay, paid maternity leave, and sympathetic representation. I am alarmed that so many involved with the GOP seem to hate feminism and believe that women should submit to men and play a supportive role to them. I weep that physical, sexual, and verbal violence against women does not seem to be a priority. I feel defensive for my sisters who still face so much dehumanization.
Poor and Otherly Abled friends
I fear for what a Trump presidency might mean for my poor and otherly abled friends. One of the most outrageous moments in Trump’s candidacy was when he appeared to mock reporter Serge Kovaleski’s congenital condition. While attacking Kovaleski’s reporting, Trump can be clearly seen waving his arms at an odd angle while imitating him in a derogatory way. Trump denies that he was ridiculing Kovaleski’s impairment, but to most of us the parallel and intent of the gesture was clear.
Trump also repeatedly referred to deaf actress Marlee Matlin as “retarded.” At one of his last rallies he kicked out a child protester with cerebral palsy in a cavalier way. According to Shannon Dingle, Trump’s properties have repeatedly been found to violate the Americans With Disabilities Act. On multiple occasions he has touted scientifically disproven views about autism being caused by vaccines. More importantly, many of his policies that would affect poor people (on which see below) would likely make life harder for the otherly abled as well.
I worry for my poor and working class friends. It seems undeniable that Trump spoke more powerfully to the concerns of (white) working class voters. It is also true that Republicans have no monopoly on selling out the interests of poor and working class people to big business and special interests. Democrats tend to do that too. However, for a number of reasons I believe that a Trump presidency could be disastrous for my poor friends and clients.
First of all, given Trump’s track record I don’t think he sincerely cares about poor or working class people. As a businessman he routinely stiffed contractors, driving some of them out of business. When he would refuse to pay them for their work, per their agreed on contract, he would use the threat of a costly court battle (which he could afford, but many of them could not) to intimidate them into not pursuing the matter.
Trump used imminent domain laws to force unwilling homeowners out of the way to build some of his properties. His filing for bankruptcy 4 times shifted much of the loss to others.
His fraudulent “Trump University” promised would-be students quality courses from well trained teachers who had also been personally trained in Trump’s secrets to success. In fact, most of the teachers had never met Trump, many were not well trained, and the curriculum was derivative and low quality. The instructors had been advised on how to milk even low-income students to go into debt to take more classes. Supposedly the payoff would be all worth it. For most of those suckered in, it never was. Trump University has been shut down and Trump has recently settled the lawsuits from this fraudulent endeavor to the tune of 25 million.
I’ve already mentioned his housing discrimination against black people and his violations of the American Disabilities Act. Here might be the place to mention Trump’s avoidance of having to pay his taxes, something legal but still privileged and hypocritical (given his railings against others for similar elite maneuverings).
Trump was born into money and has spent his entire career relentlessly pursuing wealth and self-aggrandizement on the backs of others. We are supposed to believe that now, suddenly, he understands or cares about the little guy?
Since Trump never released his taxes and has also refused to put his holdings into a blind trust, like every other modern president, his levels of corruption and conflicts of interest are unparalleled. We have every reason to believe that he will continue to look out for himself over others.
But what of those campaign promises? What of his policies?
Trump isn’t going to bring back coal or manufacturing jobs like he promised. It’s unclear to me what real leverage he would have over companies to force them to bring back businesses to the US when they can make their products more cheaply elsewhere. Especially with big-business-friendly, libertarian-minded Republicans running congress. And in any case, those jobs are largely automated now anyway.
Trump’s recent deal with Carrier to save 800 jobs is a good case study to show how problematic Trump’s promises were. Yes, 800 jobs were saved and that is a wonderful thing. I rejoice with these workers and their community at this life-saving accomplishment. There are aspects of this deal that I find troubling (see below), but I am thankful for what those involved (including Trump himself) were able to accomplish, such as it is.
The problem is that even with Trump’s intense and specific focus on just this one company and plant, Carrier still decided to send 500+ jobs in question to Mexico. Another Carrier plant in Huntington is still sending its 700 jobs there. And to incentivize Carrier to stay, Trump had to promise them huge tax incentives and likely arms deals for their parent company.
Trump can’t and won’t always intervene in every company across the country that is considering such a move. He can’t afford to “bribe” every company to stay. And even when such will and resources are exerted, jobs still hemorrhage. That’s because, “payrolls are the biggest single cost on most companies’ balance sheets, so cutting jobs and wages will continue to be the easiest way to boost profits and share prices.”
And token gestures such as the Carrier deal notwithstanding, Trump’s business history and his stacking his cabinet with billionaires, Goldman Sacks executives, and others who have consistently pursued profits at the expense of workers shows what his true agenda is. So much for draining the swamp.
Coal is never going to be what it used to. Natural gas is cheaper, and while promising to bring back coal, Trump was at the same time promoting its competitor, fracking. Automation affects the coal industry too. For example, in West Virginian they are mining the same amount of coal today that they did in the 1940s, but doing it with only one-tenth of the workforce because of automation. And automation is only going to continue to replace human jobs.
Trump’s presidency could deliver the fatal blow to Republican ravaged unions, which would harm workers leverage for job pay and rights. As Robert Reich has said repeatedly, the importance of countervailing power to corporate interests cannot be overestimated.
If Trump was to repeal Obama Care like he originally promised, 22 million people would lose their health care coverage. Trump’s alternative is problematic. Fortunately, he seems to be reconsidering, although who knows what he will eventually do. I understand that Obama Care has many problems and is a complex issue.
Trump’s tax plan, while cutting taxes a little for most people, would give huge tax cuts to the very rich – like Trump himself. To lower taxes while also paying for a border wall with Mexico and increasing military spending, Trump would have to slash funding elsewhere; which is something Republicans have long wanted to do. In terms of Republican priorities, this will likely mean massive cuts in social safety nets for the poor.
If Trump is as aggressive on trade as he intends to be, this could lead to a trade war with China and higher prices on a number of items. If climate change continues to be ignored, this would hurt vulnerable poor populations who are usually the hardest hit by climate change. If Trump were to truly deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, this could have disastrous effects on our economy, including food shortages and higher prices on the crops they used to harvest. Trump has also opposed raising the minimum wage, even claiming that “wages are too high.”
Many of the policies his cabinet members support such as privatizing education (Betsy DeVos), deregulating Wall Street (Steve Mnuchin) or steering HUD away from enforcing affirmative measures for fair housing (Ben Carson) would be disasters for poor people and even the middle class. Same goes for much of the agenda of our Republican controlled congress.
So I fear for many of my friends who are already struggling financially and whose lives could become even more perilous due to Trump’s policies. I feel sorry for struggling working class people who deserve a genuine champion.
I fear for what a Trump presidency might mean for our environment and the numerous lives it’s state effects. I am dismayed that an unrepentant climate change denier has been elected president. Trump once tweeted that climate change was a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. He has promised to pull America out from the Paris climate agreement, reopen construction on the Keystone Pipeline, and bring back coal as a prominent energy source. He wants to deregulate the energy industry.
He had nominated Myron Ebell, a fringe climate change skeptic, to head his EPA transition team. Now he has appointed another climate change skeptic, Scott Pruitt, to head the EPA. He has also appointed big oil advocates like Rex Tillerson and Rick Perry to key cabinet positions. His team has sent out a questionnaire to Energy Department officials that seems designed to weed out those serious about combating climate change in a purge.
Many people don’t seem to realize how serious an issue this is. The evidence for human caused climate change is overwhelming. At this point, any changes we make can mitigate the damage but not alleviate it. Just in the last few years I have read of record droughts in India, Venezuela and large parts of Africa; how severe drought in Syria is part of what sparked their deadly civil war; how sea level rises are eating away Florida and Louisiana’s coastline; how the melting of inland glaciers are threating the water supply of millions; and many other things.
It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest threats of our time. This is a consummately pro-life issue. At a moment when it is past time to come together to face this, we now have a president who doesn’t seem to care and who wants to revert America to it’s isolationist days, content to continue our disproportionate gobbling of the world’s recourses. And if we aren’t willing to do our part, why should other countries be expected to do theirs?
So I worry what this will do to natural habitats and vulnerable human populations.
Science, Reason, and Truth
I grieve over the carnage Trump’s campaign and now win has done to our respect for scientific evidence, reasoned discourse, and truth. Trump is perhaps the most dishonest politician of modern times. He has lied about almost everything.
First, to get the broad scope, consider journalist Nicholas Kristof’s comparison of Trump to Clinton:
One metric comes from independent fact-checking websites. As of Friday, PolitiFact had found 27 percent of Clinton’s statements that it had looked into were mostly false or worse, compared with 70 percent of Trump’s. It said 2 percent of Clinton’s statements it had reviewed were egregious “pants on fire” lies, compared with 19 percent of Trump’s. So Trump has nine times the share of flat-out lies as Clinton.
Likewise, The Washington Post Fact-Checker has awarded its worst ranking, Four Pinocchios, to 16 percent of Clinton’s statements that it checked and to 64 percent of Trump’s…
“The man lies all the time,” says Thomas M. Wells, his former lawyer. Wells recalls being curious that newspaper accounts varied as to the number of rooms in Trump’s apartment in Trump Tower — eight, 16, 20 or 30. So Wells asked him how many rooms were actually in the apartment. “However many they will print,” Trump responded.
Tony Schwartz, the co-writer of his book “The Art of the Deal,” told Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, “Lying is second nature to him.”
After noting, as Kristof does, Trump’s abysmal fact checking record, conservative Charles Murray makes this observation:
But it’s worse than that. It’s not that Trump makes strategic decisions about what useful untruths he will tell on any given day — it looks as if he just makes up stuff as he goes along. Many of his off-the-cuff fictions are substantively unimportant: He says Rex Ryan won championships when he coached the New York Jets, when he didn’t. No one would care — if it were a one-shot mistake. But it happens repeatedly. Then it gets a little more important, as when he says Paul Ryan called to congratulate him after his victory in the New York primary, announcing a significant political event that in fact did not happen. Then the fictions touch on facts about policy. No, Wisconsin does not have an effective unemployment rate of 20 percent, nor does the federal government impose Common Core standards on the states — to take just two examples plucked at random from among his continual misrepresentations of reality. That he deals so heedlessly in those misrepresentations makes it impossible for an opponent to conduct an authentic policy debate with him.
As a sampling of specific lies consider the following: He claimed that he had seen thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attack, though the evidence refutes that this ever happened.
He once said that he and Vladimir Putin were friends: that they had spoken, “indirectly and directly” and that he had “got to know him [Putin] very well,” and that “Putin even sent me a present.” But in July Trump told ABC, “I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”
Trump promised repeatedly that he would release his tax returns, something he had previously attacked Mitt Romney for not doing. He later stalled, saying they were coming soon. Then he said he couldn’t release them yet because he was under an audit. As many have pointed out (including the IRS), this in no way creates a barrier to releasing one’s tax returns. Now Trump appears to not be releasing them at all. (The Daily News breakdown of this story here is very revealing.)
One of Trump’s most pernicious lies came toward the end of his campaign. At one of Obama’s rallies for Hillary a Trump supporter stood up to protest. Obama told the crowd to respect the man’s right to free speech, also noting that he deserved respect because he was elderly and looked to be a veteran. In Trump’s spin on this incident he claimed repeatedly that Obama was “screaming…really screaming” at the protester.
Just recently Trump tweeted, with absolutely no evidence, that he had actually won the popular vote; not Hillary. At current count Hillary leads in the popular vote by 2.8 million.
Trump lies about statistics, wildly misrepresents trends, and slanders his opponents. For example, through much of his campaign he claimed there were as many as 30 million undocumented immigrants in the US (actual estimates are closer to 11 million). He claimed that crime was at record high levels (in fact, despite increases in cities like Chicago, crime was nationally near an all time low).
He claimed that Hillary wanted to abolish the Second Amendment (she wants no such thing). He inflated the number of refugees she sought to bring in to the United States. After Comey’s announcement of more e-mails and a reopening of the investigation into Hillary, Trump guaranteed his audience that there was evidence of criminal malfeasance and that this was “bigger than Watergate.” In fact, Comey himself had not yet obtained a warrant to begin examining the e-mails and Clinton was again exonerated.
Trump claims he did not say things he is literally on tape saying: that he did not support the Iraq War (he did), that he did not support nuclear proliferation (he did), that he had not called for a 45 percent tariff on China (he did), and so on. When confronted with audio or video evidence that refutes him, he often simply buckles down on the lie.
Even more insidiously, he accuses news sources that call him out on unquestionable falsehoods of being biased and the actual ones that are lying! This degrades notions of factual truth. It undercuts people’s trust in credible sources and institutions and tries to redirect them to fraudulent or kooky ones in their staid. As I will go into more shortly, it undercuts an independent free press, which in turn corrodes our democratic way of life.
It’s one thing to say various news sources come from a particular vantage point and slant. Of course they do. That is human nature. That’s why we all would do well to take in information from a variety of credible sources from different perspectives (we liberals need to do that too). If a news source is actually mistaken, of course they should be corrected – with actual evidence. But it’s another thing to accuse a source of straight-up lying or slandering you, without any evidence and in the face of documentation. That kind of combustive, calculated dishonesty is scary! On a number of levels.
Trump is a purveyor of conspiracy theories: that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the plot to shoot JFK, that Justice Antonin Scalia might have been assassinated, that Obama was secretly trying to help ISIS, that the establishment was rigging the elections against him, that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese, and so on. When called out by NBC’s Chuck Todd about one of his false theories, Trump ducked responsibility claiming: “All I know is what’s on the internet.”
Throughout his campaign, Trump regularly used the lines, “a lot of people are saying…” or “there is something going on” to introduce his most wild insinuations. This allowed him to forward the most ridiculous claims while being vague enough to maintain plausible deniability.
Considering Trump’s lack of consistency and his willingness to shift his views depending on what his audience wants to hear, it is not surprising that he has flip-flopped on a number of issues from refugees to abortion to minimum wage to his Muslim ban to the Iraq War.
“Researchers at NBC News have catalogued Trump’s positions on major issues since the start of the campaign.
They found, as of early October: 18 different positions on immigration reform; 15 different positions on banning Muslims; nine different positions on how to defeat ISIS; eight different positions on raising the minimum wage; seven different tax plans, and eight different strategies for dealing with the national debt.”
Implicit in what has been said before, Trump demonstrates a lack of respect for evidence, research, or science. His views on climate change and autism fly in the face of evidence. He used unscientific online response polls to “prove” he won the first debate (more scientifically controlled polls told a different story). He not only demonstrates shocking ignorance about world affairs but seems to be obstinately unwilling to learn or be corrected. Even now, it’s being reported that he is skipping out on intelligence briefings.
In a related matter, Trump’s manner of engaging others is vapid and inane. He regularly engages in insults, interruptions, bullying, dazzle and puff over detailed policy comparisons, and even literal dick size allusions.
The problem is bigger than Trump though. The GOP has catered to conspiratorial and un-scientific views for decades: skepticism about evolution, white-washing American history, misleading views about Muslims and foreigners, conspiracy theories about Obama, beliefs that gay people can be “cured” of their sexual orientation, and so on. I’m sure the Democrats have their falsehoods too. But it seems to me that, in general, they have more respect for science and evidence-based discourse.
It’s also the case that people are not reading or researching critically enough. We live in the age of polarization and instant “fake news.” As one person put it, a lie can now circle the globe before the truth has a chance to put its shoes on. Evidence after the election showed that literally made up stories were often shared more frequently on Facebook than real news of substance. Perhaps most disturbing, there is strong evidence that the Russian government intentionally flooded the internet with fake news stories to sway the election for Trump.
Polarized “echo chambers” and fake news are problems all parties fall prey to to some extent. We can all do better. But it seems to me that the right has reached new “conspiratorial” lows in recent years, even for them.
When I was a teenager I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. The book is on how different forms of media constrain the way we reason and communicate. Postman saw the rise of sensationalized tv and video as undermining our ability to think critically and deeply, to communicate with depth of learning and nuance. One could debate the pros and cons of different forms of media. Steven Pinker argues that television has helped raise our empathy for those outside our “in-groups.” I suppose few things have completely positive or negative results. But when I see what we have become and how little we care about facts or objective truth – how little we even seem to believe in them – I think about Postman and I think he would be turning in his grave if he saw how truly idiotic we have become.
Ineptness, Corruption, and the Totalitarian threat
I fear the threat that Trump’s ineptness, corruption, and totalitarian impulses pose to our democracy. Because I think this is such a critically important issue, I’m going to spend a little more time on it.
Trump’s character and personal impulses gravitate toward ruthless dominance. Trump loves attention and adulation. He puts his name on everything – often in big gold letters. He craves the adoration of his fans. After winning the election, he continued his rallies in a “Thank You” tour and has said he wants to continue them even after he is in office. He appears to hate to share attention. In a joint interview shortly after Mike Pence was selected as his vice presidential running mate, he could be seen dominating the conversation, even cutting in abruptly when he felt the attention turning too much to Pence.
Trump has delusions of grandeur. After painting a dangerous world in his RNC acceptance speech, he said “I alone can fix this.” He thinks he knows more than generals and intelligence officers. When asked who his closest advisor was he named himself because, and I quote: “I have a very good brain.” I remember watching a news story that referenced in passing how as a teenager he claimed that he was the best baseball player in New York. This was during the Mickey Mantle era Yankees. Everything he does is “tremendous,” or “the best.” He seems to have difficulty recognizing any flaws in himself and very rarely admits his mistakes.
Where he is always right, a “winner,” and “the best;” anyone who dares challenge him is “terrible,” a “loser,” “disgusting,” or something more ominous. There seems to be little nuanced middle ground. He comes up with derogatory nicknames for his opponents – “lyin’ Ted,” “crooked Hillary,” “little Marco.” Any kind of criticism, even satire, sets him off on an angry tirade. For example, he tweeted his outrage at Saturday Night Live’s impersonation of him. He is constantly attacking newspapers for their disparaging stories. During his campaign he got into feuds with a gold star family, a former beauty contestant, Fox reporter Megyn Kelly, and many others.
A Vanity Fair writer from the 80s said that after referring to Trump as a “short-fingered vulgerian” Trump would regular send him news clippings with the outline of his hand traced in gold sharpie. “See, not so short,” read the commentary. The reporter says he still gets them in the mail! The New York Times has tracked at least 289 people, places and things Trump has insulted.
All of this would be high comedy if it weren’t for the fact that he is now commander in chief with a military at his disposal and his finger on the nuclear button. Such anger, long memory of grievances, and vindicativeness is even more alarming given his threats of violence and his apparent relish in brutality. I will document that more below. Also disturbing is that he has sixteen million twitter followers whose animus he can personally direct at specific persons or institutions.
He appears almost completely selfish and self-centered. In the past, he used and discarded women. His stiffing of contractors and other ruthless business decisions show a disregard for others and for his word. He brags about his wealth and accomplishments and presses every opportunity to plug his businesses. He has exploited every opportunity he can to enrich and aggrandize himself.
He is a bully. During the second presidential debate he visibly seemed to be stalking Hillary to exude dominance and try to intimidate her. During each debate, he constantly interrupted her. He regularly threatens to punch people, sue them, lock them up, and even worse. He verbally berates others and spreads malicious accusations about them, which are often untrue. When challenged or attacked, he deflects and viciously counterattacks: “You’re the puppet!”
He appears to crave absolute control. As I will document below, he does not seem to understand our constitutional freedoms. For example, he does not seem to understand that the press is there to do anything but rubberstamp his ideas. When told that soldiers would disobey an illegal directive he had proposed, his response was telling: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me – believe me.” “I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
I’ve already documented his breathtaking disregard for the truth. To him, words appear to be just another tool to impose his will on others. He appears to have no shame. Although he can be charming and seems to have a preternatural ability to connect with a crowd, he often comes across as coldly lacking in empathy. After the Orlando shooting that killed 50 people, he tweeted, “Thanks for the congrats about being right about radical Islamic terrorism.” Incredibly tone deaf. The same could be said about his comments about John McCain not really be a war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured”), his mocking of the sick or disabled, or indeed many of his brutal proposals.
It is unethical for a psychologist to firmly diagnose Trump from a distance, but there are good reason to think that he is a narcissist and perhaps even a sociopath. I don’t say that lightly.
Both Trump and his inner circle are incredibly ignorant and inept. Trump has no prior experience in government or the military. He touts his business acumen, but filed for bankruptcy 4 times and some estimate he could have made more money by just investing the money loaned from his dad in index funds. I did not know until recently that he does not actually have an MBA. He only has a bachelors in economics.
None of this would be terrible if he showed a willingness to to learn or surround himself with competent people. Some of his picks for cabinet/advisor posts have been better than others, but many of them are shockingly unqualified and have indeed publically expressed their opposition to the mission of the department they would head.
For example, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is currently suing the same agency and is a climate change denier. Betsy Devos has never taught at a public school or even attended one, but she is was chosen to be his Secretary of Education. Rick Perry once said he wants to shut down the Energy Department (though he couldn’t remember it’s name at the time). Now he is the one who will run it. And so on.
Shaun King did a comparison of Obama’s cabinet and Trump’s in terms of education and the contrast is striking. Again, this is not to say that education is the be-all and end-all. I’m sure there are highly gifted individuals without degrees. But a lot of these jobs require technical skill and nuance.
Further, Trump appears to be selecting people, not based on skill or fit, but based on their loyalty to him. Like Trump, many of these people seemed poised to use their position to promote businesses they are connected to, oil for example. Many of them traffic in a variety of conspiracy theories and prejudices (as I’ve already touched on). The man who said he wants to be a president for everyone has selected an echo cabinet of far right “yes men.”
I already mentioned Trump’s massive conflicts of interest with his businesses and the potential this poses for corruption. This isn’t just unethical, it could be unconstitutional. It is ironic but in no way surprising that the man who attacked Hillary for “pay to play” drama with her charity is ready to engage in the same kind of thing with his businesses. But it’s not just Trump as an individual, the decisions he makes will effect policy and precedent for what other powerful business people could do. The threat of creeping oligarchy is real.
Although Trump has never held political office, he has already broken many our traditional democratic norms. Unlike every other presidential candidate since 1973, he has refused to release his tax returns. In not doing so, he broke his promise that he “absolutely” would release them. Such returns are particularly important in weighing his qualifications because Trump has no record in public office to examine. Instead, he touted his qualifications as a businessman. As mentioned before, his excuse of being under audit does not hold water. What is Trump trying to hide?
Trump has encouraged violence and intimidation of opponents, both literally and stochastically. He has encouraged his followers to beat protesters on multiple occasions. When he looked to be challenged at the Republican National Convention, he ominously insinuated that there would be riots if he lost. One of his lackeys, Roger Stone, threatened to release the hotel room numbers of delegates who voted against him.
As I said before, not unlike a dictator of a “banana republic,” he threatened to jail his political opponent. In fact, he said that if Hillary won, perhaps some “second amendment people” could “do something about that.” Trump denied this was a call to shoot her, but it was widely perceived that way. Perhaps this was because of calls by Trump surrogates such as Al Baldasaro to have her “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
Before both the Republican Convention and the election, Trump accused his opponents of rigging the election against him, speaking in conspiratorial language geared toward inciting his followers to revolutionary action. Unlike every other presidential candidate, he refused to accept in advance the election results and our traditional peaceful transfer of power. Unlike every other modern president, he has refused to put his companies in a blind trust, sparking numerous conflicts of interest and perhaps even a future constitutional crisis.
Trump revels in violence. He speaks gleefully about “bombing the hell” out of ISIS or cutting off it’s head. He once told an apocryphal story of how General Pershing had his soldiers dip bullets in pig’s blood before shooting Muslim insurgents. Trump said that we should do the same thing, so to speak.
He has advocated the use of torture. I remember my jaw dropping from the way he discussed it at one rally. Speaking of waterboarding, Trump said: “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I’d approve more than that. It works…and if it doesn’t they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.” It wasn’t just the words, but the malicious delight in which he spoke them and the roars of applause his celebration of cruelty incited in his followers.
On another occasion, after citing some of the heinous things ISIS does to it’s victims, Trump said that we should be able to do the same things to them, to “fight fire with fire.” He said he wants to use even tougher forms of torture than waterboarding. (Incidentally, there are good moral and practical reasons to not torture other people. It does nor reliably work and it inspires the enemy to react in kind.)
Trump has said that he would be willing to commit war crimes and violate the Geneva Convention to crush his enemies. In particular, he has called for targeting the families of terrorists, even if they are innocent. When former National Security Agency and CIA director Michael Hayden said that the US military had been trained to refuse such orders as illegal, Trump tellingly insisted: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me – believe me.” “I’m a leader. I’m a leader. I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
Trump has advocated plundering invaded countries’ resources to pay for said invasion. Speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos of how we should have taken Iraq’s oil, Trump said, “In the old days, you know when you had a war, to the victor belong the spoils. You go in. You win the war and you take it.”
Although Trump has often been seen as an isolationist, he has at times (inconsistently) called for more hawkish moves. For example, during the primaries he called for sending 30,000 soldiers to Syria and shooting Iranian ships out of the water.
Trump has expressed an openness to nuclear proliferation, saying that perhaps Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons. He has refused to rule out using nuclear weapons again, even in Europe. Reportedly, he once asked a foreign policy advisor three times why we couldn’t just use nuclear weapons.
Trump has said that he might have supported the illegal and horrific internment of Japanese citizens during World War 2.
Trump touts “law and order,” and says that police need to be allowed to “get a lot tougher;” which is problematic without qualifications for the reasons I’ve already discussed. He has called for the mandatory death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer. He also thinks death by lethal injection is not painful enough. His insistence that the Central Park five are guilty, even though they were cleared by DNA evidence implies that he cares more about control than actual justice.
Many of Trump’s followers also show a perchance for violence along with fanatical loyalty to Trump. Trump once said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” Many of them seem hell-bent on proving him right.
Trump’s rallies are often frenzied, with chants of “build the wall” and “lock her up resounding.” I don’t doubt that many people who go to such rallies are good people who hear hope and even compassion in his message. I have a dear cousin who I respect who had that take-away.
But there are darker forces at work in these venues. Hateful t-shirts are sold outside with lines like, “Trump that bitch,” or “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica.” Reporters have released audio of racist, misogynist, and other such hateful slurs and threats from attendees. Trump regularly spreads fear and hatred toward Muslims, Mexicans, and even the reporters in the press pen. Protesters have been assaulted at rallies, encouraged on by Trump. After a white man punched an exiting black protester, he told reporters “next time we might have to kill him.”
Indeed, Trump fans have carried out a number of assaults against minorities and others they perceive to be critical of Trump (for some examples, see here). Trump himself seems to recognize this mob spirit was a hallmark of his fans. Recently, at one of his “Thank You” tour rallies, he joked with the audience about how vicious they were:
“You people were vicious, violent, screaming, ‘Where’s the wall? We want the wall!’ Screaming, ‘Prison! Prison! Lock her up!’ I mean, you are going crazy. I mean, you were nasty and mean and vicious and you wanted to win, right?” Trump said, speaking in Orlando, Florida, at one of the stops on his ‘Thank You’ tour.
“Now it’s much different. Now you’re laid back, you’re cool, you’re mellow, right? You’re basking in the glory of victory,” the president-elect added.
I’m less sanguine about how mellow some of them really are or about how long Trump will wait before inciting them once again.
I want to be clear here on why I see this as unusually dangerous. Violence isn’t new. People on both right and left have stooped to it at times. I’ve seen articles about how Hillary supporters (or sometimes just Trump opponents) have assaulted Trump fans. I condemn that as well.
Although I cannot prove it, I highly doubt that is happening as much as the reverse. Hillary didn’t talk about wanting to beat, jail, or kill her opponents. She did not cater to fascist groups who were already primed for violence. And for the most part, she did not deal in fearmongering or scapegoating of vulnerable minorities.
Violence is usually wrong and always less than ideal. But it’s worth pointing out that there does seem to be a difference between, on the one hand, people reacting with violence because they justifiably feel their rights and even their lives are threatened by the other side; and, on the other hand, people being violent simply because they feel their power or privilege is threatened. These are not the same.
I guess what scares me is this becoming normalized. What scares me is the fanatical loyalty many Trump supporters feel – not to a party or to principle – but to a man. One who has shown his own fascist bent, who communicates to them directly through twitter, and who is not afraid to target people through that medium.
While it is unclear how far down that road Trump is willing to go (hopefully no further), Putin’s vigilante killings of journalists and Duterte’s masked men who gun down civilians are scary reminders of how effective mercenary elements can be. They can do the dirty work while the leader maintains plausible deniability that this was what he wanted.
And while Trump’s rallies might partly be based on his ego; they could also serve to further intensify and expand his legions of loyal followers.
Trump openly admires dictators and their methods. He has praised Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Ung. He praised the Chinese government’s brutal massacre of peaceful protesters at Tiananmen Square as “strong.” His first wife Ivana once claimed that he kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed. Trump has approvingly retweeted a Mussolini quote and his campaign has (accidently?) featured Nazi SS soldiers in a campaign ad. More recently, Filipino President Duterte has said that Trump called to express his support of Duterte’s brutal extra-judicial killings of Filipinos associated with drugs.
As many on both the right and left have pointed out, Trump seems to not understand the Constitution and many of his proposals would violate it. Useful, partially overlapping summaries can be found here, here, here, and here
Former ambassador and Special Counsel to the President, Jeff Bleich, lays much of this out well. I will quote him at length and add a few additional comments at the end:
The first amendment guarantees that the government “shall make no law respecting religion.” This means what it says — you can’t have a law that is based on religion. America in fact was founded by people who had been persecuted for their religious beliefs and came here seeking relief from governments dictating what religion was acceptable. Donald Trump disagrees with this amendment. He advocates barring people from the United States because of their religion. On December 7, 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He further allowed that he might require the registration of all Muslims in a database and mandate special identification of Muslims.
The first amendment also guarantees that the Government can make no laws “abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Donald Trump said on February 26, 2016, that he plans to “loosen the libel laws” in the United States so that he can sue journalists who write unflattering articles. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when the New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money.”
The first amendment further guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.” At a public forum on November 22, 2015, supporters of Donald Trump punched and kicked a protestor who had been chanting anti-Trump slogans. Trump stated “Maybe he should have been roughed up. It was disgusting what he was doing.” After a similar incident in which a person at his rally was arrested for punching a peaceful protestor, Donald Trump said he would look into paying the attacker’s legal fees because the man “obviously loves the country.”…
The fourth amendment guarantees the right of people to be secure in their houses and forbids searches without probable cause. Donald Trump said on November 19, 2015, that he would permit the use of warrantless searches despite the Fourth Amendment. “We’re going to have to do things we never did before. And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” The fourth amendment’s provisions do not include allowing for violation of the fourth amendment.
The fifth amendment guarantees that no person shall be denied life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Donald Trump on February 10, 2016 stated that people accused of being in the United States illegally “may or may not” be entitled to due process. When his interviewer, Bill O’Reilly, stated “I’m telling you, all settled law says once you’re here, you are entitled to our constitutional protection, every single case,” Donald Trump responded “I disagree.” So, that is clear; he also disagrees with the fifth amendment.
The sixth amendment was written to serve as a bulwark against government leaders locking up their political adversaries, among other things. It requires that in all criminal cases there must be a public trial, an impartial jury, and numerous other protections to ensure a fair trial. On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump stated that his likely opponent for President, Secretary Hillary Clinton, “has to go to jail” even though she has not been accused of a crime, let alone subject to any criminal proceeding. He has urged dispensing with the trial process in other cases, as well. With respect to a U.S. Sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl who was accused of desertion, Donald Trump said that the U.S. military should forego a court martial and that he “should have been executed” and that someone should “throw him out of a plane” without a parachute…
The eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Donald Trump has endorsed the use of torture and killing the loved ones of criminals as a way to stop terrorism. On March 22, 2016, he stated that “Look, I think we have to change our law on the waterboarding thing” and that he would “go further” than waterboarding. He said with respect to one suspect, “he may be talking but he’ll talk faster with the torture.” And he proposed that as Commander-in-Chief he would discourage terrorists by directing people to kill children and families who have not committed crimes or engaged in terrorism. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.” This has been cruel and unusual punishment since even before the United States was established…
The thirteenth amendment forbids slavery or indentured servitude. This issue has not come up with respect to indentured servitude in the U.S. However, Donald Trump has refused to respond to news reports and video that he did not oppose or condemn the employment of indentured servants building a new Trump golf course in Dubai.
The fourteenth amendment states that all persons born in the United States are citizens of the United States. Donald Trump announced that he would repeal this provision. “Mexico and almost every other country anywhere in the world doesn’t have that. We’re the only ones dumb enough, stupid enough to have it.”
The fourteenth amendment also protects the rights of all persons, including non-citizens, from being deprived by a State of life, liberty, or property without due process or being denied equal protection of the law. See the first, fifth, and sixth amendments.
Trump’s call to bring back “stop and frisk” procedures would violate the Fourth Amendment. Such procedures have been ruled to be discriminatory and unconstitutional. Trump’s desire to bring back torture would not only violate the Eighth Amendment, as noted above; it would also violate international treaties we have signed: “The United States has signed an international treaty banning torture, and the Constitution states that ‘all treaties’ are ‘the supreme law of the land.'”
Trump’s understanding of eminent domain laws seems to violate the Fifth Amendment. His threat to extort Mexico to make them pay for a border wall would not only be a disaster for our diplomatic relations, it would also violate domestic and constitutional law. Trump has said he will follow Obama’s precedent in a heavy use of executive powers, something many conservatives see as unconstitutional.
On multiple occasions Trump has threatened the separation of powers and an independent judiciary. Examples would include his threat to remove Judge Gonzalo Curial because of a personal vendetta; his threat to “swamp” the court with “real judges and real legal opinions” in response to criticism from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; and his threat to ensure Hillary was convicted and jailed.
More needs to be said about Trump’s threat to a free press, because this is especially alarming. Trump started out his campaign speaking to any reporter who would give him airtime. This free media is partly what helped launch his candidacy into the stratosphere.
But Trump has always had a volatile relationship with the media, even before this election. He was soon blacklisting news organizations such as The Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and Politico who he felt were too critical or unflattering of him. This limiting of the media’s access looks to continue into his presidency:
Trump hasn’t had a news conference since July. He has blocked the media from traveling with him or even knowing whom he’s meeting with. His phone call with Vladimir Putin, which occurred shortly after the election, was first reported by the Kremlin.
This is highly unusual. In 2000, President-elect George W. Bush called a press conference three days after the Supreme Court determined the outcome of the election. In 2008, President-elect Obama also met with the press three days after being elected.
As the media began to dig more into Trump’s past and call him out more on his lies, his anger grew. He threatened to open up libel laws to make it easier to stifle an adversarial press. These laws are well protected, with important Supreme Court precedents to back them up. But if Trump appoints enough sympathetic judges to the Court, he could perhaps get the libel laws he wants.
But if he doesn’t, there are other ways of undermining the press. One of them is to deluge them with frivolous lawsuits. He has twice threatened to sue the New York Times. While he had no case and the Times is a big enough paper to afford a suit; such threats have a chilling effect on news sources, especially smaller papers, who might think twice about reporting critical information.
Another way to undermine the press is to delegitimize its credibility. Trump was soon doing this with a vengeance:
At the president-elect’s often incendiary rallies, Trump frequently blasted the press as “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum.” The crowds that gathered to watch him would often turn and jeer at the reporters, hemmed in the press pen.
On the internet, the vitriol from Trump fans continued. In April, the journalist Julia Ioffe received a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse and death threats after she wrote a critical profile of Trump’s wife Melania for GQ magazine. In October, a Trump supporter sent Newsweek ’s Kurt Eichenwald ( who has been vocal about his epilepsy) a video that triggers seizures. Other Newsweek staffers have received anti-Semitic slurs on Twitter and memes about hanging journalists from trees.
Even the few news outlets who backed Trump weren’t always safe. In March, Florida police charged Trump’s then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski with battery after he appeared to grab Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields as she approached Trump to ask him a question. (Florida ultimately decided not to prosecute Lewandowski, and he landed a job at CNN.)
Robert Reich chronicles another such encounter: “Referring to the journalists at his rallies, Trump said, ‘I hate some of these people,’ adding (presumably in response to allegations of Vladimir Putin’s treatment of dissident journalists), ‘but I’d never kill ’em.'”
This kind of stirred up hatred is not only baseless, it is dangerous. It has a chilling effect on a press that is meant to hold public leaders accountable.
Another way of undermining a free press is to either bypass it altogether by connecting with voters directly or to build up an alternative propaganda outlet that can be relied on to tout the party line. Trumps use of twitter and his rallies serves to bypass the media.
Steve Bannon’s Breitbart and some other far right news sources seem to have effectively become propaganda arms of the Trump administration. Trump’s dishonest use of rhetoric and his use of repetition, theater, and emotion also bear the hallmarks of propaganda.
There is a very real danger of creeping Russian influence over our democracy and some of its leaders, including Trump. There is strong evidence that the Russians hacked into Democratic Party e-mails and released them through WikiLeaks in a manner intended to hurt Hillary’s campaign and help elect Trump as president. Over the years the Russians have gotten better and bolder in their cyber attacks against America and many of our European allies. There is also evidence that the Russians flooded the interned with fake news stories designed to hurt Hillary and promote Trump.
This should be concerning to all patriots. This should be a bipartisan issue, and indeed, top Republicans and Democrats have come out to denounce such attacks. Seventeen government security agencies have indicating this is happening, including both the FBI and the CIA. But, outrageously, Trump has said he doesn’t believe it. He shrugs it off as ridiculous or implies that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.
Such an attack would be unacceptable no matter what country perpetrated it. We have interfered in other countries elections before as well, and that was shameful and wrong. But this coming from the Russians is particularly alarming. Not because there is anything wrong with Russians as Russians, but because Russia under Putin is a repressive totalitarian state that opposes us and many of our Western allies.
It is not clear that Trump knew about Russia’s efforts to tip the scale in his favor. But there is a host of troubling connections between Trump and Putin. Trump has effusively praised Putin and at times indicated they have a friendship (though inconsistently). He has expressed hope for a good working relationship between our two nations.
Someone in Trump’s circle intentionally changed the Republican platform to weaken its support for our NATO ally, Ukraine. Trump has said himself that he might not honor America’s commitments to our NATO allies. Trump seems to have business connections to Russia, as do others in his inner circle including his nominated Secretary of State, Rex Tillman. There are reports that the Russians also hacked the Republican Party’s documents, raising the question of if they have blackmail material on Trump or other Republican leaders.
Peace with other countries is of course a good thing, all things being equal. But not at the cost of betraying our allies and genuine national interests. The Russian scandal is hard to overstate.
The timing and circumstances are scarily ripe for a totalitarian takeover: After years of progress, democracy appears to be on the wane in places all over the world. Many people are still hurting in our only slightly recovered economy. Much of the growth that has occurred has only gone to the top. People are angry about that. Government has been gridlocked, ineffectual, and often corrupt. People no longer have as much faith in our democratic process.
Many of them are afraid. Afraid of terrorist attacks and perceived threats from our changing economy, demographics, and values. Republicans have exploited these fears and added to them with dishonest conspiracy theories and fearmongering rhetoric. Many people are more willing to give up freedoms (especially those of others) for their security.
Trust in the free press has been diminished. Many people on both right and left have started to gravitate more toward partisan sources, including ones that are not always fact-based. To my mind the right has been particularly bad here. News itself has become more sensationalized and less deep. And with twitter and the internet, leaders or groups have the ability to communicate directly with people, bypassing a press pool.
There is evidence of a highly organized and well funded effort by some Christians on the far right to impose a form of Christian theocracy on America (see Hedges). While the organized movement is small, it has a lot of influence on more moderate Evangelicals and has made major inroads in the Republican Party, including some members of Trump’s cabinet and inner circle. Trump does not appear to be particularly religious, but he has shown himself willing to be swayed by such views in exchange for flattery and loyalty on other issues (issues that the Religious Right has been more than willing to back). There appears to be an unholy coalition forming between the Religious Right, the Alt-Right, and big businesses to shore up power and achieve mutually agreed on aims.
Technology has made government surveillance much easier and efficient, and since 9/11 we have been more willing to let the government infringe on our privacy. There is an argument to be had that this is necessary, or at least sometimes is. There is an inverse tension between security and freedom at different ends of a spectrum. There are costs and benefits to both sides. But one of the dangers of giving up freedoms in our move toward an extreme security side of the spectrum is that this gives incoming leaders a frightening amount of power that could easily be abused.
Not unrelatedly, many police departments have become more militarized and Trump has made heavy use of generals in his cabinet, some in heretofore civilian roles like Homeland Security. As a progressive, I’m painfully aware right now that military, intelligence, and police culture tends to lean conservative. And it is conservative citizens that tend to own military-style guns and be willing to use them.
I’m sure many of them our true patriots who would be willing to stand up for our constitutional rights. But many others seem willing to follow the party line, no matter what.
Republicans now dominate not just in the White House, but also in the House and Senate and possibly soon the Court. And there is every reason to think they will go along with most of what Trump wishes. I’m going to quote Robert Kagan at length here because he captures this dynamic well.
A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death.
In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway.
A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins.
What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him…Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that lay down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt?
In fact, this Republican coalition already agree on a great deal. They are antagonistic toward Muslims (or see such antagonism as profitable). They want a powerful police force and military. They want to maintain white privilege. They are free-market capitalists who oppose regulations. They tend to be fiscally conservative. Because of these things, they want to cut social safety nets and they tend to resent talk of civil rights or social justice. They tend to oppose science and public education.
And it’s not just the aims they agree on, its also the means. Ruthless dominance is the name of the game.
Also, with demographic changes and Trump’s (coming) unpopularity, totalitarianism might be their best chance at grasping at waning power. A Republican study after their failed 2012 election bid indicated that they had to expand their base by reaching out to more minorities. But in this election they have effectively burned many of those bridges for years to come. Already in this election, Hillary received close to 3 million more votes than Trump did. How can Republicans keep winning without stooping to unscrupulous means?
They are already attempting to suppress the vote of minorities and cheat in gerrymandering (something democrats do as well, to be fair). The recent Republican power grab in North Carolina is also an alarming example of what could be coming if true patriots from both right and left don’t come together to stand against such totalitarian moves.
Back in early May, psychologist and blogger Andrew Sullivan predicted almost exactly what would happen: disenfranchised white voters would be drawn into Trump’s populist demagoguery and vote him in. On the eve of the election Sullivan gave another dire prediction of where we are headed. I am going to end this section by quoting from it at length because it sums up much of what I have been trying to say here about why Trump is so dangerous:
He sees the judicial system as entirely subordinate to his political and personal interests, and impugned a federal judge for his ethnicity. He has accused the Justice Department and FBI of a criminal conspiracy to protect Hillary Clinton. He has refused to accept in advance the results of any election in which he loses. He has openly argued for government persecution of newspapers that oppose him — pledging to open up antitrust prosecution against the Washington Post, for example. He is the first candidate in American history to subject the press pool to mob hatred — “disgusting, disgusting people” — and anti-Semitic poison from his foulest supporters. He is the first candidate in American history to pledge to imprison his election opponent if he wins power. He has mused about using nuclear weapons in regional wars. He has celebrated police powers that openly deploy racial profiling. His favorite foreign leader is a man who murders journalists, commits war crimes, uses xenophobia and warfare to cement his political standing, and believes in the dismemberment of both NATO and the European Union. Nor has he rejected any of his most odious promises during the primary — from torturing prisoners “even if it doesn’t work” to murdering the innocent family members of terror suspects to rounding up several million noncitizens to declaring war on an entire religion, proposing to create a database to monitor its adherents and bar most from entering the country.
We are told we cannot use the term fascist to describe this. I’m at a loss to find a more accurate alternative.
The Establishments of both right and left have had many opportunities to stop him and have failed by spectacular displays of cowardice, narrow self-interest, and bewilderment. The right has been spectacularly craven. Trump has no loyalty to the party apparatus that has elevated him to a possible victory next Tuesday — declaring war on the Speaker of the House, attacking the RNC whenever it fails to toady to him, denigrating every single rival Republican candidate, even treating his own vice-presidential nominee as someone he can openly and contemptuously contradict with impunity. And yet that party, like the conservative parties in Weimar Germany, has never seen fit to anathematize him, only seeking to exploit his followers in the vain and foolish delusion that they can control him in the future in ways they have not been able to in the past.
The Republican media complex have enabled and promoted his lies and conspiracy theories and, above all, his hysteria. From the poisonous propaganda of most of Fox News to the internet madness of the alt-right, they have all made a fortune this past decade by describing the world as a hellhole of chaos and disorder and crime for which the only possible solution is a third-world strongman. The Republicans in Washington complemented this picture of crisis by a policy of calculated obstruction to every single measure a Democratic president has attempted, rendering the Congress so gridlocked that it has been incapable of even passing a budget without constitutional crisis, filling a vacant Supreme Court seat, or reforming a health-care policy in pragmatic fashion. They have risked the nation’s very credit rating to vent their rage. They have helped reduce the public support of the central democratic institution in American government, the Congress, to a consistently basement level never seen before — another disturbing analogy to the discredited democratic parliaments of the 1930s. The Republicans have thereby become a force bent less on governing than on destroying the very institutions that make democracy and the rule of law possible. They have not been conservative in any sane meaning of that term for many, many years. They are nihilist revolutionaries of the far right in search of a galvanizing revolutionary leader. And they have now found their man.
For their part, the feckless Democrats decided to nominate one of the most mediocre, compromised, and Establishment figures one can imagine in a deeply restless moment of anxiety and discontent. They knew full well that Hillary Clinton is incapable of inspiring, of providing reassurance, or of persuading anyone who isn’t already in her corner, and that her self-regard and privilege and money-grubbing have led her into the petty scandals that have been exploited by the tyrant’s massive lies. The staggering decision by FBI director James Comey to violate established protocol and throw the election into chaos to preserve his credibility with the far right has ripped open her greatest vulnerability — her caginess and deviousness — while also epitomizing the endgame of the chaos that the GOP has sought to exploit. Comey made the final days of the election about her. And if this election is a referendum on Clinton, she loses.
Yes, she has shrewdly deployed fear against fear — but she is running against the master of fear. The Democrats, with the exception of Obama, have long been unable to marshal emotion as a political weapon, advancing a bloodless rationalism that has never been a match for the tribal national passions of the right. Clinton’s rallies have been pale copies of the bloodthirsty mobs Trump has marshaled and whipped into ever-higher states of frenzy. In every debate, she won on points, but I fear she failed to offer a compelling, simple, and positive reason for her candidacy. Only a party utterly divorced from half the country it seeks to represent could have made such a drastic error of hubris and complacency.
Some — including many who will be voting for Trump — will argue that even if the unstable, sleepless, vindictive tyrant wins on Tuesday, he will be restrained by the system when he seizes power. Let’s game this out for a moment. Over the last year, which forces in the GOP have been able to stand up to him? Even his closest aides have been unable to get him to concentrate before a debate. He set up a policy advisory apparatus and then completely ignored it until it was disbanded. His foreign-policy advisers can scarcely be found. He says he knows more than any general, any diplomat, and anyone with actual experience in government. He has declared his chief adviser to be himself. Even the criminal Richard Nixon was eventually restrained and dispatched by a Republican Establishment that still knew how to run the country and had a loyalty to broader American institutions. Such an Establishment no longer exists.
More to the point, if Trump wins, he will almost certainly bring with him the House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court. A President Clinton will be checked and balanced. A President Trump will be pushing through wide-open doors. Who can temper or stop him then? A Speaker who reveals the slightest inclination to resist him will be swiftly dispatched — or subjected to a very credible threat of being primaried. If the military top brass resist his belief in unpredictable or unethical or unlawful warfare, they will surely be fired. As for the administration of justice, he has openly declared his intent to use the power of the government to put his political opponent in jail. As for a free society, he has threatened to do what he can to put his media opponents into receivership.
What is so striking is that this requires no interpretation, no reading of the tea leaves. Trump has told Americans all of this — again and again — in plain English. His own temperamental instability has been displayed daily and in gory detail. From time to time, you can see his poll ratings plummet as revelations that would permanently sink any other candidate have dented his appeal. And then he resiliently and unstoppably moves back up. His bond with his supporters is absolute, total, and personal. It was months ago that he boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would still be with him. And he was right. This is not a mark of a democratic leader; it is a mark of an authoritarian cult.
It is also, critically, a function of his platform. Fascism has never been on the ballot in America before. No candidate this close to power has signaled more clearly than Trump that he is a white-nationalist candidate determined to fight back against the browning of America. As mass immigration has changed the demographic identity of the soon-to-be majority-minority country with remarkable speed, and as those made uncomfortable by such drastic change have been dismissed as mere bigots and racists, Trump offers an electrifying hope of revenge and revanchism. The fire he has lit will not be easily doused. If his policies lead to an economic downswing, he will find others to blame and conspiracies to flush out. If there is Republican resistance to his pledges to roll back free trade, he will call on his base to pressure the leadership to surrender. And if one of his first moves is to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, we will be hurtling rather quickly to a military confrontation, as Iran rushes to build a nuke before Trump can launch military attacks to thwart them. That rush to war would empower him still further.
Yes, he is an incompetent, a dilettante, a man who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Many of his moves will probably lead to a nose-dive in support. But Trump cannot admit error and will need to deny it or scapegoat others or divert public attention. Those diversions could well be deeply destabilizing — and galvanized by events. There will doubtless be another incident between police and an unarmed black man under a Trump presidency. Rather than calm the nation, Trump will inflame it. There will be an Islamist terror attack of some kind — and possibly a wave of such attacks in response to his very election. Trump will exploit it with the subtlety of a Giuliani and the brutality of a Putin.
There are a variety of other miscellaneous things I fear or grieve. I grieve for the likely unraveling of much of Obama’s legacy. I’m angry at the vindication of the GOP’s misleading scare rhetoric and dirty obstructionist tactics.
I feel less sure of my place as a progressive in a country that I thought was mostly coming around to valuing things like compassion, pluralism, and equality. Now I am less sure of who I can trust. I feel more on the defensive, and that sudden turn-around in perception has been shocking and saddening.
As someone who is planning on going into social work, I am alarmed that Trump and the GOP are now in control. If they get their way, they will gut governmental funding for my field. This could make it much harder to find a job. But more importantly it will increase suffering for various vulnerable populations I care about.
I genuinely fear we might eventually be headed toward totalitarianism and war and I fear what effects Trump’s policies could have on our economy.
I am saddened and angered by a sense of betrayal. Betrayal on a number of fronts, but especially from conservative Evangelicals.
Before going on with some of the hard things I’m going to say here, let me qualify myself some. There are Evangelicals I love and respect. I know not all Evangelicals fall prey to the chronic problems in Evangelicalism I will be criticizing. Further, every camp has its own blind spots, including my own. Yet Evangelicalism at large is riddled with problems, and this election cycle has exposed many of them like nothing I have seen before.
My background is Evangelical, so I have a long and close connection to these people. I grew up under the influence of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, and Billy Graham. I know that world intimately. As a homeschooler and then Bible college graduate, my whole life and identity was once wrapped up in that subculture.
But for some time now and for a variety of reasons I have moved away from Evangelicalism. I came to disagree with a lot of its common stances: for example, its rejection of critical Biblical scholarship, suspicion of mainstream science, misrepresentation of history, opposition to LGBTQ rights and identities, complicity with racism, promotion of patriarchy, glorification of violence, unbridled capitalism, antipathy toward pluralism, denialism over climate change, anti-intellectualism, legalism, cultish acquiescence to authority figures, tendency to conflate the gospel with American civil religion, and so on.
But beyond disagreements with specific claims, I also came to oppose what I see as Evangelicalism’s pervasively wrongheaded spirit and priorities. As a rule, I find it anti-intellectual and narrow in loving; emphasizing dogma over evidence, power over love, exclusion over inclusion, security over justice, and entrepreneurship over authenticity.
I’ve had a lot of flashpoints of pain as Evangelicalism and I have gone more and more our separate ways. I remember when 19,000 Evangelicals would literally rather children starve then for World Vision to let married gay people work in their offices. I remember when a swath of Moody students and even a Moody professor attacked a black student group for speaking what should have been an obvious truth about racism in America. I remember these things and more.
But this election cycle and in particular the way white Evangelicals have largely supported Donald Trump has been the most painful unmasking to me of hypocrisy and moral corruption within Evangelicalism.
There is overwhelming evidence that the Bible is fallible (for example, see Sparks or Stark). This does not necessarily undercut it serving as an authority for Christians alongside others such as reason, experience, science, or the fresh leading of the Spirit. My study of both the Bible itself and religion more generally indicates to me that love is at the center of authentic spirituality.
Love is God’s primary attribute and, redeemed and empowered by His love, our primary duty is to love God and love others. This is the central message of Jesus and the Bible. The world religions disagree on many things, but most agree that the Highest Ultimate is primarily loving, good, or blissful and that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. Such notions are backed up by the phenomenology of religious experience, miracles, and our ethical intuitions.
But because Evangelicals refuse to accept this, they make the Bible into an idol and act in ways that are profoundly unloving.
For example, because of a handful of texts that condemn homosexuality, they treat LGBTQ people in ways that can only be described as hateful.
They mock them and condemn them. They compare their most intimate relationships to pedophiles, sex with animals, pollution, rape, and murder. They isolate them, suspect them, and treat them with revulsion (even those who are trying to follow their rules). They claim natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or AIDS are God’s judgment for our “wicked” acceptance them.
Many Evangelicals insist that not only is their love wrong, but even their unchosen attractions and indeed their sexual or gender identities are as well. Contrary to science and experience, they insist they chose this and can change it. Some of them force their children to go through the torture of “conversion therapy.” Others literally try to cast out the “demon” of homosexuality. Some kick their children out of their homes to the streets, or speak from their bully pulpits about the necessity of doing so -“turning their children over to Satan,” as it were.
They buy into debunked theories about what causes gayness: a distant father or overbearing mother, for example. They offer quack “treatments” to “fix” it, such as exercises to find their supposedly suppressed “inner” masculinity or femininity. As indicated above, other “treatments” such as shock therapy are not so mild.
They do this in spite of crystal-clear evidence of how important relationships are to our well-being – how fundamentally we are wired for that – and how unaccepting environments drastically elevate LGBTQ persons’ susceptibility to depression and suicide. They do it in spite of evidence that these people largely do not choose these identities and in most cases cannot choose to be otherwise (though they can choose to act in non-conformity with them). They simply refuse to listen to LGBTQ folk when they try to explain these things or share about their experiences.
In recent years, this hostility toward gay and trans people has become a hallmark of their identity and one of their top political priorities. This, apparently, is the line they are willing to die on. Not caring for strangers, widows, orphans, or the poor (even though the Bible has loads more to say about that.) Those things would be too costly and threatening. No, hatred toward gay and trans people is easier. That’s the name of the game.
They actively seek to bar gay and bisexual couples from being able to marry the person they love, with all the benefits that come with that. They seek to pass bills making it easier for LGBTQ folk to be fired or denied housing or medical care simply because they are gay, bisexual, or trans. Under the guise of religious freedom, they seek to pass bills that make it easier for businesses and colleges to discriminate against gay people. (I’ll admit some of the issues and specific cases related to this last point are more tricky and debatable than others.)
They seek to bar trans people from using the bathroom that marches their gender identity – which can endanger trans individuals and is a source of anxiety and shame. They spread statistically and scientifically misleading propaganda about LGBTQ people being sexual predators (or predators posing as such). They’ve done this for years.
Some on the fringes insist LGBTQ people ought to be castrated, imprisoned, or executed; something that was not so fringe until just recently (or even today in other countries like Uganda where Evangelicals have actively campaigned for such measures).
And to add insult to injury, they say they do all of these things because they love gay people. They’re just trying to save them from themselves. But as I’ve said, their only basis for saying this is their idolatry to a fallible human book.
Science and experience are unambiguous about what loving LGBTQ people as embodied creatures means. It means welcoming them, listening to them, celebrating them and their families, and standing up for their rights. Evangelical opposition to these things can only be called “love” if love is divorced from embodied flourishing – a sort of Gnosticism.
I have seen the Spirit working in powerful ways in my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans brothers and sisters. Many of them are quite evidently bearing the fruit of the Spirit. I can see the wholesomeness and goodness that comes from their partnerships and how they flourish in communities that treat them with respect.
Really this isn’t that difficult. And unlike other minority issues, granting LCBTQ rights doesn’t cost anything (outside of shedding an untenably ideology, which I realize can be painful). Evangelical hatred and willingness to sacrifice their LGBTQ sons and daughters to the idol of inerrancy is scandalous. It destroys lives and brings ill repute to the gospel.
And they voted for Trump precisely because of his promises to enact policies that would make life harder for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans individuals and families.
Based on idolatry to inerrancy, Evangelicals also often treat women in dehumanizing and unloving ways. In varying degrees, many of them accept the patriarchal norms of the Bible as God’s unalterable will.
I believe there is a minority thread within the Bible (particularly the New Testament) that is more egalitarian. Both men and women are said to be created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). In places, women are celebrated as prophets, leaders, apostles, teachers, or deacons (Judges 4; 2 Kings 22:14; Romans 16:7; Acts 18:24; etc.). Jesus treated women with respect and let them learn and follow him alongside his male disciples (Luke 8:1-3; 10:38-42). This was radical for those times. Arguably Paul’s language of mutual submission and his command for husbands to love their wives (Ephesians 5:21-31 Colossians 3:18-19) in his version of the household codes was meant to gently subvert Greco-Roman patriarchal norms.
Even just the logic of the New Testament’s pervasive love ethic would seem to imply egalitarianism when combined with what we know about history, sociology, and what women tell us about themselves.
But despite this minority thread, the Bible is predominately patriarchal. It teaches in many places that women are worth less than men and are essentially “owned” and controlled by them (see Coogan).
For example, fathers could sell their daughters as slaves ( Exodus 21:7) and were the ones to arrange their marriages . A woman’s vow could be nullified by her father or husband (Numbers 30:3-16). In the ten commandments, women are listed among other possessions men are told to not covet (Exodus 20:17). If a raped woman was not yet “given” to another man, her father might choose to give her to her rapist as a wife, provided they never divorced (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Captive virgins could be forced to become wives (Numbers 31:15-18).
While the New Testament generally tries to soften and even arguably subvert this kind of patriarchal teaching, it doesn’t do away with it. It gives more explicit “proof texts” to Christians who take a hierarchical view of gender roles than ones who take an egalitarian one. Hierarchical views of women have been the norm throughout church history and they are the predominate ones today among conservative Christians.
For example, the authors of Ephesians and Colossians command wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18). The author of 2 Timothy prohibits women from teaching men and says they must learn from their husbands (2:11-13). He also implies that the reason for this is that women – like Eve – are more gullible; but that they will be saved if they maintain a traditional docile role epitomized by bearing children (2:14-15). The author of 1 Peter says that wives must submit to their husbands and consider them masters even if they are treating them “harshly” (1 Peter 3:1-6 cf 2:18-25)
Between this and Jesus’ prohibition on divorce, many abused women have been pressured to simply “grin and bear it.” Other texts that encourage reconciliation and forgiveness have been used to pressure victims of all stripes (women, children, etc.) to get back together with their abusers after a simple “I’m sorry.” Religious abusers manipulate this masterfully.
And since women are excluded from leadership, men have the inside track in credibility and in setting the agenda of what issues are on the front burner. It’s no coincidence, for example, that spousal abuse and marital rape were not taken seriously until the second wave feminist revolution of the 60s and 70s, with women gaining more representation for the issues that concerned them.
I could spend a lot of time detailing how much damage these kinds of teachings have done: to women I know, to policies and social norms, in other societies with analogous views (such as traditional Islamic ones). This patriarchal mindset that sees women as objects to be possessed and controlled plays into rape culture, a paternalistic view of women as less intelligent or more fragile, and it plays into male entitlement in men’s dealings with women. It is straight up evil. It is NOT God’s eternal, perfect will. But many of the Biblical authors seemed to think it was. We have to be honest about that.
In contrast, many of the women in my life are strong leaders and gifted co-workers. Relationships I’ve seen characterized by mutual respect and egalitarian decision making seem more healthy and loving.
In voting for Trump, many Evangelicals downplayed the harm his words and actions have caused women. They again indicated how little they value women and how opposed or indifferent they are to many policies which are important to women.
On these things Evangelicals are often wrong, but at least they are consistent. On so many other things, they are not even willing to follow the Bible. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they emphasize purity culture and blind obedience but neglect more important matters of justice, mercy, and love.
For example, the Bible says in multiple places that God’s people are to care for the “stranger” or “alien” in their midst (Deuteronomy 10:19; Psalm 146:9; Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2; etc.). This isn’t just supposed to be a personal impulse; many texts indicate that it is a matter of (political) justice (Exodus 12:49; 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; 22:21; 23:9; 24:22; 25:35 Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 24:19-21; 26:12; Jeremiah 7:5-7; 22:3; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; 47:22-23 Malachi 3:5; Zechariah 7:10; etc.).
The actual sin of Sodom (not the made up one of “being gay”) was greed and inhospitality toward strangers and the poor (Genesis 19; Ezekiel 16:49-50; Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:14; Hebrews 13:2). And honestly, this is as simple as following the Bible’s pervasive love ethic.
Yet many Evangelicals support policies and a candidate who threatens the lives of refugees and immigrants and often treats foreigners as less than.
In the same vein, one of the Bible’s most dominate themes is care for widows, orphans, poor people, and the vulnerable. This is mentioned repeatedly in the Mosaic law (Exodus 22:21-24; 23:6; Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 15:13-15; 24:19-21; 26:12; etc.).
Failure to insure such justice is one of the prophets’ major indictments on Israel that led to her judgment (Psalm 10:14, 17-18; 146:1, 5-9; Proverbs 14:31; 19:17; Isaiah 1:10-17; 3:14-25; 10:1-3; 58:3-7; Jeremiah 5:26-29; 7:5-7; 22:3, 13-19; Ezekiel 22:4, 7; 16:49-50; Amos 2:7; 5:10-15, 21-24; 6:1-7; Micah 2:2; Zechariah 7:10 Malachi 3:5; etc.).
Such care is central to Jesus’ gospel (Luke 1:52-53; 3:10-14; 4:18-19; 6:20-26, 33-36; 7:22-23; 10:25-37; 11:39-42; 12:16-34; 14:12-14; 16:19-31; 18:18-30; 19:8-9; Mark 12:28-31, 40; Matthew 6:1-4, 19-24; 10:7-8; 15:32; 18:21-35; 25:35-40; etc.).
And it was distinctively characteristic of the early church (John 13:29; Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 6:1-7; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:22-28; 1 Corinthians 11:20-22; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9; Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:3; 6:8-10, 17-19; Hebrews 13:5; James 2:1-17 ; 5:1-5 1 John 2:15-17; 3:16-18; etc.).
Much like with foreigners, many of these texts imply that this care was not just charity, but was a matter of justice. This is implicit or explicit in most of the texts surveyed. But specific examples include the following: Farmers were commanded to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so the poor could eat (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). Usury was condemned so the rich could not prey on the vulnerable (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20; Leviticus 25:35-38). After seven years, debts were to be cancelled and slaves set free, and after fifty years land was to revert back to its original owner (Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15).
Yet, based on their misuse of a handful of texts (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), many Evangelicals see a special concern for the vulnerable and extra economic measures to ensure their well-being as negotiable or even as harmful “enabling.” They tend to support typical Republican policies that subsidize big business and the rich, cut funding for social safety nets for the poor, oppose health care for everyone, and glorify unbridled capitalism. Knowingly or unknowingly, they support economic exploitation of people here in the US and in other countries. They seem unconcerned about increased income inequality. Though they claim to be pro-life, they often oppose measures to help the poor that actually mitigate the reasons poor women often feel compelled to have abortions.
And now they have voted for a man who literally brags about his greed. In voting for Trump, they are supporting our increased move toward oligarchy and unfettered exploitation of the poor and marginalized.
Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). He told us to love our enemies and pray for them, forgive those who persecute us, and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-48; 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:27-36; John 20:23; etc.). He condemned violence and retribution, instead calling us to leave vengeance in God’s hands. He demonstrated such radical enemy-love and forgiveness in his own example (Luke 22:49-51; 23:34) – an example the New Testament repeatedly call us to imitate (Philippians 2:4-11; 2 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 John 3:16; etc.).
Love saturates the New Testament’s moral vision. It is the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), the “royal law” (James 2:8), the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14), and the most enduring virtue (1 Corinthians 13). The early church up until Constantine took this mandate of love and forgiveness seriously (Romans 12:9-21; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 3:9; etc. see Sider). The Bible’s ideal vision for God’s coming kingdom – a kingdom breaking into the world through Christ – is a pacific one, where swords are beaten into plow sheds (Isaiah 2:4).
While admittedly such values can never be fully transferred to a this-worldly government, it does seem that a preference for peace, magnanimity, fairness, and restraint with others (where possible) would be closer to the kingdom ideal. It seems like preventative and restorative measures would be more in keeping with this spirt then purely punitive ones (though obviously the latter are necessary sometimes).
But Evangelicals voted for a bully of a man who glories in brutality: wanting to bring back torture, “pound the hell” out of ISIS, kill innocent people, punch protesters and others he disagrees with, beef up our already bloated military even more, and exploit other countries under the threat of force. He is apparently unwilling to address systemic violence and racism in our law enforcement. In his view, more people need guns, not less. He and Evangelicals tend to favor the most harsh punishments, including bringing back the death penalty.
The Bible is clear that lying is wrong and truth is paramount (Leviticus 19:11; Colossians 3:9; etc.). Just logically, truth and trustworthiness are of bedrock importance in a leader.
But Evangelicals trusted and voted for one of the most dishonest persons to ever run for office. Their tendency to anti-intellectualism and gullible faith apparently made them easy targets. As Valarie Tarico says, they have become a people of exploiters and exploited.
Relatedly, the Bible is clear that we should not gossip or slander others (Exodus 20:16; 23:1; Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 6:16-19; Romans 1:29; James 4:11; etc.). Common norms of decency and honesty also suggest this.
And yet Evangelicals lapped up the GOP’s slander of Obama, Clinton, and others. To be clear, there are legitimate areas to critique; genuine faults and mistakes. But so much of the angry fervor that was whipped up was baseless (e.g. Obama being a Muslim and not really American, Benghazi, democrats wanting to take your guns, the election being rigged, Jade Helm being a secret plot to take over Texas, etc.).
The Bible and particularly the New Testament exalt humility, servanthood, and sacrifice in a leader (Luke 14:7-14; 22:25-30; Philippians 2:1-11; etc.). But Evangelicals have voted for a man that epitomizes arrogant boastfulness and who is transparently egotistical and self-serving.
Jesus’ teaching about neighbor love ideally universalizes the sphere of people we are supposed to care for (Luke 10:25-37). The teachings of the other great religions and even humanist ethics have also tended toward expanding the circle of concern. Even so-called “identity politics” aims to do so. For example, feminists at their best aren’t against men or wanting to have a leg up on them; they just want equal rights and an equitable standing to them.
In a globalized and interconnected world that faces challenges such as climate change that will depend on us coming together, things like equality and mutuality are more important than ever.
Yet, in the face of this Evangelicals voted for a man who seeks an “America first” approach. And specifically, a white America, a “Christian” America, a rich, male, and non-disabled America. To the degradation of everyone else. Conservative Evangelicals often seem to buy into a rugged individualism that is neither true to reality nor to spiritual (Trinitarian) values of interconnectedness and loving care for one another.
The Bible’s teachings on love, compassion, and human equality as well as common decency indicate that racism is wrong.
Yet, Evangelicals have a troubling history of either actively supporting racism or not taking it very seriously. Many European Christians appealed to the “doctrine of discovery” and a sense of “manifest destiny” to justify stealing native peoples’ lands and enslaving or killing them. Evangelical Protestants campaigned to bring slavery to the colonies. Since the Bible has more “proof texts” to support slavery and nothing that directly condemns it, conservative “Bible believing” Christians were among the fiercest defenders of the institution. They saw abolitionism as a liberal assault on the authority of God’s Word.
After the modernist controversy that birthed the Fundamentalist movement, conservatives tended to be suspicious of social justice movements in general. White Evangelicals were among the most resistant to the civil rights movement and this resistance played an integral role in the rise of the Religious Right. Since then they have made greater strides towards racial equality. But for a number of reasons including still segregated churches, unacknowledged privilege, and antipathy to social science and social justice, they are often less than fully engaged allies for racial equity.
But many Evangelicals rewrite this history to lesson their guilt and not have to face America’s “original sin” of racism and white supremacy. They wax eloquent about our “glorious” Christina past. They pretend like they were reformers when they were most often the lethargic or the actual oppressors. The pretend like racism no longer infects us. Or they at least downplay the (structural) complexity of it or the misery it inflicts, from Standing Rock to Ferguson. And now they have voted for the candidate endorsed by the KKK who ran on a barely concealed platform of white nationalism.
They claim they care about religious freedom, but vote for a man that has vowed to strip the rights from people who don’t think like they do. In reality, many only care about their Christian privilege, and for some, a literal Christian theocracy.
They say they care about the Constitution but voted for a man who threatens freedom of religion, free speech and the press, an impartial judiciarate, due process, and who evinces totalitarian impulses.
They say the want to “Focus on the Family” and are the party of “family values.” But what they really mean is white heterosexual middle-class families. They certainly don’t care about gay families. They seek to undermine their rights and family structures at every turn. They don’t care about minority families. They seek to see immigrant families torn apart by deportations. They support the devastation that the “war on drugs” and mass incarceration has caused to black families. They seek to cut off social safety net support for poor families. Until recently, they were disdainful of divorced or single-parent families.
They say they are pro-life, but in terms of policy are often pro-guns, pro-war, pro death penalty, anti police reform or accountability, anti-poor, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-minority, climate change deniers, anti-gay, against preventative community health measures, and so on.
They say when it suits them that “character counts,” but then elect a vulgar man who is a liar, an adulterer, a bully, a thief, a peeper and genital grabber, perhaps a rapist, a bigot, an arrogant and greedy person, an owner of strip clubs and casinos, a man who glories in power and celebrates violence.
Many people thought it ironic that when Jerry Falwell Jr. and his wife posed next to Trump for a photo, a prominent framed picture can be seen next to them of Trump with a playboy model. The hypocritical contrast to past Evangelical posturings was palpable. The world took notice.
Blogger Rachel Held Evans recently tweeted, “The culture that warned me against moral relativism is now the hardest to convince that character, truth, and compassion matter.” I agree.
At the root of so many of these problems is that too many Evangelicals hold to a theology that emphasizes power over love. I have written on that here.
Hillary and Abortion
Ok, you say, maybe all of those things are true. But Hillary was still worse. Outside of abortion, I won’t address that claim here in much depth. In some ways it is water under the bridge at this point.
But in brief, as many problems as I also had with Hillary, I am convinced that Trump is way worse. The danger Trump poses is also why I could not in good conscience choose to vote third party or abstain from voting for a presidential candidate (though I have friends I respect who did).
Many of the scandals surrounding Hillary were either baseless or blown out of proportion in a misleadingly way. Many of her faults – elitism, corruption, dishonesty, or even her hawkishness – would be just as bad or worse under Trump. She was also starting to pivot more on things like Wall Street and TPP. Sure, some of this was opportunistic posturing. But I believe on some things she truly learned and changed her mind.
Hillary listens and is pragmatic. She is willing to work across the aisle. She has a history of public service and experience. Many of her detailed policy proposals would do good for so many people, including those who voted against her. She is smart and would surround herself with competent people. In all of these things, she is a sharp contrast to Trump.
Her campaign was centered on coming together to celebrate and support one another. What a contrast this was to Trump’s platform of ruthless dominance and bigotry. There is a reason that almost every major paper endorsed her, including traditionally Republican-leaning ones and some that rarely endorse any candidate.
But what about abortion? Surely Hillary Clinton’s robust pro-choice stance is a consummately good reason to have voted against her. Surely Donald Trump’s stated pro-life position was a good reason to vote for him. Given the future of the Supreme Court and the millions of unborn lives that are on the line, doesn’t this trump (pun intended) those other considerations?
To be honest, I’m conflicted about abortion. I was raised in a pro-life family and culture. With a lot of hesitations and qualifications, I still hold to a pro-life position. But I’ve realized the issue is a lot more complicated than I was originally taught and, by-and-large, I no longer respect the mainstream “pro-life” movement.
First of all, what constitutes personhood and when it begins are highly debatable issues that people of good will disagree on. After surveying some of the different qualities that are often seen as close to the center of what personhood means, pro-choice writer Katha Pollitt makes this observation:
“If some combination of these qualities is what makes a person, it is hard to see how a fertilized egg qualifies as one. It has no brain, no blood, no head, organs, or limbs; it cannot think, feel, perceive, or communicate. It has no character traits or relationships and it occupies no social space. It is the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Before it implants in the uterine wall, and usually for quite a while after that, the woman in whose body it exists does not even know it is there. In fact, about half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant and are simply washed out of her body by her menstrual flow. If fertilized eggs are persons, God is remarkably careless about them” (Pollitt 69).
One may disagree with her, but it’s hard to deny that it is less than obvious or intuitive that a zygote at this stage is of the same character and worth as a born child.
To underline how (initially) counter-intuitive that idea is, Pollitt presents the following scenario: Imagine a fire at a fertility clinic. Imagine a firefighter who, “ignored the screams of workers and patients and dashed about collecting embryos instead on the grounds that they were children and even more helpless than trapped adults” (Pollitt 76). Again, I think most of us find that troubling, even if we can reason our way to agreeing with the fireman’s logic.
On the other hand, I think most of our minds would rebel at the notion that, while a new born baby is a person, a few seconds before – while still in the womb – it was not. This seems arbitrary and even blood curdling. The further a fetus moves along the developmental process, the more “person-like” it seems – if not a person from the very beginning. The more advanced the development, the more uncomfortable people tend to feel about abortion.
That’s why pro-life groups use images of late-term fetus’ (or sometimes infants). It’s also the reason Roe puts limits on third trimester abortions.
If these two ends of the spectrum are not completely obvious boundary markers of personhood, are there other options? Pro-life advocates make much of the fetus’ heartbeat being discernable at six weeks. If you’re dead when your heart stops, shouldn’t you be considered alive when your heart starts (at least)?
Pro-choice advocates counter by pointing out that the heart is merely an organ, that at this stage the embryo is tiny (about the size of a lentil) and not that different than other mammals at the same stage of development. It is not conscious, cannot feel pain, and in fact has no brain waves (which is what is actually used to measure death, not a heart beat).
Were we to associate personhood with a set of functions or capabilities – a debatable premise in itself – it does seem like many of the most intuitive ones come later in fetal development. For example, a fetus can be viable at about 22 weeks. While brain waves appear in the lower brain around 6-8 weeks, they do not occur in the higher brain (cerebral cortex) until about 22-24 weeks. And most experts don’t believe fetus’ can feel pain before the third trimester (27-28 weeks). This is why Roe limits third trimester abortions.
There are fringe figures like philosopher Peter Singer who argue that a woman has a right to commit infanticide after birth. But virtually no other pro-choice advocates agree. Birth is an intuitive absolute cutoff for a few reasons: undeniably the baby is highly developed. It will continue to mature, but it is no zygote. At birth, the social relationship and degree of bonding between mother and infant change dramatically.
Most importantly, at this point, the infant is not literally and uniquely dependent on her mother’s body to survive. She is dependent on others for support, but she is not necessarily dependent on her birth mother, specifically, to provide this. This gets to the issue of bodily autonomy, to which I now turn.
While there is debate on when and if a fetus is a person, women undeniably are persons. And pregnancy and children effect their lives in major ways. For one thing, pregnancy is more physically dangerous than we sometimes think. It is certainly more dangerous than having an abortion. Pollitt lists some of the hazards:
“The death rate for [childbirth]…is 8.8 women per 100,000. As I’ve mentioned before, continuing a pregnancy is 12 to 14 times as potentially fatal as ending it…And its not just a matter of the death rate. According to Amnesty International, in 2004 and 2005, more than 68,000 women nearly died in childbirth in the United States. The risks of producing a baby include ectopic pregnancy, gestational diabetes, bacterial vaginosis, preeclampsia, anemia, urinary tract infections, placental abruption, hyperemesis gravidarum (the constant and severe nausea that killed Charlotte Bronte), depression, postpartum psychosis, and PTSD – to say nothing of morning sickness, heartburn, backache, stretch marks, episiotomy or cesarean scaring, decreased marital happiness, and lowered lifetime income” (Pollitt 136).
Childbirth itself is extremely painful and C-section is a major surgery. It’s also expensive, especially here in America. The average price for pregnancy and newborn care is now $30,000 for vaginal delivery and $50,000 for C-section (Pollitt 200).
Beyond the physical sacrifice, it is a major emotional and social event (for better or worse). It can effect a woman’s employment and ability to do her job. Job discrimination against pregnant women, although illegal, is still quite common:
“More than 2,541 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed in 2013. Pregnant women are routinely denied simple temporary job modifications, like not having to do heavy lifting or climb high ladders and being allowed to sit down occasionally and take more bathroom breaks” (Pollitt 200).
And that’s just leading up to birth. If abortion were made illegal, women could give their child up for adoption. Except that by the end of nine months of pregnancy and then labor, most women don’t; and those who do sometimes face judgment from those around them and often feel loss for years to come over giving up their baby (something most women who have abortions don’t report feeling.) (Pollitt 186-89, 107).
Besides, there would not be enough adoptive families to take in all the unwanted babies were abortion to cease (Pollitt 187-88). Pro-life proponents would obviously see an unwanted child as better than a dead child, but adoption is problematic as a stopgap to replace abortion.
If women choose to keep their baby, that is at least 18 years of constant effort in parenting. This is not to say that parenting can’t be richly rewarding, but it is definitely a sacrifice and effects the trajectory of a woman’s life in non-trivial ways. Raising children is expensive. For women with career dreams or for those who have to continue to work out of necessity, day care is expensive.
If a woman quits her job and becomes a stay-at-home-mom, this can leave her dependent on her partner (and thus vulnerable). What happens if he, “dies, gets sick, loses his job, divorces her, becomes an addict or alcoholic or abusive? What if she wants to get a divorce herself?” (Pollitt 202). And even if she is out of the workforce for only a few years, it can be hard to re-enter and often one does so at a reduced salary (Pollitt 202-03).
The sometimes near insurmountably burden of bringing a child into the world is one of the main reasons women choose to have abortions. I’m going to quote Rachel Held Evans at some length here, because she makes this point well:
The fact is, most women who choose to have abortions do so because they feel they cannot manage the financial burden of carrying out the pregnancy and raising another child. The latest survey from Guttmacher found that 49% of abortion patients in 2014 had incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($11,670 per year) and 26% had incomes of 100-199% of the federal poverty level. The survey reports, ‘the reasons patients gave for having an abortion underscored their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life. The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.’
Imagine you’re a mother of two working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job in food service, while your husband hunts for a job. (At $7.25 per hour, that works out to $15,080 a year.) Childcare takes about 30 percent of those earnings, rent groceries and other bills the rest. Now imagine that, like a third of American workers, you don’t get any paid sick days, so every time one of your children gets an ear infection or catches the flu, your pay is docked for taking time off to care for them. Imagine too that you can barely afford your health insurance, much less days off for doctor visits, and your employer doesn’t offer any paid maternity leave.
Now imagine you get pregnant…
This is the reality faced by millions of women who consider abortions each year, and the sad irony is the same pro-life politicians who want to force them to have their babies typically oppose raising the minimum wage, ensuring paid sick leave and parental leave for all American workers, and protecting the 20 million people who can finally afford health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. They also tend to oppose additional funding for successful programs like WIC, which provides food assistance to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their children.
But if women can’t afford kids or want careers, why don’t they just use birth control or refrain from sex? As I will touch on more shortly, birth control can be a great thing and it is largely effective. But it is not 100% reliable.
Further, just like men, most women are sexual creatures. For most of them, celibacy throughout their 30 odd fertile years is not in the works. We are not just talking about single women either. Are married women suppose to refrain from sex with their husbands until menopause? Is their independence, dreams, and sex lives always to be precariously contingent on an unplanned pregnancy? Perhaps they should be, but let’s not pretend this is not a heavy cost.
Because of realities like these, many feminists see the right to choose an abortion as an essential part of women’s liberation and equality. To them, it is about the right to control their own bodies and destinies. In fact, forced pregnancy and birth is so intrusive, some argue that even if fetuses are persons, bodily autonomy might mean women cannot be forced to donate their bodies, at real cost and risk to themselves, to sustaining a fetus against their will (for the seminal argument see here).
After all, no one has the right to hook you up to someone else for nine months against your will, even to save that person’s life. No one has the right to force you to donate organs to another, even to save their lives.
Pro-life advocates argue that there are fatal flaws with such a comparison. There is a difference between passively letting a stranger die and actively killing your own baby (as they see it). More importantly, it is the woman’s own free choice to have sex (outside of rape) that connected her to this other, via pregnancy. Shouldn’t she bear responsibility here?
Of course, that a fetus is morally equivalent to a baby is one of the very issues in dispute. Pro-choice proponents also question if sex can be construed as an automatic contract to carry to term any pregnancy that might result. Surely many women do not so intend it, and many of them are taking responsible care through birth control to avoid pregnancy. Why should they be punished for an accident they were taking precautions to avoid?
There are a host of other considerations, especially in terms of law and legal implications of particular positions. There are additional arguments and counterarguments to the ones I have shared.
My purpose is not to argue for abortion. Part of the reason I remain pro-life is the arguably arbitrary nature of locating personhood later than conception and the dangerous potential of identifying it with a particular set of functions (see particularly Beckwith).
My point is to show that these issues are highly debatable. I sometimes wonder if I am wrong about abortion. And if I’m right, the fact that the matter is so debatable makes me hesitant about imposing my view on women. It’s possible to personally think personhood begins at conception but recognize that this is objectively debatable and thus should not be legally forced on others.
But let’s assume pro-life Evangelicals are right that abortion is wrong and should be legally penalized. Do they really think Trump is trustworthy to make that a priority? Until just recently he was vocally pro-choice -including on partial birth abortion. Just last year Trump said his sister, who is a federal judge, might make a good Supreme Court Justice. His sister is pro-choice.
But then, suddenly, his tone changed once he started courting Evangelical voters. Though even there he was all over the board on what his policy would be. Should women be punished for having an abortion? First he said yes, then he flip-flopped when he realized how unpopular that would be. This is a man who has lied about almost everything else. In voting for him on abortion, Evangelicals chose trust he would be a man of his word.
Will he be, in this regard at least? I think there is a good chance he might. I don’t believe Trump is truly anti-abortion, to say nothing of being pro-life in any broader sense. But he does value loyalty (to a point) and he doesn’t have much to lose by letting them have their way.
Since at this point Trump is only able to replace conservative Scalia’s vacant position, which would not alter the courts makeup to overturn Roe, we have to assume a liberal judge dies or retires before a pro-life president is out of office. This seems distinctly possible: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 and Stephen Breyer is 78. Next, we have to assume a pro-life judge is confirmed and that they do not change their minds on this issue. We have to assume a case is brought all the way to the Supreme Court before the make-up of the Court again changes for Roe to be overturned.
Republican likelihood of continuing to win elections and keep influencing the Court for years to come is something abortion opponents should be thinking about. With Trump’s bigotry and ineptness, unless he and the Republicans go a totalitarian route, I don’t think he will be re-elected. And with demographic changes continuing to happen, Republicans can’t continue winning elections without expanding their base. Trump could hurt their credibility for years to come.
Let’s say Roe is overturned. Isn’t this a good enough reason to overlook Trump’s other evils? Isn’t he still the lesser evil of the two? I don’t think so, for a few reasons.
To have any integrity, “pro-life” has to mean more than just unborn lives. And Trump’s temperament and stances profoundly threaten human lives. He is pro police brutality (implicitly), pro torture, pro killing innocent relatives of terrorists, anti-refugee (in a time when a number of forces are creating the largest refugee crises of modern times), anti undocumented immigrants (many coming here simply to survive), anti-Muslim, anti-poor, pro nuclear proliferation, open to using nuclear weapons again, pro invading other countries just to take their resources, and he doesn’t see climate change as real or a dire need to be addressed. This doesn’t even get into the danger that his volatile temperament or ignorance bring.
Even assuming criminalizing abortion would save all those unborn lives, I think one could make a serious argument that more lives could be lost under Trump than under someone else. And that’s just equating lives in the abstract. What about conscious suffering? Does the abortion of a non-sentient fetus at a stage where it very likely cannot feel pain really compare with a self-aware person watching their whole family starve to death before themselves succumbing?
And in fact, research shows that criminalizing abortion does not significantly lower abortion rates without other changes in the socio-economic reasons women have them. Women just choose to have abortions in more risky, illegal venues. Democrats are usually much better at addressing some of the root causes in poverty and also in supporting things like birth control and sex education that are proven to lower pregnancy and abortion rates. This is probably why abortion rates tend to go down under Democratic presidents and back up under Republican ones.
Birth control in particular is one of the best pro-life resources imaginable. Not only does it prevent abortions, it saves women’s (and babies’) lives who would be more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth. It lets women have fewer children and space out more the ones they have. This allows them to better be able to provide for their families. It can allow them to get an education and a better job. It can also help stymie over population.
Pollitt argues that, “The ability to determine the timing and number of children undergirds the modern ideal of egalitarian, intimate marriages based in love, companionship, and mutual sexual delight. It makes for marriages that are less rigidly role-bound and more democratic – and better for children who get more parental attention and resources” (Pollitt 113). Held-Evans caps off a survey of the life-saving benefits of birth control to women around the world with these words: “Some estimate it could save as many as 2 million children every year, and dramatically curb maternal mortality rates. If that isn’t pro-life, I don’t know what is.”
Yet, most major “pro-life” groups either oppose birth control or are tepid in their support of it (heavily documented in Pollitt). This is part of why I no longer have much respect for this movement – even though I agree with some of their major aims. Most pro-life groups are not consistently pro-life, they are really more pro-birth. They oppose measures that would ensure children and families that are struggling are provided for. They are often pro-war, pro-guns, pro-death penalty, and in other ways support social policies that are deadly to many. They sometimes resort to misleading media and discredited arguments.
Since they support deadly policies and oppose policies that actually decrease abortions and help families thrive, it is hard to argue with Pollitts heavily documented assertion that the mainstream pro-life movement is really more about controlling women and trying to force them back into traditional mores than it is about saving lives. This fits with the history of the modern pro-life movement. As Fred Clark and others show, Evangelicals held no consensus view on abortion until the rise of the Religious Right in the late 70s.
Abortion in this contexts also serves as a wedge issue to absolve conservatives for either not robustly caring about social justice issues (particularly civil rights) or in many cases opposing them. It lets them claim moral high ground and have a bludgeon to try to corral would be dissidents.
I know there are many good people who sincerely care about the unborn, but its hard to deny that the conservative movement has leveraged abortion in this way. There’s nothing that says Evangelicals have to idealize police and the military, see poor people as failures who deserve their lot, claim that black people’s problems primarily stem from their “poor choices,” or any of the other regressive things they often do. There’s nothing that says they can’t oppose abortion and be more informed and empathetic on these other things too. But they largely aren’t. And abortion is their political trump card to not have to care.
A more comprehensive and just pro-life stance might look something like this or this.
What I’ve said about Evangelicals is intentionally overstated to be prophetic. While I do think these problems are serious and widespread, things are never that simple. People and movements are complex. I’ve known many good people who are Evangelicals. I think of my mom, who is one of the best persons I know. She is wise, industrious, kind, and resiliently joyful. In many ways she is my hero.
Or I think of the Filipino pastor who married me and my wife. Belief-wise he’s an old-school Fundamentalist. But he is also warm and funny. He drove four hours to help pick up my mom from the airport. And when we found out that her flight had been delayed, he was willing to wait in Manila all night for her. He gave me and Jen a lot of good advice. Quite a worldly-wise man in spite of his beliefs.
I can think of many other examples. And of course, in their own way, plenty of Evangelicals care about racism, poverty, scholarship, and many of the other things I’ve criticized them on. I wouldn’t want to downplay that. Here might also be a good place to reiterate that we progressives have our own blind-spots and flaws.
But these problems I’ve identified remain. And I fear that political power and alignment with an administration as immoral as Trump’s will only further compromise Evangelicals’ commitment to love and justice.
Evangelicals, I implore you: good intentions are not enough. They must be matched with knowledge. History is strewn with examples of people who did massive amounts of harm under the best of intentions. If God reveals truth in creation – if all truth is God’s truth – please don’t be afraid of science or the testimony of your neighbors. Be willing to engage others and the world in a fair and open-minded way. Please learn to be more discerning in the sources you trust.
Be willing to approach Trump’s claims critically, given his history of whoppers. Are you willing to call him out when he lies? Are you willing to defend our free press, even when you disagree with the perspectives some sources take? People of the truth should have nothing to fear from transparency, fact-checking, or an open exchange of ideas.
Please consider arguments from a number of different perspectives about if the Bible is truly infallible or if it must be for God to use it in a powerful way. Please prayerfully study the Scriptures to see if I am right about love being at the center of God’s character and what he calls us to. I believe the Bible itself will bear this out, but also consider what other sources in natural theology such as miracles or religious experience indicate about the Divine. How would making love the center of your hermeneutic change how you approach God and others?
Please reflect on why the Bible spends so much time focusing specifically on the needs of “the least of these” – widows, orphans, the poor, and strangers. Why not just say “love everyone” and leave it at that? All lives matter.
Of course, all lives do matter. We are suppose to love everyone. Some aspects of loving others are universal to all individuals and groups. For example, for all people, love means being honest to them, respecting them, listening to them with an open mind, treating them with kindness and compassion, and seeking their happiness and maturity.
But vulnerable people groups need more than the everyday kindness or curtesy we might extend to another. They have urgent needs that more well-to-do souls simply don’t struggle to have met. They face oppressive circumstances that sometimes are quite different than those of majority groups. The Biblical authors were wise enough to recognize that. What would it mean to apply that insight more broadly to today?
Please reconsider how you treat LGBTQ people. Does the Bible even condemn being trans? you might be surprised. Whether gay or bi people should act on their same-sex attractions; please, please recognize they don’t choose them and cannot change them. Conversion therapy needs to go the way of the dinosaur.
If you expect gay Christians to remain life-long celibates, make sure you are going out of your way to provide them with the fellowship and support they will need to walk down that lonely road. Please reconsider your very condemnation of their love. I have written on why I changed my mind on this matter here. But if you continue to personally believe acting on such an orientation is wrong, reconsider your crusade of legal opposition to the rights of LGBTQ people.
Please reconsider how you treat women. Reconsider if the Bible’s overall trajectory is truly patriarchal. Recognize that any social arrangement of “separate but equal” based on something intrinsic such as race or gender inevitably lends itself to abuse and dehumanization. This is just a fact of social systems and human nature.
Please recognize how consummately strong, intelligent, charismatic, and gifted women are for most of the same things men are. See how women too have a variety of dreams and callings. Don’t be threatened by that. See it as something to celebrate and nurture. Respect women’s ability to chart their own courses, pursue their own dreams, and chose to be with the person they love. Abortion is a legitimate thing to oppose (obviously), but please learn to embrace other forms of birth control as tools that can be used for good as well as ill.
Listen to women when they tell you that something is offensive or even threatening. Respect consent and expect the same from others. Don’t tolerate assault or abuse. Ever. From anyone. (Even respected authority figures.) Become more aware of how thoroughly misogyny colors our history and still infects us in many ways. Be attentive to seeing it and confronting it in your own life and in your community.
Please reconsider how you treat people of color. Learn more about our racist history and about how much racism still pervades our lives today. Remember, racism is not necessarily about conscious hate; it is about systems of inequality and oppression. Become more aware of such systems.
Build relationships with black and brown people. Listen to them when they share with you about their fears and the dangers and indignities they face. Don’t assume they are wrong just because their experience is different then your own. Partner with them in opposing racism in all its forms. Not as a “savior,” but as an ally. This might mean stepping back sometimes and letting others lead. Some problems are not as easily solved as others, but at least recognize the problem and steadfastly pursue a just resolution.
Be intentional about watching yourself for stereotyping and kneejerk fears. Some people of all races really are bad news, but know that implicit bias is a thing. Take care to the sources you imbibe. Some will be more trustworthy than others. Some cater to prejudice (intentionally or not).
Learn to see the good in other cultures, not just the bad. Make room in your communities for leadership and representation by minorities. Be intentional about letting them bring their cultures and perspectives into the substance and not just the veneer of your teaching and worship. Don’t just expect them to take on your own culture. Don’t be afraid to “get it wrong” or apologize. This is messy work. Just keep trying and learning.
Please reconsider how you talk about and treat refugees and immigrants. Yes we have to take reasonable precautions for our safety and well-being. But there are ways to do that which are not xenophobic. Not everything is a zero-sum game. At least sometimes everyone can come out on top. Remember that “legal” is not necessarily the same thing as just; and “illegal” is not necessarily the same thing as criminal (in the moral sense).
Consider doing a study on what the Bible says about strangers and aliens. You may be surprised. Keep in mind that as Christians we are supposed to see others as, first and foremost, fellow image bearers of God. Our primary citizenship is in heaven, not the USA.
Be mindful of how racism and ethnocentrism can subtly creep into our reactions toward others, even when we are not intending to be hateful. Again, be mindful of the sources you gain info from. There are those that are intentionally trying to sow fear and animus; and not always for deserved, representative reasons.
If possible, built relationships with immigrants and/or refugees. Learn more about the challenges they face. Advocate for their rights and for immigration reform. Lobby the government to treat other countries in a fair rather than exploitive way. Resist unwarranted notions of American superiority or exceptionalism.
Please reconsider how you view and treat poor people. Build relationships with them. Treat them with dignity as equals. Don’t just give, be ready to be blessed in return. I know many of you are exceptionally charitable. Evangelicals are known for that. By all means, keep up the good work! Such work not only provides needed aid; when done well, it also builds up beloved communities.
But charity is no substitute for more thoroughgoing economic justice. Everyone has a responsibility to do the best they can with the hand they have been dealt. Of course we want to encourage people to work and take personal responsibility. Most people want to work. And we want to create jobs.
But the idea that people can normatively pull themselves up by their own bootstraps is not reality. Its very hard to escape poverty. Some people start out life with the deck stacked against them (or stacked for them, as the case may be). Sometimes circumstances happen that are outside their control. Injuries happen, plants move, industries change, stock markets crash, heads of households betray, and others act in a discriminatory way. And when they are able, those in power will engineer the laws and system to maximize profits at the least cost. No matter if this is sustainable for ordinary workers or the environment.
If that is the reality, why not work to ensure that peoples’ basic needs are met: needs like housing, clothing, food, education, and healthcare? Why not build coalitions of power from below – countervailing power to the power from above that tends toward exploitation?
The system is never neutral. Laws are crafted to benefit someone (see Reich). Please become more of a voice for the poor and working class. Don’t just give them charity, fight for their rights and for laws that reflect their interests. This isn’t just “bleeding heart,” it makes good economic sense.
Please reconsider how you view and treat Muslims. If you can, seek out friendships with them. Let them know they are welcome and safe in your community. Even if they were your enemies, Jesus commands that we love them. And love means treating them the way we would want to be treated.
But in fact, most of them are not our enemies. As I argued earlier, despite our differences, Muslims are essentially just like everyone else. And Islam too can be interpreted in a number of ways. Be willing to read about Islam from sympathetic sources. Or as you share your faith with them, ask your Muslim friends about what they believe. Arguably there are objectionable things in Islam; but a lot of the stereotypes about it are either wrong or simplistic straw-men.
More controversially, I would say be open to the idea that God could be inclusively at work in the lives of Muslims. This doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t uniquely true or that Christ isn’t the ultimate source and end of their salvation, but it means God can meet people where they are and transform them without perfect knowledge. When you meet saintly Muslims, as I have, its hard to deny the Spirit’s fruit.
Stand up for the rights and lives of Muslims. Both here and abroad. Lobby the government to pursue fairer Middle East policies – for example, in Israel. But be willing to face fierce pushback from those animated by fear and prejudice. As I will write about more shortly, how we navigate beating back terrorism while protecting ordinary Muslims will be one of the great tests of our time. The temptation will be to write off all Muslims as subhuman. But that is not an option for Christ-followers. Will we fear God or man?
Implicit in all of this, please consider expanding the meaning of “pro-life.” Pro-life should not just mean pro birth. It should encompass the entire life-span. And it should encompass everyone; whatever their race, nationality, gender, or creed. Do all lives really matter to you?
Pro-life should include not just punitive measures against those who wrongfully take life (as needed as those are), but also preventative and restorative measures that decrease abortions and help families thrive.
While I am not a pacifist, the message of Jesus calls us to strongly prefer peace and non-violence when possible (at the very least). Are we willing to sacrifice just as much for waging peace as we are for waging war? How might such an ethic play out in how we view guns, warfare, or the death penalty? Obviously, that’s debatable. But I’m asking you to prayerfully consider it and read about it from a variety of perspectives.
Please remember, love should be our governing impulse; not power.
Finally, Evangelicals I implore you: be thinking about what moral lines you will not cross, no matter what incentives or threats are proffered your way. Most of you who are honest and informed know that Trump is a morally compromised leader. Perhaps you thought he was the lesser of two evils. I obviously don’t agree, but we are past that now. Just because he was better on the most important things (in your view) doesn’t mean he isn’t wrong on others. Be willing to criticize him where he is wrong and pressure him to be better. We liberals need to do that as well with our favored representatives.
But Trump is not the only danger. The coalition that helped elect him includes other dark forces. Don’t be fooled by the “alt-right” moniker. Their stated goals are racist and even genocidal. Many of Trump’s cabinet and inner circle harbor other intense prejudices – for example, Islamophobia.
Another part of Trump’s coalition are rich businessmen; be they Wall Street executives, oil tycoons, or weapons developers. Read about what Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson did in Africa. It is chilling stuff. And we appear to be cozying up more to Putin’s brutal dictatorship in Russia.
There is a fascistic wing to the Religious Right that is very serious about making America into a Christian theocracy (see Hedges). Ruthlessness, greed, and power appear to be the common threads that hold all of these groups together.
Evangelicals, you are naïve if you think you can keep your seat for long at this table without intense pressures to compromise your faith. Be on your guard! In what ways might you have already started to go down that road?
And I warn you: Donald Trump has promised to do evil things, and I fear he will seek to do even worse before it is over. Be vigilant. What will you do when he calls for reinstating torture? How about targeting innocent civilians? Will you speak up against that? What if he seeks to violate Muslim Americans’ constitutional rights (or something even more sinister)? Are you willing to stand up for their religious freedom too? Even if that becomes unpopular or dangerous? What if he calls for deporting refugees who have been screened and are here lawfully? Would you stand up for them? Would you take them in and shelter them? Are you willing to protest unjustified police shootings (when that clearly is the case) and advocate for reform in our criminal justice system? How do you plan to address more subtle but just as deadly threats to poor people, Latinos, and others? We all have some soul searching to do in the days ahead.
So with all these reasons for dismay, what do I plan to do about it? How do I proceed from here?
My first concern is to get my wife here as soon as I can. There’s not much more I can do about that that isn’t already being done. We are in the final stages of pursuing a spousal visa through a competent immigration lawyer. Now it is just a matter of waiting for her to receive her interview notification and then go in for that. I have requested time off to travel to the Philippines in late January and, if all goes well, bring my wife back in mid-February.
I have reached out to the refugees I have a closer relationship with to see if they are ok. I hope to keep in contact with them. I am also discussing with others about the possibility of getting together a group of people from my church to co-sponsor an incoming refugee family through the agency I worked for. Raising the needed money will be the biggest hurdle.
In my mind, I’m also counting the cost of helping hide refugees, if it comes to that. Am I willing to risk legal trouble, imprisonment, losing my job, or even worse consequences? I think so, but it’s a lot to take in. And I don’t think my wife understands yet why I would do this or how it could even become necessary. My choices include her now. They effect her. We will have to come to some kind of agreement.
I plan on learning more through reading and dialogue. I already know a fair amount about power, privilege and oppression; anti-racism; feminism; poverty and class issues; history; Islam and Muslims; and religion more generally. But I can always learn more.
I realize I need to learn more about Trump, his inner circle, and the policies and plans they have. As I said, I want to support his policies that could do good. But many of the ones I hear of would do harm to many.
I am beginning to realize how woefully inadequate my knowledge on immigration issues are. I ordered a book on that entitled “They Take Our Jobs” And 20 other Myths About Immigration. I hope to read from other perspectives as well.
My friend Rachel recommended the following two websites to learn more about immigration policy and the human stories of undocumented immigrants.
I realize that I need to understand more where white working class people are coming from. I am originally from a poor primarily white and struggling working class town in Michigan. But I have lived in Chicago for fifteen years now and a lot of my research and the focus of my education and the communities I am a part of has been on minority issues, primarily in an urban setting.
This hasn’t been exclusively so. Liberals do care about poor people. Progressives like Robert Reich, the late Howard Zinn, and Bernie Sanders have long been talking about strong unions, well paying jobs, restructuring the system to benefit the majority of people and not just the one percent, and other class issues. I have close friends who care about this.
And yet, I feel I need to learn more and listen better. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to resist white privilege and white supremacy. But I need to do it in a way that communicates that I understand that many white people are also struggling too. I need to be clear that I am not seeking extra privileges for minorities; rather I am seeking equity, a genuinely level playing field. We don’t have that yet. Systemic racism and other forms of oppression are real.
I need to engage in more humble dialogue with white conservatives than I have. I feel like we liberals engage in our own stereotypes and dismissive insults. I picked up J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy to understand more the plight of struggling rural areas. I am interested in reading White Trash, Nancy Isenberg’s history of the white underclass here in America.
Beyond learning more about their experiences and perspectives, I realize I have to find other ways to communicate the things I confidently know to them. I am not naïve. I know for a number of deep-seated reasons they are unlikely to even listen to me, let alone change their minds. But I have to try. And I have to do it in a way calculated to persuade my target audience.
I will continue to educate myself more on a variety of relevant issues. I am still working my way through Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I am looking for a book to better understand the basics of American government.
And since I truly fear the possibility of a corrosive threat to our democratic way of life, I have picked up The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I don’t think Hitler comparisons are very helpful without a lot of qualifications, and perhaps not even then. But I am interested in how would-be dictators come to power in a democratic country. I am curious how a civilized nation comes to turn a blind eye to their civil liberties being stripped and their fellow humans becoming imprisoned and killed. I realize there are closer-to-home examples right here in American history.
One important part of research in this day and age is fact checking and carefully weighing sources. I hope to be more careful there and encourage others to do the same.
I plan on organizing and networking with fellow justice-oriented people. There are already a number of groups popping up. There have been a number of training events. We will speak out and, where necessary, protest, engage in civil disobedience, and call our representatives to tell them what we expect of them. One friend has posted this info on calling representatives:
“1) If you live in the US, call your Senators and Representatives and Senators and tell them this is unacceptable. http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact.
2) Paul Ryan is feigning ignorance again. Call his office at (202) 225-3031 and let him know that this is not ok. Same with Majority Leader McConnell, (202) 224-2541.”
I will resist the normalization process that people naturally succumb to. It is tempting. But so much of what Trump has done and plans to do is not normal. This is not business as usual. While I will be open to correction on specific points, I will not let others downplay the broader scope of what is going on.
I will VOTE my conscience and get other people to vote as well. I will consider canvassing, phone-banking, and donating to politicians I think would best represent the things and people I care about.
I will donate as I can to organizations that will stand up for freedom and equality. Last Week Tonight posted a number of links to such organizations. I have included most of them here and added one more for the ACLU, who I will definitely be supporting.
“If you don’t believe manmade global warming is a silly issue, give to the Natural Resources Defense Council (nrdc.org).
If you don’t think refugees are a terrorist army in disguise, donate to the International Refugee Assistance Project (refugeerights.org).
You may also want to donate to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (naacpldf.org), the Trevor Project for LGBT youth (thetrevorproject.org), or the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (maldef.org).
And to support journalism, subscribe to a newspaper and donate to ProPublica (propublica.org).”
Support ACLU Nationwide in fighting for our liberty and to protect our constitutional rights.
I will continue to write about these things on Facebook and here on my blog. I will continue to post articles that would challenge and inform others.
In some ways, I feel I might have to go back to the basics in my writing. So many people don’t seem to understand even basic things about history, science, social justice, or even religion. In addition to continuing to write about progressive Christianity, I feel especially called to advocate more for Muslims.
I plan on working to remain centered and healthy. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. I had a friend recently tell me that it doesn’t do any good to worry about things you cannot change. While I think it’s wise to be aware and plan for the future, I see his point. I’ve invested too much energy into worrying and despairing. Part of that is natural, but I need to find more balance here. While doing the things I can do, I need to also live my life.
I need to nurture my relationships and take part in life-giving activities. I need to exercise, eat healthier, and work on personal disciplines. I need to get better at saving money. I need to balance trying to help others with legitimate self-care.
As a deeply spiritual person of faith, one of the most important things I need to do to remain centered is immerse myself in the love of God. I do that through prayer; reading holy texts and other authors that inspire me; worshipping and fellowshipping at my church; experiencing God’s goodness in nature, art, and human love; continuing my theological writing; and living out the love I have received.
Religion has a great capacity for evil. We have seen that throughout history and I fear we are seeing it again. But it also has a great capacity to inspire goodness. As I’ve wrestled with anger and despair these last few weeks, those few times I felt the power to stand up for justice, hope in an uncertain future, and even love those I felt betrayed by came from mystical moments where God’s love became real to me.
Enduring faith, hope and love; an unshakeable commitment to compassion and justice; such habits of the heart and hands are as good a place as any to end this meandering post. I leave you with a sampling from Clarissa Pinkola Estes inspiring poem of resilience and hope, “We Were Made For These Times”:
My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.
You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.
Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless…
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.
…To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity…
…In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.