Come on a journey with me, dear readers, if you will, to those bygone days of 2015. Yes, I know that’s the year we’re still in, but I’m talking about the long, long ago, halcyon days of June. Remember June? We were so innocent and naive then that when Donald Trump announced he was running for president, no one thought it really mattered. He had already been discredited during the last presidential election in 2011 after wrongfully taking the side of an extreme-right fringe movement called “birthers,” holding press conferences to make bogus claims that Obama was born in Kenya and that his Hawaiin birth certificate was a fake. How could anyone take him seriously again after that very public and boneheaded disgrace?
As June turned to July, and Trump began topping polls, I still barely took notice and thought it was just a symptom of Americans being typically disgruntled with the state of the country and ornery about their choices. Then Trump made the absurd remark about Mexican immigrants being rapists, and I began to be irritated–not at Trump himself, but at the media. I couldn’t comprehend why his ignorant ravings were even worthy of attention, why he was constantly being invited to appear on news shows, why he was getting so much coverage. But I still didn’t take him seriously myself and felt confident he would slink away into the corner, at least politically, as he did four years ago. But as his every utterance became more and more vicious he continued to rise in the polls, and I finally started getting nervous. I felt like I was living a parody of the famous Rev. Martin Niemoller quote: First he came for the Mexicans, and I said nothing because I didn’t take him seriously. Then he came for John McCain, and I said nothing, because I figured McCain is a war hero, he can take care of himself. Then he came for the women, and I said nothing because he was being so tacky, why give him the dignity of a response? Then he came for the disabled, and I said nothing because come on, what the hell is the matter with this guy? And The list of individuals and groups he has insulted goes on and on and now he is going after the Muslims and I finally can’t keep silent anymore; again, not because of Trump himself, but because of what this says about us as a nation.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes are up, including mosques being vandalized and persons who appear Muslim, particularly women wearing head scarves, being assaulted, and not just Trump, but also candidate Ted Cruz both are suggesting not allowing Muslims to enter the country. Can internment camps be far behind? The exact thing that terrorists want is to pit us against one another, to convince Muslim-Americans that the rest of the country hates them, and the easiest way to do that is to drum up that hate and convince everyone else that all Muslims are terrorists, which is exactly what’s happening. Trump’s reckless hate speech can no longer be ignored, because what would have seemed unthinkable back in June has come to pass. If you had said back in June that there would be a major presidential candidate who insulted Mexicans, women, the disabled, Jews, Seventh Day Adventists and more and advocated closing our borders to all Muslims, and that this person would be leading the polls for the Republican nomination, no one would have believed it. So now, in December, we are forced to take a hard look at how we got here.
Why is Trump so popular? He is certainly not wise (just listen to his remarks) He is certainly not kind (again, listen to him.) He doesn’t have any sense of aesthetics (look at his buildings) and one can’t even admire his business acumen since he didn’t build his fortune himself and has declared bankruptcy more than anyone else in recent decades. Trump is the logical consequence of an unholy alliance between two national obsessions: wealth and reality TV. We love to watch trashy people on TV act badly, from Keeping Up With the Kardashians to Real Housewives to Jersey Shore, and now that Trump has been fired from his own reality show, Celebrity Apprentice, he’s simply using our national political stage as his current platform. As for wealth, Thomas Frank , among others, has documented how our worship of it has made us so dysfunctional, we will actually vote against our own economic interests and funnel more and more of our money to the billionaires because, hey, someday, we want to be billionaires too, and we don’t want any pesky equitable tax system getting in our way.
Advent, which lasts nine more days until Christmas, is a penitential season, so this is a good time to look into our souls and ask what we have done to create this monster. With our worship of wealth and our love of trash, combined with our historical racism and xenophobia, so entrenched that a Supreme Court justice feels free to spew racism from the bench, we run the risk of getting exactly the president that we deserve. Christians need to lead the way in opposing not just Trump, but the whole culture that has given rise to him. The culture where wealth is worshipped, where our aesthetic illiteracy leads us to rot our minds with reality TV, where we stand by and allow attacks, verbal and physical, on immigrants and religious groups that we don’t happen to be part of. If Jesus’ many teachings against wealth and admonitions to love one’s neighbor as oneself are not enough to persuade you, I urge you to at least remember what St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 4:8, NRSV
We should measure our presidential candidates by these words, and hold ourselves accountable as well, particularly in our discourse. As Christmas approaches, I wish for us all to reject the ugliness and coarseness that Trump and his ilk represent, for us all to have people and causes and aspirations in our lives that bring out what is most honorable and excellent within us; it is on those people and things that we must center our minds and hearts to dispel the darkness of bigotry and silence the monster.