I recently returned home from Florida by way of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio on Interstate 75. As I traveled, I noticed several large Confederate flags along the way, including in Ohio. A large #Secede billboard greeted me as I neared Perry, Ga. It was one of four billboards erected by the League of the South after the election of President Obama advocating secession from the United States.
Listening to callers on a few local radio programs, which I quickly turned off, let me know that unashamed and unapologetic acts of racism have been welcomed in many of our communities. Racial, ethnic and cultural strife have become everyday occurrences. The rise of Donald Trump as a leading candidate for president has given a haven to people who were hesitant to openly articulate their prejudice.
Media have cast the Trump phenomenon as anger toward politics in Washington. This is partly true. Trump is only a symptom of the problem. He has tapped into the deep-seated racism in our communities. MSNBC polls report that his supporters are 91 percent white. Lynn Vavreck, in a Feb. 23 New York Times article, “Measuring Donald Trump’s Supporters for Intolerance,” reports 20 percent of his supporters believe the slaves should never have been freed. One-third approve of the internment of Japanese during World War II.
Trump’s rhetoric attracts white supremacists and “God and country” advocates. As a result, violence has erupted at his rallies. His “Make America Great Again” slogan resonates with white Americans who would like to return to a past when the majority was white, Protestant and racially and culturally isolated. This majority enforced policies and traditions that kept power in the hands of the dominant culture. In the Trump campaign, many are pleased to see a strong white man who promises to bring back the “good old days” when everyone knew their place.
Those days were not good. That America no longer exists.
Searching for a response, I reflected on a recent encounter with a Cuban immigrant named Raul. After checking in for a medical appointment, I talked with Raul, a fellow patient, about the political climate that has created social and racial unrest. The conversation eventually turned to Trump and his bigoted comments. Raul, an advocate for immigration reform, has been the target of numerous racial slurs and threats from white folks. As we parted, he said, “You and I must act as if the future of our communities depends on us, because it does!”
I take his counsel to heart.
This is not just a political matter. It is a spiritual concern for every Christ-centered, justice-seeking person. Racial, cultural and religious intolerance can’t be acceptable. They have no place in our lives, our churches or our secular communities. We are more humane than that. The duty to show a better way is up to each of us who believe Jesus’ message of a reconciled community is meant for all.
Some of us will resist involvement with partisan politics. But this is much deeper than politics. It’s a measure of who we are and what we believe about God’s justice. Our action or inaction becomes a barometer of who we are as God’s people.
Will you join Raul and me to rid our communities of the ugliness of Trumpism?
John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., is a regional pastor for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.