Trump’s Con Artistry Masks the Real Threat

Donald Trump tweets a video of the choir and orchestra of First Baptist Church Dallas (Twitter Screenshot)

Donald Trump tweets a video of the choir and orchestra of First Baptist Church Dallas (Twitter Screenshot)

It’s hardly surprising that the perfect symbol of the democratic crisis created by the Trump “presidency” would be found in one of his tweets, and it’s fitting that the tweet arrived on the Fourth of July, a day dedicated to celebrating our long history of resistance to egomaniacal, self-serving, out-of-touch, petty, petulant tyrants. What is distressing is how unsurprising all of this is. Months of constantly embarrassing, un-presidential, and blatantly dishonest behavior by Donald Trump has so numbed us to the erosion of our national stability that the outcry over this latest horror was decidedly muted.

We ignore or understate the multivalent dangers of this particular tweet, however, at our grave peril. In it, a choir from a fundamentalist Christian mega-church appears at the Kennedy Center to perform a cloying, orchestral recreation of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” Trump’s tweet can be found here. The jingoistic doggerel that comprises the lyrics can be found here.

It is difficult to know where to begin in listing all of the problems with this tweet. Perhaps the easiest place is the largest target: Donald Trump’s stunning lack of comprehension of how to behave in a presidential manner. Rather than celebrating the Fourth by sharing a rendition of a traditional song from the patriotic canon, one all Americans might find unifying, Donald Trump chose to further hammer our citizens with a divisive campaign slogan. Rather than making the Fourth of July about our ancestors’ sacrifices, Donald Trump made the holiday about himself, and rather than seeking an opportunity to unite, he found one more opportunity to divide. That is his “presidential” modus operandi in a nutshell.

The slogan itself is also deeply problematic. Donald Trump responded to eight years of economic, social, diplomatic, political, environmental, and technological progress by claiming that the past decade was a time when America’s “greatness” had been sacrificed, and that we needed to move in a new direction, undoing that progress, to make America “great” again. One wonders who could look at the Obama legacy of prosperous industries, greater equality and fairness, increased international respect, protection from voter suppression, cleaner air and water, and drives toward freedom from fossil fuels and think, “This is terrible! We need to reverse all of this!”

A quick look at the video Trump gleefully posted provides an answer. In it we see a uniformly white crowd of aging, suburban boomers, some even wearing the pearls they presumably clutch in fear as they are fed a steady diet of unsubstantiated ignorance and unfiltered bigotry. This is hardly surprising considering the demographics of Trump voters, but the tone-deaf enthusiasm with which Trump tweeted an all-white choir chanting his reactionary slogan further underscores the racism and xenophobia underlying his campaign’s message of returning to the “good ol’ days.”

Of course, equally problematic is the fact that this is a church choir singing this Orwellian piece of propaganda, which its creator chose to classify as a hymn. As history consistently teaches us, prostituting the Church in the service of Empire never ends well. More surreal, though, is the fact that any Christian group anywhere would have chosen Donald Trump and his slogan as the inspiration for their song.

Yet the overwhelming support of Donald Trump by fundamentalist Christians is well-documented, and ongoing. On the surface, it makes no sense. Trump, after all, has no grasp of Scripture, is a thrice-divorced misogynist who brags about sexually assaulting women, and a professional con-artist and liar whose egocentric self-promotion and lifestyle of venal over-indulgence are the very opposite of Christian piety. This is the man who wrote in Art of the Comeback, “I believe in an eye for an eye – like the Old Testament says” and “Some of the people who forgot to lift a finger when I needed them, when I was down, they need my help now, and I’m screwing them against the wall.” Trump subsequently cited Exodus again during his political campaign, seemingly unaware of Jesus’ categorical rejection of the concept.

Yet, presumably because of his willingness to deny refuge to the stranger; deny healthcare, food, and educational access to the poor; disenfranchise minorities; and, undermine our stewardship of creation, Christian fundamentalists have flocked to his side. This only makes sense if we recognize that Christian fundamentalism (or “conservative evangelicalism” as its proponents prefer to label the movement, to hide its radical, anti-democratic agenda) has nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with advancing a self-serving political ideology of ignorance and bigotry.

The relationship between the ascendency of Trump and the forces of fundamentalism in America, however, is about more than the blind allegiance of pablum-fed, theologically illiterate congregations. Essential to the survival of hucksters and strongmen like Trump is the ability to convince people to ignore the validity of thoughtfully analyzed and sourced information in favor of empty rhetoric. In Trump’s case, the list of confidence games he has perpetuated in the service of his bid for power seems endless.

This is a man who convinced coal miners and factory workers he would bring back jobs that are never coming back (including in manufacturing). This is a billionaire real estate developer who convinced working-class voters he was their ally, and then stocked his cabinet with fellow members of the very class that has been cheating them of their wages for decades, and then said he wouldn’t want a “poor person” in that role. This is a man who convinced voters that the protections that keep their air breathable and their water drinkable were bad for them. This is a President who put in place an Attorney General who wants to make the country “safer” by ignoring decades of evidence-based research on policing. This is a President who claims to love veterans, while cutting the programs that support them. This is a President who ran on helping the middle class, and then “leads” by advocating tax cuts for the wealthy. Every single policy and program of Donald Trump flies in the face of his own rhetoric, logic, and peer-reviewed research – yet tens of millions of Americans are convinced that he is the one to finally make America “great.”

How is this possible? How is it that so many members of the American electorate are willing to ignore facts, research, and logic? How is it that the President of the nation that gave the world the concept of a free press has millions of Americans celebrating when he sends out a video showing himself pummeling a mainstream news organization – a news group so rigorous in its commitment to journalistic integrity that it fired three journalists for an erroneous news story? How did we get to the point where tens of millions of Americans lack the critical thinking and intellectual sophistication to differentiate legitimate journalism from right-wing propaganda? How did we get to the point where tens of millions of Americans cannot tell when a con artist lies, explicitly, to their faces?

As much as it pains me to admit it as a person of faith and a member of the clergy, the answer is: religion. Not all religion, certainly, but specifically the vile, cancerous form of it that is fundamentalism. The very cognitive process that allows fundamentalism to thrive is the same one that gives legitimacy to Donald Trump’s agenda of anti-intellectual fakery.

I will give one hypothetical example as an illustration. An atheist scholar studying the first three chapters of the biblical book of Genesis, lacking any theological imperative and working simply off the extant facts, would likely conclude that they represent two different, regional variants on an older, Babylonian creation myth. A mainstream Christian scholar at a seminary like the one I attended, or – less hypothetically – teaching a Hebrew Bible course like the ones I have taught to undergraduates, would make the exact same observation. As Christians, we would add, however, that the relevance of these two creation myths comes from trying to hear what eternal truths our ancestors in the faith found in each story, separately, such that they saw fit to preserve them.

A fundamentalist Christian “scholar,” on the other hand, would insist that the myths must be read as one, historical account – all literary, anthropological, linguistic, physical, and geological evidence to the contrary. The fundamentalist approach requires that facts, logic, and good sense must be abandoned when they come into conflict with dogma. Consequently, in order to research their pre-ordained conclusions, a fundamentalist must undermine, ridicule, or simply ignore any research based on verifiable or observable data, intellectual rigor, or professional expertise.

Whereas mainstream Christianity and scientific/humanistic scholarship can co-exist without conflict, fundamentalism cannot do the same. Fundamentalism, like its anachronistic followers, cannot live comfortably in the modern world. As a result, fundamentalism must inculcate into its adherents a complete mistrust of all of the expertise and scholarship of educators and researchers, because the conclusions of experts inevitably erode the ear-tickling creeds of fundamentalist religious leaders. Accordingly, fundamentalist congregants are conditioned to rely on the charismatic rhetoric of their clergy, while also being trained to ignore all other sources of information.

This mindset – trusting only those charming speakers who tell them what they want to hear, no matter how incoherent – is the perfect breeding ground for the cult of personality and anti-intellectualism that has driven Donald Trump to power. Trump’s presidency will undoubtedly deal devastating blows to the viability of the United States as a modern, healthy, secular democracy, but he is merely the symptom. The near metastatic threat to our future as a nation is not in the Oval Office, it’s in the pulpits of the fundamentalist mega-churches. Until we can resolve the larger issue of a significant voting block that is immune to critical thinking and scientific research, we will constantly find ourselves pulled back into the medieval superstitions and neo-feudalism of Trump’s policies.

The Worst Week in American Presidential History

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Here is a brief summary of the first week of the Trump administration. The President of the United States stood before the intelligence community and lied, then sent out his spokesman to lie to and berate the press, then subsequently he lied repeatedly in his first interview since his lie-ridden inauguration speech. Consequently, all of this presidential lying introduced the concept of “alternative facts” to the general public. As he has throughout his professional career, President Trump continues to demonstrate a petulant narcissism that leads him to focus his energy on seeking adulation and redressing perceived slights, rather than on conducting thoughtful research and assembling sophisticated policies based on verifiable data.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the flurry of executive orders and bizarre claims emanating from the White House. Despite no indication that there is an illegal immigration problem in the United States, and in a manner completely oblivious to the diplomatic and economic consequences, Donald Trump has committed to building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and to dramatically increasing the size of our border and immigration agencies. This is particularly odd since illegal border crossings are the lowest they have been in fifty years, roughly ten percent of what they were sixteen years ago. Perhaps he hopes the wall will keep immigrants in, since we had a net loss of 140,000 Mexican immigrants from 2009 to 2014.

In addition, despite no indication that the people affected pose a threat, Trump has ceased accepting refugees and blocked the visas and immigration of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, initially including green card holders whose lives, jobs, and families are in the U.S. In a twist of Orwellian logic, the Trump administration is trying to keep out vetted visitors from countries whose citizens have not been our primary aggressors, while allowing in those from countries whose citizens have actively attacked us. The Trump executive order seeks to promote “extreme vetting,” while failing to note that people from these countries are already subject to vetting in the extreme (Infographic), and that said vetting is working extraordinarily well. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel explained to Trump, another inconvenient fact that Trump’s order ignores is the Geneva Conventions’ requirement that signatories take in war refugees. The White House has chosen instead to create a constitutional crisis, through what one expert identifies as both “incompetence” and “malevolence,” because Trump claims that, all appearances to the contrary, this will keep us “safe.”

Trump is also willing to violate U.S. and international law to keep us “safe.” Despite the clear consensus of those of us who actually understand how interrogation and intelligence collection work, Donald Trump expressed his support of waterboarding to collect information. In so doing, Trump’s claims run explicitly counter to the views of his incoming Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, and the views of his incoming CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. As with his executive orders, Trump’s rhetoric and policy ignores his own experts and the fact that his proposed solution demonstrably and unequivocally does not work. The pattern is the same. Regardless of what the experts say, Donald Trump offers a “plan” that is rooted in neither the realities of the problem nor in any realistic expectation of gaining positive results. The same could be said for Trump’s expression of regret at the United States’ unwillingness to commit the war crime of stealing Iraq’s oil.

It’s as if Trump is getting his policy guidance from people whose primary understanding of the geopolitical situation is rooted in racism, ignorance, and propaganda rather than a cogent understanding of the reality of these complex issues. It seems that way, because it is true. Trump has placed a man – one whose only policy credential is his time editing a website dedicated to fanning the flames of extremist hyper-nationalism, racism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories and who is already trying to silence the media – in a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Meanwhile, Trump has sidelined actual intelligence experts, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence, to an as-needed role there.

Intelligence and counter-terrorism experts, myself included, understand that the solutions to global terrorism are complex ones involving diplomacy, economics, pluralism, covert intelligence collection and analysis and, sometimes, the selective use of military force. Petulant children, fascist egomaniacs, and third-world strongmen, on the other hand, confuse reality with action movies. They think the solution must be flexing as much military might as possible, and punishing those who disagree with them. Consequently, our new Ambassador to the United Nations is making veiled threats to those countries who question our new cowboy diplomacy. Concurrently, Donald Trump has issued a bizarre executive order promising a “great rebuilding” of what is already the most powerful military in the world. Apparently he hopes to further bolster a military budget that already exceeds that of China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, India, France, and Japan…combined. He also makes the insulting and surreal claim on the White House website that our current military is somehow weak and in need of “rebuilding.”

As Trump investigates ways to spend more money on what is already the most expensive military in the world, he is also silencing scientists, ignoring scientific consensus, and making plans to cut programs that benefit the environment, the arts and humanities, women, the sick, and the poor. There is, apparently, plenty of money to fund ineffective solutions to problems that do not exist, but not enough money to fight the real threats of poverty, ignorance, and environmental devastation we currently face.

None of this is sane policy rooted in reality. Building a ridiculously expensive and completely futile wall to keep out people who aren’t posing a problem; denying entry to the U.S. to people who have already been vetted or who already live here because they have brown skin and a different religion from the dominant one here; giving neo-Nazi news editors a voice and sidelining people with actual expertise; advocating for war crimes; over-inflating the most massive and powerful military in the world; silencing scientists; pulling money away from the programs that can actually help our citizens – none of this makes sense.

None of it makes sense, unless you have been fed a steady diet of fear-mongering pablum by a conglomeration of media sources with a vested interest in getting you to vote irrationally based on an inaccurate presentation of both our problems and our solutions. Sadly, this is exactly what organizations like Fox News and Breitbart has accomplished, with the end result that Trump’s actions on immigration, which in no way make us safer, are viewed by the electorate as necessary, because they “fix” problems with the vetting of immigrants and refugees that don’t actually exist. The actual, human cost of families split apart, lives ruined, fellow humans sent back to places of violence and death, and even loyal allies thrust back amongst our enemies is completely ignored because some people believe the lie that the threat is so great that no price is too high to pay to fight it.

This leads me to two questions, the answers to which will define whether or not our republic can survive the threat posed by a Trump presidency. The first is: “Who benefits from lying to the American people about the threats we face and the solutions that address them?” There is no single answer, but the valences of the answers do overlap. Corporations and leaders who profit financially (e.g. defense contractors) and in terms of political power (i.e. Republicans) benefit, because their literal and metaphorical stock goes up when people are afraid. Also, there are other business and corporate interests who benefit from a climate of irrational fear and unrealistic “solutions.” If the electorate is distracted by the specter of non-existent threats, they are less likely to focus their energy on regulating the “lesser” threats of the exploitation of workers and the environment. Shallow, venal racists and bigots also benefit, because fear incites a violent tribalism in primates like us, and fascists have long capitalized on that to serve their agenda. Finally, Donald J. Trump benefits, because pushing meaningless solutions to manufactured problems creates the illusion that he is actually governing, and the illusion of competence is his brand.

Recognizing who is helped by a climate of fear, mis-information, mis-trust of science and expertise, gratuitously ignorant propaganda, and outright lies also points to who is harmed by the same, shameful circumstances in which we now find ourselves. First and foremost, obviously, immigrants and minorities suffer because an irate and terrified populace is eager to deny them their rights. The nation as a whole suffers, not only because we are denied the cultural richness and vitality which immigrants bring to our country, but also because our real needs are ignored in favor of transparently useless security theater. Our economy also suffers, because the isolationism preached by the fearmongers fails to take into account the global interdependence of the twenty-first century.

Finally, ironically, our safety suffers as well. There are real threats to our safety as Americans, the majority of which are domestic, but many of which are foreign in origin. Implementing obviously racist and effectively random policies only perpetuates the xenophobia that alienates us from would-be allies and inflames our enemies. It also misdirects our attention away from the reality that a U.S. citizen is thousands of times more likely to be killed by a fellow American than by a foreign actor. We need to be building economic and diplomatic relationships with our neighbors. We need to be fostering the diversity that makes us an engaged, rather than an imperial, player on the world stage. We need to be focusing our resources on actionable threats identified by experts, not on perceived ones highlighted by ignorant bigots. By ignoring these priorities, the bumbling incompetence of the Trump administration not only fails to make us any safer, it actually endangers us all.

Which leads to the second question: “What can we do about it?” The simple answer is that every American who feels competent to vote, and to weigh in on these issues anywhere from Facebook to the Well of the Senate, must learn to vet every policy claim as closely as the Trump administration wants to vet Syrian refugees. We must ask, “Does the data indicate that this is actually a problem?” If it does, we must ask, “Is there research to reasonably conclude that this is the best solution to that problem?” Finally, as with all kinds of threat assessment and risk analysis, we must ask, “Is the potential gain worth the cost?” For instance, “Is putting tens of thousands of refugees’ lives at risk by sending them away worth eliminating the risk that one of them might commit the sort of crime that, historically, they have never committed in the U.S.?”

Are we capable of this as a society? I wish I knew. The actions of the Trump administration are demonstrably wrong by any objective, rational criteria. Millions of Americans understand this. For the reasons I have outlined above, however, millions of Americans do not. Despite the evidence of both their own eyes and the research of reliable, peer-reviewed experts, millions of Americans have accepted irrational and inflammatory rhetoric of fear. In equal doses, they also support “solutions” that only make sense if someone understands neither the nature of the problem nor the reality of the solution. The safest people on earth, leading lives of unimaginable prosperity, are behaving as if they are living in squalor, under the constant threat of violent attack from vetted immigrants and hard-working neighbors.

How do we persuade people who ignore science, expertise, and even the reality of their own terrorism-free lives to pay attention to facts and real threats rather than distracting propaganda? What brighter spotlight could we possibly shine on Trump’s blatant lying, transparent narcissism, and whining petulance? How do we make America think again? I do not know, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of our republic, and perhaps of the whole democratic experiment, hinges on our ability to find an answer. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is doomed to fail if the people are not capable of thinking critically past charismatic bombast, unapologetic bigotry, and blatant misinformation.

Trump is My President Too

Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump (Source: Michael Candelori, Wikimedia Commons)

When I was in Airborne School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, I received one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. Our platoon sergeant for Charlie Company, Sergeant Airborne Prince, said, “When in doubt, do the right thing.” I’ve repeated and reflected on that advice countless times in the decades since, and I have come to realize that it’s an almost universally-applicable ethical rule of thumb. Invariably, when I think I have a moral dilemma, I already know in my gut what the right thing to do is, I’m just trying to talk myself out of it because I desperately want to do something different.

Case in point: I desperately want to be able to say, “Donald Trump is not my President!” I not only want to say it, I want to put it on a sign in my front yard and a lapel pin I can wear every day until his inevitable impeachment. I want to replace “Hello” with “Trump is not my President,” and close all correspondence with, “Sincerely, not a constituent of Donald Trump’s.” When I read the news, I want to scream it at the top of my lungs.

As much as I want to say it, I cannot bring myself to do so because it’s not the right thing. Donald Trump will be my President, because I am an American citizen. Accepting this means I trust the Constitution to give us the means to thwart the vile agenda of Trump and his kleptocratic Cabinet without having to overthrow the federal government or undermine its legitimacy. Recognizing that Donald Trump is my President is not about recognizing any value in his incoherent platform and implausible policies. It’s about recognizing that the office, the Constitution, and the republic still stand.

Accepting that Donald Trump is my President also means accepting my shared responsibility for the catastrophically bad decision of the electorate to install someone who consistently behaves as someone temperamentally and intellectually unfit to hold the office. I certainly did not vote for the man, but I am part of a community which includes enough people who did vote for him that he won the Electoral College. Whatever combination of failures in our educational system, economic safety net, and mass media made this travesty possible, I share in the blame because – as an American – I did not work hard enough to reverse them. Donald Trump is not the President I wanted, but perhaps he is the President I deserve for my own complacency.

As a result, I will have to recognize that Donald Trump is President, not so that we can unite behind him, but so that we can unite against him. The fight to keep him out of the Oval Office is over, and – to the peril of the decency and honor of the office – we lost. The struggle now will be to protect the values we hold dear against a thin-skinned, petty tyrant and his assembled gang of abysmally unqualified sycophants, self-serving capitalist thugs, and religious fundamentalists. Engaging in that ongoing struggle requires as a first step the honest recognition that we are not shielding our citizenry from hypothetical, outside terrors, but instead from the President in whom we have invested tremendous political authority.

Understanding that Donald Trump is President is not about supporting his platform or honoring the ridiculous, divisive, and embarrassing things he says. It is about comprehending the power we have ceded to him, so that we can establish realistic strategies to mitigate his influence. We cannot formulate a cure unless we accurately diagnose the disease.

Make no mistake, the threat we face is virulent indeed. We know from his past history that an ideologically pliant, ethically questionable, and intellectually ill-equipped reality television performer like Donald Trump cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We know from a long history of polluted rivers, unbreathable air, glass ceilings, and perilous working conditions that corporations and businessmen cannot be trusted to do the right thing. We know from the legacy of “miscegenation” laws, segregation, back-alley abortions, creation “science,” and patriarchal leadership that fundamentalist religious institutions cannot be trusted to do the right thing.

As neighbors, however, we can still do the right thing. This election rent the fabric of the social contract which allowed the federal government to be our collective voice in working for the common good. We must now find ways to work together as communities – of every size – to do what we know to be the virtuous and moral thing. For that to be possible we must recognize that, whatever political differences brought us to this place, we are all American citizens under one government. Together we have elected a man who represents Americans at our very worst. We will have to come together as Americans at our very best to protect what is right, good, and just from the predations of our President.

The shame of admitting that Donald Trump is our President is one we are understandably loathe to bear. Even still, it is America’s shame, and so we must bear it as Americans if we are to have any chance of preserving the nation which failed us when it installed Donald Trump in an office he is unfit to hold. Carrying that shame together is the right thing, because it keeps us together as a nation, and it’s only together that we will be able to take on the larger, daily tasks of doing what is right to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Rearguard Strategy for Progressives

Trump, Putin, Stalin, and Hitler - each on the cover of Time as "Person of the Year"

Time’s Person of the Year is in familiar company.

Here’s a friendly heads-up to my progressive friends. The political clout of the progressive movement is currently, at best, at a 70-year low. 100-years is probably more like it. The KKK is literally marching in the streets. Enemies of civil rights, clean air and water, worker’s rights, and the social safety net control the Senate, the House, 2/3 of the state legislatures and governor’s mansions, and – soon – the entire Executive Branch of the government and the Supreme Court.

They have the keys to the kingdom, and we have snarky think pieces in Slate and HuffPo.

Regardless of how normative our views are among educated elites, in terms of actual political power, and likely in terms of majority sentiment, we are in the minority.

When you are in the minority, it is tactically absurd to further weaken your position, or to waste energy on soft or useless targets.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, stop attacking fellow progressives and our allies.

Did someone fail to nuance their ideas in a way that fully encompasses your position? Bummer, but unless they are threatening to force LGBT persons into shock and/or conversion therapy, they’re not the biggest threat we face.

Did someone’s efforts for advocacy seem to you to be more a product of their own guilt, or their own privilege, than the purity of your own motives? Wow, that’s annoying, but unless they’re planning to undermine the freedom of the press and use bullying tactics to silence you, they aren’t exactly our biggest problem right now.

Did someone fight too hard for a cause you think is less important, and not enough for the cause dearest to your heart? That must make them seem like they’re not a true ally. However, if they’re not trying to pump chemicals into your drinking water, they’re probably a better friend than the people we’re about to entrust with our lives.

Fringe-right theocrats and plutocrats have outmaneuvered us time and again, and we are now fighting a rearguard action to preserve what we can until we are able to fight back. Now is the time to build coalitions and shore up alliances. Now is the to strengthen our weaker comrades, not push them from the fold for their lack of ideological purity. We know what we’re going to have to fight for:

  • clean air and water
  • safe workplaces
  • living wages
  • healthcare
  • civil rights
  • freedom from religion
  • reproductive freedom

Let’s put all our energy into these issues, all of which are grievously threatened. The rest can wait until we get to the point where we’re actually in a position to influence government policy again.

Finding Joy in the Morning

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Sunrise in Joshua Tree Park by Jessie Eastland (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I was awakened in the early hours by multiple texts from friends confirming that the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, which had seemed all but certain when I went to sleep only a few hours earlier, had become a reality. I wept. I have already written about what a catastrophically terrible candidate he was, so I will not rehash that here. I will simply note that it is irrefutable that themes of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bigotry, and ignorance were central to his campaign.

That point is crucial, because watching my social media feeds has revealed that many of Trump’s supporters are attempting to disavow those elements of the campaign, while celebrating their victory. Not only is doing so disingenuous, it is dangerous and insulting to those most likely to bear the brunt of the vile prejudices on which Trump so adroitly capitalized. The voices of those who are now placed on the outside by Trump’s “outsider” campaign are the ones that have dominated my social media feed, and their words are the ones we need to hear right now, especially on the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

We must listen to the voices of people of color. We must listen to the voices of women. We must listen to the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer Americans. We must listen to the voices of our Muslim neighbors. We must listen to the voices of those who have been victims of sexual assault. We must listen to the voices of those who battle with physical or mental illnesses or disabilities. We must listen to the voices of those who work eighty hour weeks, but cannot feed their families or afford safe homes for them.

We must listen to their voices, because the voices they hear are calling them “niggers,” “ragheads,” “spics,” “gooks,” “kikes,” “cunts,” “hajis,” “dykes, “faggots,” “whores,” “retards,” and “parasites.”

“Those are horrible words. No one should ever say them. It makes me uncomfortable to even read them. Those words are nothing but hate,” should be the first thought of every single person who reads them.

I agree, completely. Unfortunately, when those of us in the majority use fancy metaphors like “dogwhistle,” or talk blithely about the “dangers of racism and bigotry,” we lose the tenor of bile, the growled threat of violence, which rumbles underneath the more subtle rhetoric of intolerance. If we listen more than we speak, though, we can hear it.

“We’re not saying that!” is the immediate response from most Trump supporters, although clearly not all.

“You’re talking, not listening,” is my reply.

If we listen to the voices coming from those who, after a few brief gulps of fresh air, feel themselves being shoved back into the shadows, it becomes clear that this is exactly what they are hearing. They are afraid. They are afraid of physical violence. They are afraid that their marriages will be annulled. They are afraid they will lose their jobs. They are afraid that they will face discrimination, supported by the force of law. They are afraid that they are no longer welcome in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their country.

They are also angry. They are angry that their patriotism is in question. They are angry that the work they have done to make this country great is ignored. They are angry that their values, their marriages, their families, and their accomplishments are considered second-rate. They are angry that after working twice as hard for half as much, they are still being told they have overstepped and need to learn their place.

“But we don’t believe any of that stuff. We just wanted someone to finally shake up the political system, fix what’s broken, and give us the opportunities we’ve been denied. It’s about the economy for us, and being safe from people we think are threatening us.”

Leaving aside the obvious parallel, to put it simply: No! You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to choose the person who threatens to commit war crimes, rip apart families, revoke civil rights, curtail free speech, validate bigotry, and dredge up every vile prejudice in this nation’s history because you thought you’d make more money and be safe from a hypothetical threat that is more dangerous to the Muslims whom you deride than it is to you. Just because you feel safe from the consequences of the bilious hate that runs through a campaign, that’s no excuse for ignoring it because you think you’ll come out of the other side a winner.

Listen to the people who have lost, so that you could get your win. Their fear, their grief, and the very real dangers of loss and violence they face, that is the price of your pyrrhic victory.

And now I am done speaking to those who are celebrating the election results, but I hope you will keep listening.

Many of my friends, and people who have read my other essays, reached out to me this morning to offer a word of hope. I couldn’t do that without first honoring the chorus of voices of terror and rage I have heard all morning. As a cis, straight, white, healthy, professional, veteran, Christian, male, I had the least to lose last night. Blithely offering encouragement without first listening struck me as a arrogant in the extreme. So I have listened, and within the limited range of my privilege, tried to amplify the voices I have heard.

Now I will speak my word of hope to you.

I have your back.

If you are a Muslim, a Jew, a Sikh, or of any other faith, you are also my brother or my sister. I have your back.

If you are a woman, you are my equal and my partner. I have your back.

If your skin is a different hue from mine, I want to hear your voice. I have your back.

If you view yourself as queer in gender or sexual orientation, I think you’re awesome. I have your back.

If you are an immigrant, I am grateful for your courage. I have your back.

If you wrestle with disability, I honor your strength. I have your back.

If you struggle to make ends meet, I know you fight battles I can’t even see. I have your back.

If you feel betrayed by America this morning, I do too. I have your back.

That is my word of hope this morning. Not just that I have your back and that you have mine, but that we, collectively, have each other’s. It has never been the government that has made this country great. It has never been the Constitution, as dearly as I love it, which has made this country great. It is the people of the United States of America who make this country great.

I struggled this morning with what to text a friend who is both a Muslim and a woman, living in a red state. I finally settled on, “I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened, but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today, please know that I love you and I have your back.”

I’ve sent similar messages to other friends today, as I have heard their shock, their anger, their horror and their fear. They have replied in kind. When I told them of my tears, they told me of theirs. When I felt alone, they told me they were there. It wasn’t in political strategizing or contemplating policy options that I found hope, it was in their love.

So, in offering you what hope I can, I ask that you also become that hope for others. It’s a simple message:

I know you are a fighter, and not easily frightened,
but if you feel unsafe, threatened, or in any way marginalized today,
please know that I love you and I have your back.

Send it to anyone whom you think needs to hear it. Post it on Facebook. Say it loudly, clearly, and unambiguously. Because there is hope to be had, and that hope is found in the countless women and men who will be our sisters and brothers in the tough days ahead. There will be much to do as we move forward, tangible ways to act and hold back the dark, but right now it is imperative that we let our fellow citizens know that no one stands alone.

Standing together is the hope we need when the rhetoric of hate seems to tear us apart. As a person of faith, I believe that the full power of the gospel is only realized when we who are many unite as one. Whatever is “good news” for you, whether you are from another faith tradition or none at all, I hope you will indulge me in closing with the words of the Psalmist, famously proclaimed by Dr. King. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Let us weep together tonight, and tomorrow let us look to the horizon. It seems darker now, the city upon the hill farther away, but the dawn will come, and we will find the joy of the morning. We will get there, together.