“When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice”.
So said President Donald Trump in his inauguration address back in January. As I analyzed his speech in a blog from January 20th, I wrote these words:
I hope we hear more of this from our new president. Trump’s message of restoring sanity to our immigration policies has naturally brought to the surface the cockroaches of extremism. Trump needs to bring his heel down decidedly on those who use his words as a license for hate.
Well, so much for that.
This past week in the aftermath of the horrific events in Charlottesville, Trump was presented a perfect, tailor-made opportunity to step on these fringe but fanatical cockroaches of hate, which have used his rise to power as cover for their own re-emergence.
Instead, his initial and immediate statement over the weekend was a vapid condemnation of “hate on many sides”. As criticism mounted that he give a direct pronouncement against the specific “alt-right” hate groups which gathered in Charlottesville, the President read a formal statement on Monday which declared, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But then yesterday in an unscripted and unplanned press conference which evolved out of a policy announcement on infrastructure, Trump untethered from his teleprompter, doubled and tripled-down on his first comments, that the violence was precipitated by both Left and Right extremists, and yet there were “very fine people” represented among the protesters. The passion with which he spoke stood in stark contrast to the formality of his Monday statement (which conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer compared to a “hostage taping” for its lifelessness.)
But words are not unimportant. Sooner or later, however much they may cloak their language in political nuance, the real beliefs inside the person will seep out through their words. And so Jesus could say, “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
This was true for Barak Obama, whose smooth-as-butter oratory was occasionally undone by an open microphone (“After the election I have more flexibility”) or slip of the tongue (“You didn’t build that” / “They cling to guns and religion“). But it’s especially true for Donald Trump, who knows nothing of butter. Yet after nearly eight months now of rampaging, unfiltered comments on Twitter, in interviews and impromptu press conferences, he seems to remain blissfully unaware that he is steadily undoing his support and even his presidency. (I was among those who flinched when he callously warned North Korea of the “fire and fury” that would fall on it should it continue on its path.)
Messing up Charlottesville though was more than a faux-pas or lapse of judgment. Racism is the original sin of America. Nearly 625,000 died in a war to reset the nation on a post-slave footing (which would be the equivalent of six million dying today.) Allowing even a trace of that noxious ideology to go uncontested, along with an equally sinister ideology that led to the slaughter of a literal, actual six million Jews, is unconscionable. To even abide for a moment a philosophy that uses skin color or ancestry as the primary category for evaluating worth – the very hesitation of a person to condemn that philosophy with no qualifications, no “Yes, but…” is more than a lapse of judgment.
I’m just a pastor, not a politician. But even I know that if you want to point out the violent tendencies on the other side, or talk about the counter-protesters, or discuss the dangers of political correctness, or whether Confederate art should stay or go, you do it on another day. On this day, a day when someone has actually been murdered because of the actions of someone who is trying to attach their movement to your coat-tails (calling it a “Unite The Right” rally for goodness sake, as though White Supremacism has anything to do with constitutional conservatism), you unequivocally smash these thugs right in the face and send them back to their Swastika-draped holes in the ground.
That Trump failed to do this, that he even had to struggle to find the right words, but then had no trouble at launching into a passionate riff about the “fake media” and some CEOs who said “Enough is enough” – that speaks volumes.
Racism exists at different levels in a person’s heart. In 1987, Al Campanis – an executive with the Dodgers who played briefly with Jackie Robinson and stood by him – said in an interview that he believed black baseball players generally lacked “the necessities” to manage a team. No overt hatred simmered in his heart against minorities, but it was racism nonetheless, suggesting that it was biology – not lack of opportunity – that was standing in the way.
No one is saying that President Trump has a white coned hat in his closet. But when you look at his deeds (Exhibit A – having Steve Bannon, a self-proclaimed alt-right defender sitting right beside him in the oval office), and when you look at his words (thinking back to the initial speech he gave announcing his candidacy through to this weekend), all I can do is nod understandably when people speak of “dog-whistles” and racism in the White House.
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.