Mr. Trump continues to take every opportunity to discredit and demean former presidents Bush and Obama. He has used as a basis for his attacks their supposed failure to address illegal immigration, failing health care, border security, DACA “The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” the economy, the loss of jobs, a “failing” judiciary, and the supposed internal chaos inhibiting the credibility of the FBI and CIA. Such acrid criticism is unprecedented in contemporary presidential politics. The phrase the president always uses to simplify complexity for his political base is “Make America Great Again.” To further dumb down his vision of America’s Foreign Policy he pontificates the bellicose oversimplification of “America First.”
On the campaign trail prior to his election, he called for “draining the swamp” in Washington to remove the Elites from governing. He promised those who felt their government had failed them by watching good jobs leave for other countries, that he would bring those jobs back to the US. As President, he said he would lift up the working class in America that had all but been forgotten by previous administrations. He leaned heavily on the theme that America’s standing in the world was in crisis, disrespected by friend and foe alike and if elected he would change that perception.
Mr. Trump has been described as a 21st Century Populist. Populism is not a new phenomenon in American politics but in the case of this president the question has to be asked is there a difference between populism and demagoguery? True, populist leaders act in ways that challenge and often de-construct the existing social order and do so by speaking for those who feel disenfranchised by the established political order. A demagogue, however, uses a populist political philosophy of governance but enhances it by lifting up their own self-interest and identity as the only leader who can address the needs and concerns of those who feel lost, disillusioned, disrespected and disenfranchised by their government. The demagogue does so by calling for loyalty as a litmus test for any and all who support and serve their governing. Demagogues demean, humiliate and criticize their opponents and react negatively to any criticism of their leadership. They generate caustic legislation in order to create political chaos and unrealistic expectations for those they claim to serve. Demagogues use conspiracy theories to create doubts in the truthfulness of those who are charged with being the stewards of good government. They have an open hostility toward the press and electronic media claiming they do not tell the truth because only the leader and supporters have real access to the truth. Such behavior models the creation of the “cult of the personality.” Such a cult is born when a leader and supporters manipulate the media with unsubstantiated or incorrect facts in order to empower their leadership. They elevate doubts to feed the paranoia of their supporters that the current structure of government, the courts, and the judiciary are failing the people. Supporters also use flattery, adulation, and praise to win the leader’s favor and create the image of a person unlike any other. Often quasi-religious values are used by demagogues to appeal to those who feel that religious pluralism has abated the core values that have defined the foundational base of their country.
In the United States, religious and cultural pluralism is being attacked openly by President Trump and some members of Congress. Their verbiage has exacerbated anti-Muslim hate speech, attacks on mosques, violence against non-whites, Jews, and has heavily amplified immigration restrictions. The frightening rise of the Alt-Right, Neo-Nazi movements, and the Ku Klux Klan has led to an increase in violence supported by the political rhetoric emanating from Washington. All of these issues and leadership qualities are frightening indicators of the real and pending danger that now threatens the very future of our democracy.
What happens when such behavior forms the belief system and behavior of a president and other government leaders? What impact does it have on the principles of democracy that now are under attack by President Trump and some member of Congress who pander to the president’s leadership? There are members of Congress who look the other way and remain silent when the President’s behavior and rhetoric challenge the balance of power and the Rule of Law enshrined in the US Constitution and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights.
Human rights are currently threatened. Moral principles of good governance, respect for the Rule of Law and those charged with carrying it out with sensitivity and due diligence are now targeted as part of a conspiracy against the president and his administration.
Respect for the dignity of every human being is rapidly disappearing. Empathy for the poor is lost. And government directed by some in the Congress find it appropriate to blame the poor for their impoverishment.
An increasing number of those in Congress find it easier to blame the country’s ills on the nation’s pluralistic population defined by skin color, language, culture, religion and sexual identity rather than Congress’s own incompetence. Words like xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and homophobia become standard fare in identifying the principles of our nation’s governance under the leadership of this current president and a divided Congress.
Born into a family that had survived the Great Depression I was always reminded that the world did not owe me a living and that hard work never hurt anyone. I also learned from my father and others who sacrificed much and served their country in the military with dignity and honor during WWII that Democracy is worth fighting for. Today is no exception!
Our Christian theology as a family was informed, expressed and lived out through the Episcopal Church we attended in Massachusetts. Values matter! No one, not even one who serves the highest office in the land as does this president has the right to scapegoat or demean another’s race, skin color, religion, culture, language, physical condition or sexual identity. Embracing civility, being respectful in conversation with others you are in disagreement with and a willingness to seek common ground during times of significant political polarity has been the genius of the American political process. That genius is rapidly slipping away and we are now in real danger of losing the moral soul of America. And the question placed before all of us who really love and care about this country is, do we really care enough to be the change needed to reverse the current direction of this country and its leadership? Does anyone realize the significant threat to our Constitution and American Democracy that this administration has given birth to? Are we concerned enough to move beyond lethargy and say enough Mr. President and enough to those who have been elected to serve our country in this deeply divided Congress!
May each one of us possess the courage to challenge those who would eviscerate the genius of American Democracy and work hard to reinstate our standing throughout the world as a free, decent and compassionate nation. And to that end I share a prayer attributed to the Benedictines that has meant much to me in my journey as both priest and bishop;
“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships so that you may live deep in your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace. May God bless you with the tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world. So that you can do what others claim cannot be done to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.