Much has been written about the unconscionable irony of President-elect Donald Trump getting into a war of words with civil rights icon John Lewis virtually on the eve of this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is just one more example of Trump’s insensitivity and tone deafness on the matter of race relations in this country over which he will soon preside.
It will be enormously difficult for Donald Trump to “bring this country together,” as he claims to want to do, if he continues to denigrate African Americans, women, immigrants, the press, allies in NATO and the United Nations, and so many others. One of Trump’s most dangerous characteristics (and he has many) is his prickly, thin-skinned nature which we see played our daily on Twitter. Presidents, even the most popular ones, are constantly being criticized — sometimes deservedly, sometimes not. Are we in for four years of daily rants about every such critical remark? Probably.
A more rational response to John Lewis’ (and others) opinion about the “illegitimacy” of his presidency and decisions not to attend the inauguration would have been for Trump to reach out to them or at least to state publicly that he would do all he could to win their confidence and trust in the days and months ahead. Alas, another missed opportunity.
I have been reading a lot of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth lately and considering the similarities between what we are going through in this country and the situation the German people faced in the 1930s during the rise of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler. I do not believe Trump is another Hitler yet, but I fear he might be. Hitler was “elected” by a population who felt that democracy was not working for them and that they therefore had to have a charismatic, unconventional leader who would “drain the swamp” and get things done.
Hitler began by embracing Christianity and the German church because he knew it was in his best interests to do so. Prophets like Barth and Bonhoeffer saw through this ruse and finally felt the need to set up a “Confessing Church” in opposition to the established church which has fallen under the dictator’s sway. We are fortunate not to have an “established” church in the United States for Donald Trump to co-opt, although his embracing of the so-called “evangelicals” and “prosperity gospel” preachers is troubling.
I have mixed feelings about our National Cathedral agreeing to participate in the inauguration by providing a choir and hosting the interfaith prayer service. On the one hand, we have had that role for many decades even when many Episcopalians opposed a particular candidate and surely it is right to pray for our leaders whether we agree or disagree with them. On the other hand, never before have we seen a President-elect who has made so many public statements which are at odds with the spirit of Christ and the teachings of the church. It would have been a powerful witness to respectfully decline the invitation to participate this time.
When all is said and done, on this Martin Luther King Day, we must heed the witness of John Lewis and his mentor, Dr. King, not to keep silent in these days, but to remain eternally vigilant lest the slippery slope that led the German people to plunge into the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust be our fate in the coming years. It can happen here!
King famously said that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice” and I believe that. But, as this recent election has shown us, that arc has many twists and turns along its path.