I’ve let you down, my friends.
Part of my job centers on identifying what’s going on in the culture, and then running that through the filter of my desire to participate faithfully in the reign of God. If telling the truth is my primary job description as a pastor, then discerning the truth is indispensable to what I do. And in this case I have failed... miserably.
I didn’t even see last night’s election results coming. Not even a little bit. And it’s not because I wasn’t paying attention. I like politics a lot, but this isn’t about the political aspect of Donald Trump’s ascendancy. Of course I’m concerned about the Supreme Court and the ways that Congress fails to work (or, God forbid, may work too well now).
This is personal. Last night’s election results aren’t just some abstraction to me. I spent time in the wee hours of this morning trying to reassure a Syrian refugee family—who’ve just fled one apocalyptic hellscape only to wind up in the middle of this chaos—that regardless of the results of the polls last night, this is still a great country to live in, and that they’re welcome here, and that we’ll stand by them. Unfortunately, calming their terror is difficult, if only because I’m scared too, and I’m not actually sure they’re going to be safe here.
Last night’s election isn’t some antiseptic political lab experiment. I received a message soon after I awoke this morning from a lesbian friend of mine who asked if I could marry her and her partner… ASAP. They had planned a June wedding in London, but after last night they don’t feel like it’s safe to wait. My friend closed her message by saying, “I’m up in my office crying right now.”
My mind keeps racing between images of my Mexican friends and family and images of my Muslim friends. What must it feel like to have your gravest fears ratified on national television—that close to half of the people in this country not only don’t seem to care about you and your family, but they actively support a man who has said repeatedly that the country would be much better off without you?
The images in my mind turn to my African American friends, who’ve been reminded through the centuries that this country views their bodies, as Ta-Nehisi Coates has argued, as objects to be used, broken, and thrown away, or my Jewish friends who feel an undifferentiated gnawing of fear that seems oddly like deja vu. What must it feel like to wake up to a world in which the KKK and the Neo-Nazis are celebrating a newfound normalization under a U.S. leader who ran on a platform of returning America to 1950s White hegemony?
Images of the women in my life wash over me, as I consider the panic significant numbers of them feel at living in a country where so many men think harassment should be received as a compliment, and so many women apparently agree.
I see the faces of people God created and loves, and I can’t help but feel like a failure at my job. Apparently, I overestimated the kindness in people’s hearts… by a lot. I scroll through my social media feeds and realize that I didn’t have any idea the darkness that rests in so many people’s hearts—people I thought I knew.
It would be one thing if what I’ve witnessed were attributable to simple celebration, the joy of having your ideas prevail in the court of public opinion. That would hurt for a while, sure. Nobody likes to lose. But I haven’t just seen the satisfaction of people getting their chance to try out their ideas. Know what I’ve seen?
I’ve seen people talk about how many folks are now going to get theirs. “We’re coming for you!” is a rallying cry I’ve seen too often today. Of course, these rallying cries always seem to use epithets as placeholders. You know what they are. I don’t have to tell you. But the message is, “If you’re not white, straight, and Christian, you’d better not get too comfortable.”
How are people supposed to feel? This isn’t just “Our candidate lost, and your guy won—so we’re going to pout.” People genuinely fear for their safety, for their families, and for their livelihoods.
And there’s always some dolt who will chime in: “Shoe’s on the other foot now, isn’t it? How do you like it? Didn’t you all mock us for expressing fear that our religious freedoms were being taken away during the whole gay wedding cake fiasco?”
Fine. But here’s the thing: In the aftermath of the whole RFRA flap nobody ever threatened to round you up and send you back to the ovens. I never once saw a progressive say, “Rope. Tree. Evangelical. Some assembly required.” I never heard a liberal say that the way to handle all those uppity fundamentalists was to rape their women and emasculate their men.
Never. Not once. I’ve never come across anyone, let alone a whole American constituency group, who thought that a 2nd Amendment remedy was the way to fix the problem of people who are different from them.
But I’ve gotten a firehose full of just that kind of execrable speech from folks happy that Donald Trump won the presidency.
It seems chilling that the day after an especially rancorous election is the the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass,” when Germans attacked Jewish businesses, cemeteries, homes, and synagogues.
“Oh, you’re just being dramatic! Donald Trump isn’t anything like that.”
You may be right. But, apart from the fact that I’m an outspoken jerk about the whole thing, I’m a straight middle class white guy. So, I’m probably going to be just fine. But there are a lot of people I love who can’t muster up the same kind of certitude. To them, unwittingly or not, the country just put targets on their backs.
So, if you happen to be a Christian who’s celebrating today, please think about all the people who are terrified right now, wondering if the world they’ve taken for granted will swallow them up.
I didn’t see this coming. For that lapse in perspicacity, I’m sorry.
And for my penance, I promise to work even harder to read the signs and make this world a welcoming place for all the people who are now afraid that that world already gave up on them. I don’t know what else to do.