Textbook Racism and the Office of President

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is joined by his wife Melania, daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner as he speaks during a news conference at the Trump National Golf Club Westchester, Tuesday, June 7, 2016, in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who last week gave his support to Trump, said Tuesday that Trump's recent attack on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel was "the textbook definition of a racist comment." Textbook racism, said Ryan -- but he has yet to withdraw his support.

Trump has doubled down on the comments about Curiel, who is the presiding judge in lawsuits filed against him by former students of his Trump University. "I'm building the wall, I'm building the wall," Trump said. "I have a Mexican judge. He's of Mexican heritage. He should have recused himself, not only for that, for other things."

Many have pointed out that Judge Curiel is a highly respected American jurist born in Indiana to parents of Mexican descent.

So the question becomes -- both for Paul Ryan and for all of us -- what should "the textbook definition" of racism mean for the election of the president of the United States?

Should Donald Trump's racist comments, since the inception of his campaign, be morally disqualifying for him to become the president of the United States? Should his racial bigotry (calling Mexicans rapists and murderers and attacking the birth certificate of the nation's first black president), religious bigotry (promising to ban all Muslims from entering America), and gender bigotry (unending negative comments and evaluations about women and their body parts) remove Donald Trump from moral and religious consideration for the presidency in 2016?

Lindsey Graham thinks so. The Republican senator from South Carolina said, "To suggest that a judge can't fairly decide a case because of where his parents were born is a new low in a campaign with plenty of lows."

The senator went on to say, "If anybody was looking for an off-ramp, this is probably it ... I don't feel comfortable with what Mr. Trump is saying, not only about this judge, but the way he's campaigning, his policy positions regarding Muslims -- I just think Mr. Trump is taking the country and the party in the wrong direction, and I will be no part of it."

Mark Kirk, Republican senator from Illinois became the first Republican senator running for re-election to break with Mr. Trump, saying "After much consideration, I have concluded that Donald Trump has not demonstrated the temperament necessary to assume the greatest office in the world," or to control the nation's nuclear arsenal.

Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, from Nebraska, also spoke up: "Saying someone can't do a specific job because of his or her race is the literal definition of 'racism."

And Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said that Trump's attacks on Curiel were "not just ill-informed or ignorant statements, but they suggest that when he's president after November, that perhaps he ought to go after that judge ... It's very disturbing."

Even conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer agreed, saying, "He's revealing who he is. This isn't some gaffe or accident." Of Republicans, said Krauthammer, "They have to ask themselves, morally, is this the man you want to be the leader of your party? That's what's at stake here."

Trump has since broadened his argument, saying on CBS that it's possible a Muslim judge could treat him unfairly too, because of his proposed ban on Muslim immigration.

Racism is still deeply rooted in American society and in white culture. Donald Trump has repeatedly taken the racism that is often covert and made it overt, what is usually implicit and made it explicit. Trump has regularly turned racial "dog whistles" into bullhorns. I just watched the leader of a white nationalist organization gleefully report how Donald Trump has helped their cause.

Visiting and preaching in black churches over the last several months, I have never seen African Americans, especially older black Christians, feeling so afraid. I Corinthians 12:26 (as opposed to the "2 Corinthians" Donald Trump once tried to quote) says this about the church -- the body of Christ -- "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad."

Racism is an unequivocal gospel issue, and not just a political one. And Christians' response to racism is a faith issue, and not just a partisan one. Some Christians who can't bring themselves to support a Democratic presidential candidate on moral grounds over issues like abortion have decided they can't support Donald Trump's racism, and are experiencing a great dilemma.

Elections are always full of complex and difficult choices and much prayer will be called for in this electoral season. But I am hopeful to see Christians across political lines and with different convictions on other moral issues unifying against bigotry and racism. That is a good sign.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now.