The Unintended Silver Lining of Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a gathering at a regional police union meeting in Po
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump gestures as he addresses a gathering at a regional police union meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Just as we Americans say with negative situations, there is a silver lining with Donald Trump and his proclamation about barring Muslims from our country. According to Trump -- as reported by all major news outlets -- foreigners entering the country would be asked by customs agents what their religion is. If they replied "Islam," they would be turned away at our borders.

Needless to say, this pronouncement has released a maelstrom of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.

However, the silver lining of Donald Trump and his nativist philosophy is that he has gotten us talking to one another. Trump is the common ground that has enabled mainstream Republicans, Democrats and Independents to agree on something.

This is a minor miracle if you believe polls that have measured ordinary Americans' bipartisan dialogue over the past several years. Polls showing increasing political polarization also have shown that conversation among neighbors has decreased. Not so with Trump. Americans are not shy about sharing opinions with their neighbors, colleagues and community about "the Donald."

Maybe this newfound unity is like the old adage that, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Trump sure has lots of enemies. Hence, "friends" are sharing their opinions.

I received an unsolicited comment the other day from a friend who never emails me about politics:

"Re: Trump. Unsolicited Opinion: I care about our country and its freedoms and abuse thereof .... Not just echoes of Nazism, but the bullhorn of Fascism. This time, America is not sitting on its heels. This time, the world can identify and denounce a tyrant for who he is. I urge you to make American politics and government an important part of your lives if it isn't already. It's all about timing and our future."

The push back against Trump has caused many Americans to talk about our values -- who we are and what we stand for. In that sense, he has united us. Further, he has united media that normally thrive on sensationalism and controversy to repel against it.

Consider the unity that these comments represent:

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan declared that, Trump's position "is not what this party stands for and not what this country stands for." Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Trump a "race-bating, xenophobic, religious bigot." Former Republican VP Dick Chaney said that Trump "goes against everything we stand for." The White House decried Trump's statements and said that he is not qualified to be president. Hillary Clinton tweeted that "Love trumps hate."

Elsewhere, Arianna Huffington announced that the Huffington Post will no longer cover Trump in Entertainment, because the election is no longer "entertainment." Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said that Trump's comments represent "... a dangerous proposal that subverts history, the law, and the foundation of our country itself."

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson called Trump's proposal "un-American." And a Muslim-American former marine defiantly declared that, "We are willing to die and bleed and fight for America!"

Dan Balz, writing in the Washington Post, said that, "...Trump has brought into sharper focus important questions that will play out during the coming election year: What can be done to make Americans feel safer? What will impede or encourage recruitment by Islamic State terrorists? What does it mean to be an American? What kind of image does this nation project around the world?"

So just what is this "America," and what does it mean to be an "American?"

According to Will Smith, playing immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu in the film "Concussion," the answer is a lofty one: "When I was a boy, heaven was here and America was here." His hands show an America whose stature and position is located just under heaven.

My immigrant friend Ratanjit Sondhe, who came to America forty plus years ago from India, started a polymer chemical company and achieved the American Dream, agrees. He says that he could have gone anywhere for his education, entrepreneurship, and ultimate employment of hundreds. But he came to this country because he believed in its vision and values, and he contends that America's greatest assets are not our products, people or institutions, but the values we represent. According to Ratanjit, if we stop living our values, we will not only lose esteem, but sacrifice our greatest natural resource, as well.

I've heard similar sentiments from other immigrant friends. Immigrants understand the special position that America's values represent. Freedom, equality, opportunity, fairness and respect punctuate their words as they pridefully describe the values of their adopted country.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric of Donald Trump has not only defined the battle lines against Islam, but it also has demarcated the internal cultural battle between Americans who care about our values and those who don't.

I recognize that there have been Americans throughout time who have thrown values to the wind. Their examples litter our history: those in the Public Health Service who gave syphilis to African-American sharecroppers during the Great Depression; those who endorsed and practiced slavery as a way of life; those who interned Japanese-Americans during World War II; those who blacklisted accused Communists during McCarthyism; and those who have callously yelled, "You're fired!"

Ultimately, this battle is one that pits performance against character. Common in the corporate world, this dichotomy represents two very different cultures and world views: a character-based culture that says how we do things is as important as getting the job done; and a performance-based culture that says to just get the job done, no matter what! The latter culture on Wall Street tanked our economy in 2009.

We know which way Trump leans. Those who support him say he will get things done. I have no doubt that he will. But at what cost to our values?

We obviously have to protect Americans from terrorists. But what is less obvious to most is that we also have to protect America from ourselves -- from that shameful underbelly that continues to deny and defy our values in the interest of expediency. Trump is the latest cheerleader of this troubling part of our culture, society and country. Now is the time for the majority of Americans of all political persuasions to finally unite around the shared values we hold dear. If not now, when?

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us Project Love is a school-based character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org