I watched the Clinton and the Trump speeches on Friday, June 11. Clinton at Planned Parenthood, Trump at the Faith and Freedom conference. Both in DC. So many points to fact check. But one thing that Trump said that got my immediate attention was his reference to "Christian-Americans. " Once again, Mr. Trump demonstrated his core conviction that Americans can be easily, carelessly, hyphenated...this time according to our religious beliefs.
In a speech given before an audience of men and women with deep and firm religious foundations, foundations upon which I'm sure are built rich lives of charity and fellowship, why would Trump carefully, pointedly, put political parentheses around just one category of Americans of faith? Are not Jewish-Americans, and Muslim-Americans, and Buddhist-Americans also trying to live lives of freedom and faith? Don't Americans who embrace Shinto, Tao, or Sikh ideals as spiritual foundations also aspire to lives of freedom and faith?
Here is my disclaimer: I am a Christian. I am an American. I do not believe in conflating the two. My faith and my nationality cannot be defined by a hyphen. Americans cannot be defined by hyphens. In America, we do not say, "I am a farmer-American, or a banker-American, or a nurse-American, or a mother-American, or a soldier-American." I am not a writer-American. Even when a hyphen seems imperative, we need to resist its application to our conditions; a disabled veteran does not need to be further defined, or possibly stigmatized, by a piece of ambiguous punctuation.
Trump's use of the hyphen in Christian-American inserts just such an ambiguity into the national conversation about the role of religion in politics. His goal at the Faith and Freedom conference was crystal clear: to lift up Christians as a special, preferred, subset of all Americans of faith. In doing so, he purposefully swept the rest of the nation's religions into pile of remnants...leftover material he has decided is not necessary to the fabric of his version of the American quilt, a quilt that is overwhelmingly white and featureless. A quilt that serves only to cover Trump's gilded bed.
I certainly don't believe that my Christian faith deserves elevation above others, or has somehow earned the right to be viewed as politically exclusive of all other faiths. What brand of arrogant would that be? Trump's brand, I guess.
Mr. Trump cannot seem to articulate a personal value system that accepts or, at the very least, acknowledges, the value systems of others. He demonstrates over and over again a reluctance to accept the possibility--no, the reality-- that Americans, in the main, reject classification; that we abhor being pigeonholed by race, creed, origin, social and economic standing, and religion.
Even when I factor in the history of the audience to whom he was speaking -- devoutly Christian, deeply conservative -- it was clear to me that Mr. Trump, in those simple two-words, Christian-American, does not get who we are, what we stand for, and more importantly, what we will not stand for. He had an opportunity, in a speech keyed to Freedom and Faith, to show the bigness of his spirituality. Instead, he once again illustrated the smallness of his mind.