A Line Across Humanity
A few weeks ago, when I promised to be a more regular presence here on the blog, I mentioned how much more difficult that promise is to keep that it used to be. The world has changed dramatically in the past two and a half years. It seems ridiculous to pretend otherwise. But I vowed to try and post various things, more regularly. Then as I was working on a few ideas for this week, the shootings in El Paso and Dayton occurred and I realized how impossible it is for me to post what I'd planned in the cold light of such tragedy. Anthing I came up with would be so irredeemably trivial it would feel obscene.
There have been 255 mass shootings in the United States so far this year. The current occupant of the Oval Office, along with his champions at Fox News, blames this chiefly on video games and mental illness, never once mentioning the idiocy of a citizenry that is allowed to walk the streets with assault rifles in their hands. While other countries around the world have both video games and mentally ill individuals, their statistics on gun violence reveal these "causes" to be nothing more than what they are: a continued appeasement of an evil and increasingly unhinged gun lobby. And while the occupant of the White House decried white supremacy in his official statement Monday morning, one cannot help by refer back to his shocking behavior during his rallies and the endless rascism contained in his tweets to see how well his knows the language of white supremacy. He uses it freely. When racist websites are gleeful over their "friend in the White House", it is beyond disingenuous to deny the connection. When hateful manifestos of mass murderers echo his own words, the responsibility squats like a poisonous toad on his shoulders.
I'll keep trying to write something other than this in later posts. But for now my thoughts are best expressed by an offical letter released last week, before the shootings, by the National Cathedral. It is a rare thing for them to put out such a statement, even rarer as it is addressed to a sitting president. But I'm very grateful they did, and I hope you'll take a few moments to read it.
This man has drawn a clear line across humanity.
It is up to each one of us to decide where to stand.
Have We No Decency? A Response to President Trump
The escalation of racialized rhetoric from the President of the United States has evoked responses from all sides of the political spectrum. On one side, African American leaders have led the way in rightfully expressing outrage. On the other, those aligned with the President seek to downplay the racial overtones of his attacks, or remain silent.
As faith leaders who serve at Washington National Cathedral ¬– the sacred space where America gathers at moments of national significance – we feel compelled to ask: After two years of President Trump’s words and actions, when will Americans have enough?
As Americans, we have had such moments before, and as a people we have acted. Events of the last week call to mind a similarly dark period in our history:
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. … You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”
That was U.S. Army attorney Joseph Welch on June 9, 1954, when he confronted Senator Joseph McCarthy before a live television audience, effectively ending McCarthy’s notorious hold on the nation. Until then, under the guise of ridding the country of Communist infiltration, McCarthy had free rein to say and do whatever he wished. With unbridled speech, he stoked the fears of an anxious nation with lies; destroyed the careers of countless Americans; and bullied into submissive silence anyone who dared criticize him.
In retrospect, it’s clear that Welch’s question was directed less toward McCarthy and more to the nation as a whole. Had Americans had enough? Where was our sense of decency?
We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.
This week, President Trump crossed another threshold. Not only did he insult a leader in the fight for racial justice and equality for all persons; not only did he savage the nations from which immigrants to this country have come; but now he has condemned the residents of an entire American city. Where will he go from here?
Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous.
These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.
When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president's sense of decency, but of ours.
As leaders of faith who believe in the sacredness of every single human being, the time for silence is over. We must boldly stand witness against the bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and xenophobia that is hurled at us, especially when it comes from the highest offices of this nation. We must say that this will not be tolerated. To stay silent in the face of such rhetoric is for us to tacitly condone the violence of these words. We are compelled to take every opportunity to oppose the indecency and dehumanization that is racism, whether it comes to us through words or actions.
There is another moment in our history worth recalling. On January 21, 2017, Washington National Cathedral hosted an interfaith national prayer service, a sacred tradition to honor the peaceful transfer of political power. We prayed for the President and his young Administration to have “wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties that they may serve all people of this nation, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.”
That remains our prayer today for us all.
The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral