All men are created equal.
Just words, right? Wrong. Contained in the famed Declaration of Independence that sparked the Revolutionary War, these five words were themselves revolutionary. They proclaimed that we were, as Lincoln stated in his Gettysburg Address decades later, a “new nation,” built not on a foundation so base as ethnicity but on “liberty, and … the proposition that all men are created equal.”
In the wake of his alleged racist slurs against “hut-dwelling” Nigerians and “HIV-infected” Haitians, I fear President Trump doesn’t realize the importance of—much less care for—the Declaration’s promise of equal citizenship. I fear he doesn’t see us as equal citizens. President Obama asserted that “[t]here is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America,” Trump seems determined to lead a Divided States of America. To be not a commander-in-chief, but a divider-in-chief.
When terrorist Dylann Roof met the open arms of his Christian hosts with a closed mind of hatred, President Obama pushed for “unity and … fellowship”. In the confused aftermath of 9/11, President Bush implored Americans that Muslims “need to be treated with respect.” To Bush and Obama, Muslims and African Americans are as American as Protestant Whites.
Trump is different. Rather than closing gaps, he opens them.
As Mitt Romney wrote in reference to Trump’s equivocating Charlottesville speech, “In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?”
These are the words of a leader—a deeply religious man who sees all humans as God’s children. They call to mind President Jimmy Carter’s New Testament Christianity—a devotion that gave Carter an inner peace that, on a summer day at Camp David, helped him forge outer peace between Egypt and Israel. Carter brought people together. Trump drives them apart.
One wonders what resides in Trump’s heart. One wonders whether he sees all Americans as children of God with a sacred core of equal dignity. It’s indisputable that a segment of his base doesn’t. Does he?
America is undergoing a crisis of identity. It asks: Who are we? It asks: What stitches together this multi-colored fabric? Something so base as an immutable characteristic? As race or religion? Was not America’s innovation the fundamental recognition that we are, or should be, more than a stereotype of our group identity?
To white nationalists, supremacists, and neo-Nazis, racial unity trumps national unity. The legislative and judicial branches of American government are enemies, brimming with elitist “cucks.” The rule of law—protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority—is the grandest enemy of all. And yet.
The president, like previous presidents, is duty-bound to provide a vision.
The president—theoretically—speaks for all of us. Trump’s only speaking for some of us. He’s dividing us, granting credence not to that grand dream of America set forth in the Declaration of Independence but to the narrow nightmare of white nationalists. In his speech and through his actions, he denies non-whites and immigrants equal dignity along with equal citizenship.
President Carter’s inner peace empowered him to produce outer peace. President Trump possesses no such power. His inner core is not one of peace but, instead, one of apparent turmoil. His mind is a narrowed one—full of fear of “HIV-infected” Haitans, of Mexican “criminals” and “rapists,” of “hut-dwelling” Nigerians. His motto is not E pluribus unum, “out of many, one”—a statement still found on most U.S. currency—but rather “out of one, one.”
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