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To Trump Supporters:

You Are Not Innocent

C. Gourgey, Ph.D.

Recently Donald Trump gave a press briefing referring to the Corona virus as the “China” virus. It was not a slip. The word “Corona” was crossed out in his notes, and “Chinese” written over it in heavy marker. When questioned about the wisdom of such usage, Trump responded by defiantly repeating “China” and adding a contemptuous sneer.

Surely Trump must know that there have been incidents of violence against Asian Americans ever since the virus began to spread. Clearly that is of no importance to him. Trump’s strategy is transparent. Trump won the presidency largely by inciting hatred against foreigners. Now facing an election imperiled by his incompetent handling of the virus crisis, after denying its significance for months and losing valuable preparation time, he is reverting to that tried and true strategy. At a time when America is shattered and people are afraid, the man with the most influential position in the country responds by dividing the nation and once again provoking people to hate each other.

This should not come as a surprise. Trump has been doing this since before he was elected. Trump is a known quantity. His supporters know what they are supporting.

And if you supported Trump, you are not innocent.

Both personally and politically, Trump thrives on cruelty. He attacks those who are most vulnerable. He thinks that traumatizing children by separating them from their parents and shutting them up in cages is a good way to discourage people who come here trying to save their lives. He thinks that breaking up families by deporting hardworking immigrants who have made positive contributions to this country for years is good policy. After all, they are “illegal.” But what else could they be, now that Trump has criminalized the asylum process? Trump thinks it’s a good idea to uproot the “Dreamers” and send them back to countries they cannot remember and where they will be considered foreigners and their lives endangered. He consolidates power by capitalizing on his base’s hatred of these people. Anyone who supports Trump’s policies because these people are “illegal aliens” (an intentionally dehumanizing term) needs to read this article.

And even if you are not a racist and do not share Trump’s hatred for nonwhite “line jumpers,” if you support Trump, you enable these policies. You are not innocent.

Trump’s cruelty does not stop at immigrants. His administration has gone after children in other ways. It has pushed for work requirements for poor families receiving food stamps and other benefits. This means that a parent who loses his or her job risks losing those benefits. The Trump Administration also moved against a UN World Health Assembly resolution to encourage breast feeding over using formula products that could have harmful effects on children. The Administration even bullied the sponsor, Ecuador, into withdrawing the resolution by threatening to impose economic sanctions and withhold military aid. America was alone in opposing this resolution, yet still got its way, protecting the interests of corporations over nursing children.

And let us not forget the dogged efforts of the Republican Administration to destroy the Affordable Care Act, which gave health insurance benefits to many Americans who might have faced bankruptcy from uncovered health care costs. Republicans talked a good game of “repeal and replace,” but they never had even a semblance of a replacement plan, and even after that became apparent they pushed for repeal anyway and still have not stopped. Why do they hate the Affordable Care Act to such an irrational exent? Because people call it “Obamacare.”

And this party calls itself “pro-life.”

Another, lesser known example of Trump’s systematic cruelty towards weak and defenseless people is his Administration’s efforts to eviscerate nursing home regulations, with the aid of Seema Verma, Director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, one of Trump’s many disastrous appointments, who loves to talk about the evils of regulation. Some of the “evils” that Trump and Verma would like to undermine include regulating the indiscriminate use of antipsychotic medication to control residents by drugging them into a stupor, conducting yearly inspections of nursing homes by oversight agencies such as the Department of Health, and an Obama Administration rule mandating the employment of infection control specialists by nursing homes - and this last one precisely at a time when a pandemic is sweeping the country. If it has Obama’s name on it, then Trump wants it gone, no matter how many people get hurt.

So if you support Trump, you are aiding this too. You are not innocent.

Some of Trump’s critics go so far as to compare his regime to Nazi Germany and the immigration detention centers to “concentration camps.” Now that is surely over the top, isn’t it?

Or is it?

A “concentration” camp is called such because its purpose is to concentrate and control an undesirable population. And that is surely what these detention centers do.

And the psychology, if not the scope, of Trump’s exploitation of immigrants is identical to that of Hitler’s exploitation of Jews. Both drew political power from mobilizing popular resentment against an out-group whom people can blame for their problems and their misery. Trump even went as far as suggesting that Mexicans are to blame for the Corona virus, and that his wall would help protect America from it. This despite the fact (but what are facts to Trump?) that the number of Corona cases in Mexico is miniscule compared to the US. If anything, Mexico may need a wall to protect itself from us.

But, one might still object, the comparison of Trumpism to Nazism is absurd. The Nazis had death camps. The detention centers are not death camps - are they?

Granted, America does not begin to approach the scope of Nazi Germany. That would be very hard for any country to do, no matter how ruthless. But yes, we even have death camps. Only we outsource the executions to El Salvador, so we can still think our hands are clean. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of people we sent back to El Salvador have been tortured and killed, with immigration officials knowing this would happen. All with the tacit approval of the people who support Trump’s immigration policies. We even have a secret police, ICE, whose agents ambush people at odd hours and in odd places, regardless of whether they have committed any offenses or whether they are hardworking members of families.

So if you support Trump, you are not innocent.

Now one thing I am sure to hear is, “Don’t you think Trump supporters can be good people too? Surely you are not calling them all evil, are you?”

We need to pause a moment to consider how evil works. I am not calling Trump supporters evil people. At least not all of them. But there is a concept, developed by the brilliant philosopher Hannah Arendt, that I think fits them well. It is called the “banality of evil.” This happens when ordinary people fall into ways of reacting without thinking, and especially without imagining the experience of the other. It is normal human reaction without empathy.

These common ways of reacting come mostly from fear, and its attendant emotion, resentment. A demagogue like Donald Trump, who is by no means banal, can play on these feelings and manipulate people. He can, for example, plant in people’s minds the notion that most, if not all, refugees coming across the Mexican border are MS13. Trump calls them criminals, animals, and rapists. His messages are meant to bypass our capacity for deliberative thought and lodge in our primitive reptile brain. We think of all the terrible things these people might do. We may even hear of an incident or two and conclude that it is typical of all of them. We are afraid, and that fear begets resentment, and that resentment brings with it a desire to make these people suffer. Or at the very least, a willingness to let Trump make these people suffer.

Although it has been pointed out many times that immigrants, both legal and illegal, commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, and that most refugees on our southern border are fleeing life-threatening conditions in countries made unstable largely by US policies over the years, none of that registers with the reptile brain. The reptile brain is concerned only with self-preservation. It does not wonder or care why these people come here, what are their own fears and hopes, and how does it feel to have their children snatched out of their arms, never to be seen again. It only wants to make the fear go away, and when that fear doesn’t go away, the next response is hatred.

But we are not reptiles. God also gave us a mind with which to think, an ability to step back and consider, a capacity for reason. And yes, even the capability of imagining that the pain we feel might be felt by someone else too. What that realization leads to is compassion, and without compassion the world becomes barbaric. But we will not get to compassion if we stop at the reptile brain and forego our capacity to think and reason. That is when ordinary people do evil things. That is the banality - and the ubiquity - of evil.

And that is how an entire country can tolerate a Holocaust. And that is how this country tolerated slavery for so many years, and how we are still so reluctant to face the traces of its aftermath in society today. And that is how people can support, and even cheer, the cruelty of Donald Trump.

“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18, NKJV). We are responsible for using our capacity for reason. And that includes following the consequences of selecting a national leader based upon emotion - and more specifically, based upon resentment, a national leader who lies virtually every time he opens his mouth, and who cannot be trusted in a crisis. A leader more concerned about his image than about the welfare of his people, who downplayed the threat of the pandemic because it made him look bad and then denied that he did it. A leader who dismantled the Pandemic Response Team created by the Obama administration because it was part of Obama’s legacy, resulting in a delay of test kits and other preparations that may have cost lives. A leader who takes responsibility for nothing and instead blames the Chinese, or illegal “aliens,” or Democrats, or the media, or the “Deep State” for every bad consequence of his own thoughtless policies.

Trump was going to “make America great again.” Instead, under his leadership we have become a science-denying third-world nation, refusing our place among the great democracies of the world, and put to shame by countries like South Korea in its far superior pandemic preparedness. America used to be a leader. Now it is becoming a follower in a world whose economy will be controlled by Trump’s hated China.

Finally, a word must be said about a key player in the success of Trump and his inhumane agenda. Trump could not have succeeded without the support of white Evangelical Christians. Those who supported him see him as their champion against the forces of secularism and the curtailment of their religious freedom. The notion that Christians in the United States are a persecuted minority lacking religious freedom is a psychotic fantasy. What “freedoms” are being curtailed? The freedom to discriminate against gays. The freedom to impose Christian prayers on schoolchildren of any faith. The freedom not to have to say “Happy Holidays” at Christmastime. And of course, the freedom to deny women access to abortion. In short, the freedom to impose (”evangelize”) their religion on everybody else. Conservative Evangelical Protestants are not pushing for religious freedom but for power, and at any cost.

Abortion is an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. But consider: abortion is already next to impossible in red states, and will not be changed in blue states regardless of the President’s party. Also, you cannot call yourself pro-life if you oppose reasonable gun control. You cannot call yourself pro-life if you support the anti-child policies mentioned earlier in this article. You cannot call yourself pro-life if you oppose efforts to control the effects of climate change and to ensure that we bequeath a whole planet to the next generation. To support a man like Donald Trump because he opposes abortion is fundamentally hypocritical.

Jesus cared for the poor, and did not steal from them with regressive tax cuts that put their services at risk. Jesus fed the hungry, and did not cut their food stamps. Jesus welcomed strangers, even if of a different faith (the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman), and did not kidnap and imprison their children. Jesus cared for the sick, and did not try to revoke their health coverage. Jesus was the anti-Trump.

Which makes American white Evangelical Christianity exquisitely vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy.

And so a message to American Christians: We know where Jesus stood. We know where Trump stands. Where do you stand?

March 2020