I do not feel driven to comment on every happening in our culture, nor am I burdened with a sense of self-importance that compels me to believe that my opinion is absolutely necessary, or even moderately significant.
Case in point, I have been particularly cautious about offering commentary related to our current President, since I know that we are living in a time when passionate convictions about his leadership (one way or the other) are deeply held and often aggressively (and dismissively) articulated.
Although I am not without personal convictions concerning the current political landscape, I have not vilified President Trump in my little corner of social media, nor have I lauded him. In fact, more than anything, I have prayed for him, that he would become the best version of himself as our President and that his heart would become ever more attentive both to the ideals that have always made our country great and the impulses that might make our country even better.
With all of that as a cognitive backdrop, allow me ask you to lay aside some significant things for just a moment:
First, briefly lay aside your personal feelings about Donald Trump’s presidency (since those personal feelings are often blinding).
Second, lay aside the current penchant for moral equivalence that often reduces accountability to the playground-politics of “Yeah, but HE or SHE started it!”
Third, lay aside the personalities and temperaments of all the individuals involved in the scandal that I am about to address (since those personalities and temperaments generate reactions within all of us that can distort our perception and discernment).
If you are able to engage in that work of laying things aside, then perhaps you can ponder this question with an analytical spirit:
Is it ever appropriate or acceptable for any President, irrespective of party, platform, or existing political conflicts, to speak these words to political opponents in any communicational mechanism (let alone something as dauntingly immediate as Twitter):
Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it’s done. These places need your help badly. You can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!
Here is my answer to my own question:
No. It is never appropriate or acceptable. Not ever.
Some of my friends will be quick to present a series of what they perceive to be urgent “buts.”
“But what about the horrible things the some of the congresswomen have said about the President?!”
“But he’s only defending himself from Democrats and the ‘liberal media!'”
“But why aren’t you criticizing all of the hateful words that other people spew about the President?!”
I do not dismiss those “buts.” They fade, however, into the territory of irrelevance in light of what have become, for me, core convictions about the Office of President of the United States, a few of which are these:
- That it is the moral responsibility of the President to elevate, not diminish, conversations, and that the proverbial “buck” related to this accountability must stop at the Office of the President;
- That, insofar as it depends upon the President, s/he must cultivate a spirit of civility that honors even the voices of his/her harshest and most unfair critics in order to model the kind of leadership that rejects the demonization of opponents and seeks to engage the wide diversity of thought that has long characterized our country;
- That a President, as Commander (and, I would add, Communicator) in Chief, must embrace the difficult but urgent responsibility of resisting defensiveness, vindictiveness, and dismissiveness in order to be able to cast a compelling vision that can be both supported and opposed with integrity and freedom.
I am speaking up about this most recent controversy because I believe the President’s recent tweet (and his continued emphasis of its message) to be reflective of a uniquely dangerous dynamic. While there is much disagreement about whether the tweet was overtly racist, I do not believe it can be debated that the phrase “go back…to the places from which you came,” no matter the context, communicates an irresponsible insensitivity to both the ugly history of such language and its profound impact upon people of color. The documented fact that various white supremacist and white nationalist groups have publicly celebrated the President’s tweet is an exclamation point on its dangerous overtones and undertones.
I am not attacking President Trump in these paragraphs, nor am I demonizing his supporters. I am, however, articulating my heartfelt concern about what I believe to be a sitting President’s harmful tweet, his subsequent defensiveness about it, and his refusal to acknowledge its inappropriateness and its harm. Yesterday, I probably would not have been inclined to publish this post, believing that perhaps the national energy around the tweet had already begun to dissipate. This morning, though, after watching heartbreaking videos of last night’s Trump-rally crowds shouting “Send her back!” in unison, I am led to believe that the impact of the tweet cannot be ignored, at least not by a nation that cares about its integrity.
At a time in our nation when conversations about controversial issues (including race) are as urgent and difficult as they ever have been, I expect my President to find ways to articulate hope (instead of exacerbating division); to energize the collective pursuit of justice (instead of corrupting discourse through a haphazard employment of social media); and to generate opportunities for connection (instead of attacking the patriotism of political opponents and encouraging them to leave the country).
I would want this kind of leadership from all who occupy an elected office in the government (including the congresswomen in question). It is the President, however, who must be held to a governing standard as the occupant of our nation’s highest office and the image-bearer of our country’s identity as a grand republic.