“It is not American.”
That’s what most of my friends tell me when I tell them about the latest horrific comments made by Donald Trump, who at the moment appears to be heading towards being the Republican nominee for the highest office in the land. Even by the admittedly outrageous standards of Donald Trump, this seemed beyond the pale. Shooting Muslims by bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. This, not in an anonymous hate group website, but under the full glare of spotlights, from the mouth of the leading Presidential candidate, in a political rally.
This is America.
During a recent rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, Donald Trump talked about how he would protect Americans. To make his point, he told the story of John Pershing, a U.S. general who took some 50 Muslims captive in the Philippines in the early 1900s:
“He took fifty bullets, and he dipped them in pig’s blood. And he had his men load his rifles and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people. And the fiftieth person he said ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened.’ And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, okay?”
As if the moral of the story was not clear enough, the GOP front-runner reiterated the message for the mob crowd:
“We better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads or we’re not gonna have a country, folks.”
This is where we are as a nation. This is our America.
Donald Trump, the leading presidential candidate of a major political party, can approvingly talk about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, and there is no outcry or statements from other Republican or Democratic candidates. [Update: Eventually, Rubio called the story “bizzare.”]
As for Trump’s comments, this is merely a continuation of what we have heard over the last few months. After all, this is the same Donald Trump who seems to perpetually lower the moral bar by talking about Mexicans as rapists, calling for a registry of Muslims, and shutting down mosques. This is what a slide towards the moral gutter looks like.
Donald Trump’s comments disgusted me, but did not surprise me. What hurt my soul was hearing the crowd roar in approval. Who are these people? Where is their humanity? Where is their compassion?
No. These people are us. Who are we? Where is our humanity? Where is our compassion? This is we the people. There is no “other” America. This too is America. This is us.
We are the beautiful. We are the hideous. Each one of us is where the beautiful and the hideous mingle. It would be comforting to pretend that all of this is taking place somewhere else, on some other strange and unfathomable planet where hatred and xenophobia roam free. It would be comforting, but it would not be true. We live on this planet.
This too, alas, is America. I refuse to believe that somehow what is taking place in these rallies is an aberration, something that is taking place “outside” of America. No, this level of hatred is America. It’s not all that we are. And it is certainly not the best part of who we are as a people. But it is a reflection of where at least some of us are in this very moment.
There are a few points that come to my mind and heart: If we want to be better than this, we have to confront the demon of racism and xenophobia. If we wish to believe that this is not what it means to be Americans, then silence is not an option. We have to repel darkness with light, apathy with love, and ignorance with education.
This language of fear-mongering and violence being directed against a visible minority is reminiscent of so many episodes in our shared history. Yes, it is from the book of lynching of African-Americans, internment of 110,000 American citizens of Japanese heritage, and anti-Semitic pogroms. And so much of this is not merely in our distant past, but part of the reality that we construct each and every day.
Horrifically, the tale reported by Trump is not even real history, though the fear and hate-mongering he both creates and amplifies is awfully real. The event never happened. A simple search on Snopes.com or similar sites reveals that this shooting of Muslims by bullets dipped in pig’s blood never actually happened. (Although, there is a frightening company that makes bullets tipped with pig’s blood to send “Muslims straight to hell.”)
Trump’s statement was made in a rally 13 minutes from where Dylann Roof shot and killed black worshipers in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Our suffering, our lives, and our dignity are all linked. Have we learned nothing, nothing at all from the bloodshed?
No, Muslims do not have a monopoly on suffering. It is not just about saving Muslim lives. It is about saving our own democratic experiment. We are all in this together. When we allow hatred and venom towards one of us — be it Muslims, Jews, Hispanic, gays/lesbians, poor people, undocumented people, African-Americans, combination of the above, or others — we all go down together. As Martin Luther King used to tell us, either we go up together or we go down together. But either way, we are together.
It cannot be simply the responsibility of Muslims to counter this venom. It is up to all of us.
There are resources for us in the American tradition to counter this. We go back to the legacy of Mamie Till, and the hundreds of Mamie Tills, making their suffering public. Oh how poignant it is, and it has been, to stand with tears in our eyes and say it: My life is too short to hate. My heart is filled with pain, but I will not bring more darkness into a world already cursed with too much hate. I am going to dedicate myself to a life committed to love and justice for all.
And this Mamie Till response, this prophetic witness against hate and venom, was again on display this week. The most powerful response to Trump’s pig-soaked bullets came back from a powerful, brilliant, and charismatic Muslim woman, Dr. Suzanne Barakat, the sister of Deah Barakat. It was Deah, along with his wife Yusor and Yusor’s sister Razan, who were murdered in Chapel Hill a year ago. Suzanne Barakat, embodying the best of this dignified response in addressing Trump, offered these words:
Thank you Dr. Barakat. Thank you to the community and the tradition that has made you who you are. And a thank you to each and every person who works to bring light, compassion, sanity, and love into this wounded hurting world.
A better, more compassionate America, a more loving and just world is possible. We must be participants in making it so.