We are faced with a morality crisis that will structure the values of our country for generations. As a voting rights activist in Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 I watched proud parents hand their children rocks to throw at our bus. If a child was accurate enough to hit and break a window, their parents glowed with admiration.
The events over the past few days draw me back to that time in the 1960’s when hate was advocated by people who would later deny responsibility for the murders their words and support for bigots inspired. I fear history is about to repeat itself.
More Than Words
For more than two years Trump and his adamant followers have called the press “enemies of the people,” screamed “lock her up” for Clinton, who has never been convicted of a crime, listened to people describe honorable politicians and journalists as “disgusting,” “un-American,” and other words more appropriate for an adolescent bully than the president of the United States.
They laughed when Trump mocked of a disabled reporter, clapped when Trump voiced his admiration for a politician convicted of battery and approved of Trump saying some of the white nationalists in Charlotte were “good people.” Few probably see a connection between the current rash of bombs and their acceptance of Trump’s words and behaviors.
We have laws preventing people from yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre, and incarceration if their irresponsibility hurts people. Unfortunately, President Trump and his followers—those who would find him innocent if he stood on Fifth Avenue and shot someone—aren’t held to the same legal and moral standards.
Trump’s Place in History
History is replete with despots who instigate violence and then deny responsibility, whether it was Hitler inciting Germans against the Jews or the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia feigning ignorance about what happened to a dissident reporter.
Trump will eventually leave the scene, and Congress may reverse many of his disastrous decisions. But what about Trump’s cultural and moral legacy? One in which derogatory labels, cruel humor, and dishonesty are the norms. A legacy were values are transactional, e.g. in the words of Trump when Leslie Stahl asked him about the truthfulness of what he said, “Well, I won, didn’t I?”
I have friends who voted for Trump for many reasons—some involved a belief in what he professed, others because of fear about losing their culture, and a few because of their hatred for the Clintons. As the election approaches, I’m sure they are wrestling with many of these same issues as they ruminate whether to vote for a politician who supports Trump, and what that means.
I urge them to think about their vote in moral terms that go beyond issues of specific policies: Are they willing to take responsibility for the consequences of Trump’s words? If someone is injured or dies, will they, like many of the people opposing the civil rights movement in the 1960’s see no connection between their support of Trump, Trump’s words and the violence against anyone who opposes him?
We got beyond the violence of the 1960’s, but only after the cultural wars changed our country forever. I still remember the faces of those children who throw stones at me and wonder if they will view the current flood of bombs as “something those people deserved.” Worse, I wonder if they, just like their grandparents are teaching Trumpian values to their children.
Vote on November 6th, as if the morality of your children and grandchildren depend upon it.