By Tom Ehrich
A week ago, I wrote my Daily Meditation after attending a discouraging meeting at church. Sounding even to myself like a broken record, I wrote about the tragedy of churches that look inward and, by losing touch with larger reality, eventually lose their way.
Today, as I sent this meditation out to subscribers, I found myself saying, “Enough.” Enough writing about churches. They are what they are. Why keep harping on them? I’m sure my readers will agree. There’s more to life than the foibles of churches. There is certainly more to faith.
I can’t come to the same give-it-up conclusion about the imminent presidency of Donald Trump. It’s one thing to “normalize” the odd behaviors of religion. It’s another thing entirely to look at the dangers and tawdriness descending on us as citizens and our nation as a democracy, and to say, “Oh well. Can’t be helped.”
It can be helped. It must be helped. What is coming on us isn’t the least bit normal. From his appointments to his staffing to his scoffing at information to his mocking of critics to his childish tweet-storms, Trump is a force that decent people must resist.
Maybe it will remain at the level of farce. Maybe it will escalate into full-blown authoritarianism, or fascism. However far the narcissist and bully take it, we must see reality as it unfolds and make our honest response to it. And we must listen to each other.
Many actually favor the new day about to dawn in Washington. Many are taking a wait-and-see attitude. Many are worried but trust democratic institutions and common sense to carry the day. Many are profoundly troubled and compare this to the circus atmosphere that greeted Hitler on his ascent to power by way of an election.
We are deeply divided in response to this election, just as we were divided throughout the campaigns. Partisan rancor won out for a time, and violence broke out. It is important now that we ratchet down the violence and take seriously our duties as citizens in a democracy. Be honest, be bold, be free – and value the same in those whose views we find heinous. Hitler turned people against each other, as demagogues always do, and he named a scapegoat for everyone to hate. We can’t allow that in America in the years ahead.
“Land of the free and home of the brave” isn’t an easy call to answer. It’s a call to every citizen to claim the freedom our ancestors fought for and to guard that freedom for others. If we allow a demagogic government to chip away at freedoms – isolating immigrants, isolating people of color, isolating homosexuals, isolating women, isolating the poor – we will all lose our freedom eventually. That’s one truth about freedom that we should have learned by now: it’s all or nothing. Everyone must be free, or no one will be free.
The same is true of courage. Yes, many are afraid, and justifiably so. But fear and cowardice are like a raging cancer: they destroy the entire body in time. Courage doesn’t play out in violence or oppression. That’s just fear brandishing weapons. Courage allows others to be different. Courage protects the weak. Courage hungers for fact, truth, reality. Courage embraces failure and not-knowing. Courage dares to live in the open.
We are about to be led by a weak and fearful man whose every instinct is that of the cowardly bully. But his fears don’t need to become ours. His self-doubt and constant need for affirmation don’t need to shape our lives. We can be better than our President. And we must be better. If we sink to his level, our nation is doomed.