By Tom Ehrich
A year ago, when I was driving 4,000 miles across America for my new book “Two-Lane Theology,” I came to a sobering realization: a “white-power insurgency” was spreading across the Southwest and South.
Now, a year later, we know it is spreading across the entire nation.
I listened to radio preachers fulminate against people of color, blaming everything that is wrong with America on them. It was deeper than the casual racism I grew up knowing in Indiana. This was virulent, unrelenting hatred, and it was a determination to reverse course, to make America unwelcoming to immigrants and a torment to the descendants of African slaves.
I saw signs here and there, overheard comments in restaurants and motels. This was a frightened and angry white population fighting back to reclaim a nation they considered stolen from them.
It was sobering, saddening, and bewildering. I was driving through reservations where a white government herded native whose land whites wanted. I was serenaded by right-wing Christians whose alarm over Islam is all about race, as is much of their imagined “war on Christianity.”
“The soul of America is at stake here,” I wrote from Tuba City, AZ. “A nation that allows war on people of color risks descending into the same evil that shot a pregnant Navajo woman when a white government wanted her tribe’s land.”
I had no idea that, a year later, we would witness racist thugs beating black students merely for attending a Trump rally. Or the Ku Klux Klan crawling from beneath its rocks to parade boldly at Trump events. Or a potential nominee for President refusing to lose the votes of bigots by disavowing the Klan.
Across America, bigotry is dancing in the public square and shouting not only against people of color but against a nation that has spent its life welcoming immigrants and the last fifty years trying to rise above slavery and segregation. Yes, it’s awkward, and we seem to step backward as much as we step forward. But there is always a sense that tolerance and justice are among our highest values. The American Dream isn’t about cars in garages; it’s about human dignity for all, “liberty and justice for all,” life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, open land, open doors, open institutions where all stand a chance.
Now we discover through the tragic candidacy of a bigoted and grasping man that, for many more people than I had ever imagined, “for all” never did matter. They have hated all along, and now a thug and bully has given them permission to shout it out.
When I visited Navajo reservations in Arizona and New Mexico and the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma, I saw what happens when the white race loses its way. Whites kill. Whites steal. Whites dehumanize. Whites stand over a Cherokee woman who is holding back the Trail of Tears and kill her with a sword.
Not you, perhaps, not me. But it is being done in our name by some ugly bigots. I, for one, cannot bear to have my name associated with such hatred. The thugs wearing red caps and terrorizing black teenagers don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the white race. They don’t speak for America.
We must actively and insistently disavow these bigots. We must reclaim what America stands for.