Last night was a moment that many thought we would never see, or at least we thought we hoped never would. Last night we saw something that I pray will not become something bigger, but feels like it cannot help but be. Last night was a time that felt like we went through the looking glass, as we saw an American President essentially threaten the Governors of all the states in the United States to impose what would essentially be martial law if they didn’t do what he demanded.
He invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807 to do this, threatening to send in the military to “dominate” the streets to stop protests. He threw around dangerous terms about the protestors, all while claiming to be the friend of those rightfully protesting. And as if to point to just how much of a lie that really was, he set off this sequence of events that made it all clear:
Watching that play out live on TV was beyond disturbing and frankly scary. We saw military police officials stream onto the White House grounds, then the discordant images of Donald Trump speaking to the nation in the Rose Garden, talking about supporting protest, while those same military members cleared those same protestors away by force. Force that was used against peaceful protestors, exercising their First Amendment rights, and journalists doing the same. You could hear the shots in the background as Trump spoke and why? To prove a point and to clear the way so that Trump could walk across the street to pose in front of an historic church with a bible. Not a bible of any personal importance to him, just “a bible” as he told reporters when asked. And then if we were not clear about his intents in that moment, later that night the military were seen buzzing protestors in a helicopter, trying to disperse them again.
There are many things to be upset and scared about in this moment and I cannot help but feel we will see more of them before this is all over. But that image of Trump in front of that church, in that way, with that bible in his hand as if he was taking a victory lap touched me in a way that I just cannot ignore. But before I go into that, I felt I should share the words of Mariann Budde, the Episcopal Bishop for the Diocese of Washington DC, which that church is a part of:
I was raised a Roman Catholic and while I would not hold myself up as the best or most religious person out there, what I learned from my faith has helped to bring me to where I am. My late grandmother was the president of her local Catholic Women’s League chapter, a catholic school teacher and someone who taught First Communion and Confirmation classes. She was probably my biggest influence when it came to this, teaching me about being good to others, helping those in need and being empathetic. That stuck with me and had a huge impact on my political path in life.
So as a New Democrat who happens to be Catholic, there has always been this struggle that I know I am not alone in feeling. That struggle comes from those who want to co-opt the words of Jesus Christ for their own purposes, to try to claim all of Christianity as a right-wing religion and try to use the Bible as a wedge to get political gain. Of course, that was quite the opposite of what Jesus Christ taught. Jesus taught about love for one another, embracing those who are our enemies and helping those who are struggling. Those are all the opposite of what Donald Trump did last night. Or maybe it’s better put by Terry Moran, a reporter with ABC in the US, who quoted this Bible verse to make the point:
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites.” Is there any better verse to describe this moment, this President and his coterie? I am someone who has done his best to not pass judgement on the spirituality of others in public life, but in this moment, I just cannot avoid it. I cannot help but agree with Bishop Budde because she speaks the truth. That moment last night was not about embracing the Floyd family or praying for their loss. It was not about trying to calm a hurting nation and bring solace to the masses. It was all about trying to make a point, to burnish his own view of himself and to try to erase the image of him being taken to a bunker for his protection on Friday night. Yes folks, it has been reported that what triggered all of this was his ego being bruised about being taken to a safe place. That is the shallowness we are dealing with here and that’s bloody scary.
What we saw last night was not just an act of sacrilege and disrespect, it was an act that was inherently undemocratic and downright dangerous to the future of the nation that has been view as the leaders of the Free World for decades. The scene we saw last night is not something that the World has never seen before. We have seen it plenty of times in the past, in failed states that have descended from democracy to something much worse. We have seen many tin pot dictators rise to power with the Bible in one hand and the flag in the other, but we’ve yet to see it in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
The fact that we have seen this come to America in this way should not sit well with any of us and should scare us all. It should scare all of us who called the United States our neighbour and strongest allies, not only for what is happening on our doorsteps but what it means for our own security in the World as a whole. It should also compel all people of faith, regardless of political persuasion, to speak out loudly against what we saw yesterday. While we disagree on political matters, I would hope that we would agree that was we saw yesterday was not respectful of religion or people of faith. I would hope that we would all speak out against such a nakedly transparent attempt to prop up one’s chances at re-election. I would hope that in this moment that we could agree on that, but I know that I am probably hoping against hope. We are through the red, white, and blue looking glass in this moment, and last nights display was the moment that took us through it. Where it will lead it’s hard to say but at this moment it does not feel like it will lead to a good or positive place. I know that I will be praying that it will, and I know that I will not be alone.