The current dynamic at the White House is mesmerizing. Each day we awake to new drama, new surprises. When it seems as if things cannot get any more bizarre or any more dangerous, there is a new crisis, a new explosive wrinkle in an existing scandal or a new domestic or international front which could, at any time, become a powder keg and erupt without warning.
The latest travesty is the President’s unconscionable equating of the “alt-left” (his own fake news term; I know of no such thing as “alt-left”) with the alt-right, a euphemism for neo-Nazis, white supremacists, KKK supporters and assorted bigoted, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic anti-Semites. It is unthinkable that Jews in Charlottesville were sequestered in their synagogue and forced to exit through a back door for their own safety; or that an interracial, interfaith prayer service was terrorized by a torch-bearing mob parading through the street and chanting the Nazi slogan “blood and soil, blood and soil.”
Meanwhile, the moral leadership from the White House continues to be absent. Remember—three whole weeks ago—when General John Kelly was named chief of staff? He was to bring order and discipline to the White House. Many of us were hopeful (because, while we may not respect this President, we revere the office of the Presidency).
Yet, General Kelly’s expression during President Trump’s recent press conference spoke volumes of his success to date.
Then, just over a week ago (time seems to move glacially in this crisis environment), we were overwhelmed with the idea that the President’s bombastic comments might lead to war with North Korea. But this week, his silence in denouncing neo-Nazis and white supremacists is deafening. If these events were submitted as a screenplay, it would be rejected out of hand for lack of believability.
And yet I continue to watch the news.
In my best moments, I convince myself that this is a unique combination of dynamics that I trained for: I was a political science major in my undergraduate years and now I get to experience extraordinary political theatre unfold in real time; I learned about human behavior in Seminary and spent 40 years working in the social justice sector, and now I can observe behavior of a President and his supporters in ways that illustrate true tests of courage and conviction. What I see exposes some of the worst instincts in the human psyche. So, in my best moments, I see my role as a (sometimes obsessive) observer of this relentless saga as a sort of civic duty. But, when I am less confident—and maybe more realistic about my own human failings, I feel like a prurient witness to some slowly unraveling human tragedy—like a rubbernecker at an auto accident from which I simply cannot avert my eyes. My friend Dennis calls it “political porn.”
So what do we do now?
We certainly must not give up on the role that the office of the Presidency of the United States can play in ensuring a stable world. But, neither can we endure any additional erosion of the of the already fragile fabric of civil society. Nor—as events on the Korean peninsula have shown us—can we sustain continuing loss of credibility on the international stage. In the present moment, we are reminded that all faithful and ethical individuals must call out white supremacism and anti-Semitism as abhorrent. And we must name the offender-in-chief as responsible for planting seeds of destruction that can only yield the sourest of fruit. And then, we must be attentive to whatever crisis might be next in line, and then find ways to intercede, acting as instruments of human dignity and respect. Since it seems the President refuses to play such a role, we must assume the mantle of healing and begin sewing us back together, one stitch at a time.