By Rev. Dr. Jason Coker, Field Coordinator, CBFMS; reprinted from Baptist News Global
In the past month we have seen one set of fears replaced by another, which has made the deep division within American society even more visceral. President-elect Donald Trump recognized the fear in many Americans and leveraged that fear for his advantage in the presidential election just a couple of weeks ago. There was a deep-seated fear of immigration and immigrants from a large portion of President-elect Trump’s supporters. His rally cry of “build the wall” spoke to these supporters — spoke to their fear of the other. This is why those who opposed President-elect Trump’s rhetoric called him and his campaign xenophobic — the word literally means fear of the other or fear of the foreign(er). Immigration was also conflated into terrorism, which only stoked the fire of fear.
Another layer of fear that the Trump campaigned capitalized on was economic fear. It is true that economic inequality is higher now than it has been since the Great Depression. The middle class is shrinking and even the upper-middle class is feeling the squeeze, while the poor continue to suffer. The Rust Belt is an example of the anxiety that comes with this kind of fear. Jobs have been outsourced and globalization has taken a toll on Middle America — both economic and geographic Middle America. Many wealthy people in America — especially those in the top 10 percent of the tax bracket — certainly voted for their best interests with the hope that they would not have to pay higher taxes.
Others in this palimpsest of fear worried about the moral fabric of our country. The “Make America Great Again” slogan spoke to these supporters about bygone days before Roe v. Wade, same-sex marriage, and all the other modern moral issues that conservatives truly disagree with. While President-elect Trump has never in his life exemplified anything remotely close to an evangelical Christian lifestyle, he won the support of evangelicals in overwhelming numbers because he took a conservative platform on these issues. It is truly hard to imagine the vast majority of evangelical Christians in America voting for a person who has made millions (if not billions) off of casinos and strip clubs — not to mention his multiple extra-marital affairs — but that’s the power of fear.
The other layer of fear comes not so much from President-elect Trump but from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Beyond the Trump campaign, there are millions of Americans who were, and are, afraid of Clinton. Whether justified or not, many Americans did not vote for Donald Trump as much as they voted against Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton’s political life has been plagued by one scandal after another, and if it hasn’t been her scandals, it has been her husband’s. In all of these scandals, she has never been convicted of a crime. She has never been found guilty of breaking the law. This can only mean that she is smarter than her opponents, innocent or both. In any case, these scandals have created a sincere fear in many, many Americans.
When you are afraid, you want change! That may be a universal truth. I’ve never met anyone who likes to be afraid. And everyone who I’ve met who lives in fear wants something better. This is probably why fear is such an incredible motivating factor. Many people who voted for Donald Trump were afraid before he ever ran for president. His campaign capitalized on those fears, pushed those fears to an extreme, and it paid off.
Now there’s a trade-off in fear. All those who were afraid, and who the Trump campaign took advantage of, have been appeased. Much of their fear has been turned into courage, which has created a spike in crimes against minorities — specifically Muslims, Latinos/as and African Americans. The fear from the supporters of President-elect Trump has turned into fear for those who opposed his campaign. There is real fear among those who are on the losing side of this election. This fear, whether real or imagined, has been terrorizing and debilitating many Americans.
I met a same-sex married couple who were truly terrified that their marriage would be annulled under President-elect Trump’s administration. This was, in fact, a part of his platform. For millions of couples across America, this is a real threat to their married life. Whether one agrees or disagrees with gay marriage, the fear gay and lesbian couples have is real. The life they have built together is in jeopardy, and this is a real fear for the LGBTQ community. It at least equals the fear that more conservative people in America have about the moral fabric of this country.
Just last week I was in San Antonio, Texas, and met a Latina woman who is scared for her 8-year-old son and her extended family. Her father is an undocumented resident, but she was born in the United States as was her son. Her son has been crying every night since the election, worried that his grandfather and even his mother will be deported. She tried to comfort him every night, but she knows that her father is still undocumented and could be sent back to his country of origin. This cry and prayer of a little boy in Texas comes from real fear. The fear from those who supported “a wall” has been transferred to this little boy.
The problem that this election season has brought to the fore is that we have been dealing with issues rather than humans. There are too many lines in the sand that have been drawn to demarcate our own personal fears. We have built coalitions of fear that are blinded to the humanity of others — on both sides of the political aisle. We shout xenophobes, racists, misogynists and Islamophobes in one direction and anti-American, unpatriotic and bleeding-heart liberal in the other direction. All the while, we do this at our own peril. I cannot be fully human when I dehumanize any other human being. I dehumanize myself when I dehumanize another. By recognizing the fear and anxiety in others and responding with love and justice, I become more human and more humane.
Whether this move toward becoming human is reciprocated or not, it is the move that movement makers have always made. May we all have the courage to make it.