the death throes of white privilege?

Since Sunday's message (summarized in my posts from Saturday and Sunday) I have had four conversations about this moment in American society - and how bewilderingly terrifying it is. Not because the economy has gone south: over the past 7+ years of the Obama administration we have slowly crept back from the abyss and many - but not all - feel like there is some stability again. And not because the US is any more or less vulnerable to terrorism; the West has now entered the reality of most of the rest of the world and we live with our vulnerability just below our consciousness. No, what is inspiring real fear is the hatred, arrogance and fury embodied in both the candidates running for President and their respective camps in the electorate.

There is a true mob mentality taking hold of our politics, the likes of which many of us have not known in 50 years.  And then, during the white backlash against the Civil Rights movement, it was largely regional. To be sure, Barry Goldwater tapped into white, working class resentment and racism when he ran against Lyndon Johnson. And George Wallace mobilized this portion of the populace a few years later, too. Since 1968, the Republicans - and to a much lesser degree, the Democrats - have skillfully manipulated the racial and economic fears of the working poor and modest middle class voters of white America in what used to be called the "Southern strategy" and "Reagan coalition." Their lesser angels were periodically thrown red meat to keep them engaged - think Willie Horton, the culture wars or gay marriage ballot initiatives - but the full impact of their rage, fear and alienation was never allowed to overshadow the economic pragmatism of those in charge of our mainstream political parties.

Not so any longer:  now that middle class white folk see the daily violence perpetrated upon black lives routinely in America - and have been called to account by strong, disciplined public actions like Black Lives Matter - two things have taken root. First, economically insecure white folk are actively trying to "take back America" by whatever means necessary. Gun violence, intimidation, mob speak and public belligerence have become common place. Second, there is now evidence that this same population - economically insecure and racially threatened white folk - is dying by their own hand at a staggering rate. It is no coincidence, therefore, that given this much pain - real, imagined or manufactured - there would be a vicious political response. And Mr. Trump is a master of massaging the zeitgeist: he is not the cause, of course, he is simply the most talented, media savvy, well-financed and courageous authoritarian demagogue on the scene. Glennon Doyle Melton put it so well today:

The harassment, hate, fear, racism, sexism and xenophobia we are seeing at the Trump rallies is not something that began “lately” either. These have been realities in America forever. Minority communities and women have always known these were realities. Everyone else got to pretend they weren’t. But now cell phones and the Trump campaign are making it difficult for all but the most unconscious to stay asleep. 

Parker Palmer's blog post was equally insightful with a bold confession:  Trump is manipulating the rise of a new American fascism:  

 I don’t speak of “fascism” lightly. One of democracy’s values is open, honest, and civil conversation across lines of political conflict. Calling something or someone “fascist” sounds uncivil, to say the least, and tends to be a conversation-stopper. And yet there are times when no other word will do to name a political phenomenon that can be rationally defined and factually identified, and must be stopped in its tracks. The ultimate conversation-stopper is not the word “fascism” but fascism itself, which aims at shutting down the dialogue of differences that characterizes democracy at its creative best. (read the whole article here:

Since returning to the United States from Montreal seven months ago, I have witnessed the steady escalation of Mr. Trump's rhetoric: he has no plans but knows how to enflame our fears and resentments. He has continued to strong arm, bully, abuse and insult those who disagree with a mean-spirited anger that silences his opponents. And as he was on his reality TV show, he continues to turn potential allies against one another with such skill that he is now the most viable candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. For six months many in the mainstream believed that the best way to handle this nuisance was to ridicule Mr. Trump's bravado. When that didn't work,they tried to ignore and dismiss him as a loud mouthed, political cretin. And when his juggernaut simply picked up more momentum, they tried to pull in the old guard of the Republican party to shut him down with shame. None of it worked.  At least 40% of the Republican electorate - and millions of others who have been so alienated by mainstream politics for the past 30 years that they have been on the fringes to say nothing of those who resent sharing opportunity with women and people of color - are now energized and on the move.  Sadly the "Donald" is not kidding when he brags about bringing people together who have not been engaged in politics for decades.

Finally, there are those who are claiming the courage to call a spade a spade - or in this case
fascist a fascist.. What we are experiencing in the US is happening all across Europe , too. When these vile forces coalesced for the first time back in the 30s, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote:

There are historic situations in which refusal to defend the inheritance of a civilization, however imperfect, against tyranny and aggression may result in consequences even worse than war. The tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism.

His compatriot in resistance in Nazi Germany, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, put it like this:

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther). Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr called  their respective constituents into resistance against fascism in the name of faith, justice and humility. We in the Church today can do no less. Ours must be a non-violent resistance that carefully and honestly challenges not only the lies, but the violence, racism, sexism and stupidity as well.  We may not be successful in the short run. We may face a more terrifying time yet to come. But such is the cost of discipleship. I would much prefer to slip over the border again into my beloved Canada, but that would be an act of privilege not solidarity. And now is the time to dismantle white privilege even in the face of determined opposition..


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