The blog post below by my longtime friend and United Church of Christ Minister Jim Burklo so well encapsulates many of my concerns regarding the challenge to our Constitution and standing in the world posed by President Donald Trump that it felt redundant to fashion my own treatment of this same basic subject matter. Jim is the associate dean of religious life at the University of Southern California, the author of three books, a former church pastor, and prominent spokesperson for the movement known as “Progressive Christianity.” The only addition I will make to his essay below will be to add to the end of his quotes from President Trump a fourth one from the current (February 13 & 20) edition of The New Yorker magazine, which places in highly sobering context the seriousness of the concerns many millions of people across the country have after the troubling first three weeks of the new administration.
“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” Donald Trump, 2/4/17
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Donald Trump, 2/5/17
“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Donald Trump, 11/17/16
“Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers. There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history.” Adam Gopnik, 2/17
America is not bound together by the Constitution. We are bound together by something deeper: the faith in democracy from which our Constitution emerged, and through which it has enduring meaning. That faith is being undermined by our President.
We in the resistance to the agenda of Trump and the Republicans have an overflowing bucket of issues to engage. There are dozens of dreadful policies being proposed and enacted, all demanding our vigorous response.
But we need to distinguish these debacles from the worst crisis of all, which has nothing to do with partisan politics. Trump’s lies about massive voter fraud are going to weaken Americans’ faith in elections. His top advisor told the press to shut up. Trump himself refers to the media as a whole as the “lying press”: he clearly aims to discredit any source of news except his own office.
His insult attacking the authority of the federal judge who ruled against his Muslim ban will weaken Americans’ trust in the balance of powers enshrined in the Constitution. Without the people’s faith in democracy, without our trust that our system of government can correct itself through elections and courts and the sanitary sunlight cast by a free press, the Constitution becomes nothing more than kitty-litter liner.
Trump swore to protect and defend this document. In just a few weeks, he has repeatedly violated his oath of office.
We’re so caught up in the thicket of outrageous rhetoric and inhumane executive actions and bills proposed in Congress that we are losing sight of the forest because of all the trees. Because we’re bombarded by lies and outrages daily from Trump, we lose sight of the gravity of individual instances of his behavior. We must distinguish between many things that matter a lot and the one thing that matters most of all.
Trump’s attack on our faith is a non-partisan, bi-partisan national crisis. It is just as threatening to Constitution-loving Republicans as it is to Constitution-loving Democrats. That is why it is essential to separate this extremely serious problem from all the others imposed by the Trump administration. Some Republicans are speaking up, notably Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said on February 5:
“We don’t have ‘so-called judges,’ we don’t have ‘so-called’ senators, we don’t have ‘so-called’ presidents. We have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution…”
Our system is antique, it’s flawed, and it needs serious reforms. However, in order to change it, all Americans, regardless of their political views, must maintain the trust in democracy that “protects and defends” our Constitution. We must work constitutionally to change the Constitution.
Is the sum of Trump’s attacks an impeachable offense? I don’t know. But whether or not it is constitutional for a president to undermine the Constitution, Trump is doing something at least as bad as “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
So here’s the message I hope we’ll send to our president, and to all members of Congress and the Senate, urging them to say the same. It is a message to pass along to our friends and colleagues, urging them to contact their elected officials:
“We, the people, demand that President Trump immediately, publicly, and unequivocally repent of his attacks on the foundations of our democracy. By lying that three to five million votes were cast fraudulently on November 8, by referring to a federal court jurist as a ‘so-called judge,’ by calling reporters ‘the lying press,’ among other statements, he has violated his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. His words undermine the trust of the American people in the integrity of our elections, the authority of our courts, and the sanctity of press freedom. Because of the weight of the authority of his office, his words dangerously erode the faith of Americans in the principle underlying our Constitution, without which it becomes a worthless piece of paper. We disagree on all manner of public policy questions. But we join together to defend democracy and the validity of the structures of our government. Through them, our policy disagreements can be resolved and rectified. We ask all members of Congress and all senators, regardless of party affiliation, to join us in this demand, for the sake of the survival of our democracy and the preservation of our national solidarity.”
The gist of the story above: Howard University invited renowned classical singer Marian Anderson to perform a concert in Washington, D.C. in 1939, but their campus facilities could not accommodate the expected crowd. Attention shifted to Constitution Hall, but it was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, who had a strict policy of no black performers. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a DAR member herself, intervened, but to no avail. Roosevelt then resigned from the organization and instructed her staff to search for a different venue. One of them suggested the Lincoln Memorial. Some 75,000 people attended the 25-minute concert, which began with this one minute and nineteen seconds of U.S. cultural history.
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Deep appreciation to the photographers!
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration of U.S. Constitution by DonkeyHotey, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
Flag photo by DVIDSHUB, from the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435, Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, as flown at half-mast on September 11, 2011, the 10-year anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/