In the way that most health-conscious mothers do, my mom once off-handedly declared potato chips ‘the downfall of society’. Now a health conscious mother myself, I have great empathy toward her desperate but hyperbolic attempt to convince our youthful metabolisms to take heed of their coming threat. However, when I saw the most recent propaganda from the Donald Trump campaign using children to sweetly sing about America crushing the rest of the world, it became immediately clear that his campaign had debunked my mom’s prophetic words.
Speculators lament his campaign as a “national mistake“, hopeful it will at some point clarify itself as a joke, a media circus, or at least a conspiracy to promote Hillary Clinton. Yet what’s hardest to ignore is the number of people who appear to actually support Trump’s ideas. His campaign is no longer as simple as the salty snack that we mistook him for. Our overindulgence on his addictive-but-unhealthy appeal is now cultivating an obese empathy for renewed support of a modern-day inquisition.
In the developed west, we tend to think of Inquisition as an old word, something that belongs with the Spanish in the 15th century. “The scariest thing to me about the word,” writes Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace, “is the way that it can haunt ordinary conversation … When power is so heavily weighted between two people, fear all too easily enters into the equation.”
This is a primary offense of the Trump campaign: it wields power toward anyone who does not fit its mold to make them feel afraid. Immigrants would not be flocking to America in record numbers if the world did not see something unique in our fiber. Yet, the Trump propoganda threatens this long-lived tradition of welcoming the stranger to our shores. Lest we think that such xenophobia is a new concept in the US, our founding father Benjamin Franklin labeled German immigrants “swarthy” and advocated to keep them out of Pennsylvania:
Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”
Germans in his day were demonized for being lazy, ignorant, clannish, unable to assimilate, and unwilling to speak English. They were blamed for a wide array of societal ills including Pennsylvania’s harsh winters. Laws were made against speaking German and German education that were later repealed. Trump is now making similar accusations against immigrants of all backgrounds in the US today. Ironically, he himself is of German heritage.
More than social inequality
While its advocacy of a segregated society is immensely disturbing, promoting social inequality is not the only the hazard of the Trump campaign. At its core, it chips away at the essential foundation of a civil society: conversation. Kathleen Norris offers further wisdom:
The inquisitor has the answers in hand and does not wish to change them. It is good to determine, when someone asks you a question, whether they are asking in a good spirit, or conducting an inquisition. When it is the latter, one may begin to feel that the person one is speaking to is not listening at all but merely biding time. Clicking off the points against you; waiting, like a lion, for the proper time to attack.
Inquisition begins, then, in the human heart. And it is what has occurred in the twentieth century, not the fifteenth, that should most concern us. For it is in our modern, “civilized” age that we have been forced to confront the depth of the inquisitorial spirit.
Ultimately, Norris concludes, the spirit of inquisition manifests itself as “a debilitating suspicion and lack of good will” far more frequently and insidiously than the violent conflicts that dominate headlines. Sadly, it is no longer an exaggeration to compare Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. When the spirit to destroy others with our power supersedes our desire to build unity with them, we will cease to be the United States of America.
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