If Donald J. Trump successfully concludes his so-far-dominant push to become this year’s Republican presidential nominee, North Carolinians will have played a role.
Some will view that role as a source of pride – others as an embarrassment. The chasm between those perspectives says much about our differences in values, attitudes, priorities and beliefs.
A country as big and diverse as ours is bound to generate disagreements over the proper missions of government and the policies needed to carry out those missions. Trump’s appeal, however, isn’t rooted in the policies he advocates, which are sketchy at best. His opponents in the Republican primary campaigns by and large have been unable to engage him with policy arguments.
Instead the contests have been fought on Trump’s turf, where what matters most has been an ability to stoke and channel voters’ grievances and fears. In that ability, Trump has excelled. And in North Carolina’s March 15 Republican primary, the bumptious billionaire collected the most delegates with 40.2 percent of the vote.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, with strong support from conservative Christian evangelicals, ran a competitive second at 36.8 percent, but his overall delegate count continues to lag Trump’s. Gov. John Kasich’s win in his home state of Ohio keeps him in the race, sort of. His hope is to somehow benefit from a stop-Trump movement arising from within the Republican Party as leaders recoil at the prospect of loose-cannon Trump becoming their nominee.
It’s alI their fault
North Carolinians who are resentful, frightened and angry may be among the workers marooned by the collapse of traditional manufacturing industries amid the rush to globalize. Even if they have jobs, they may be feeling the effects of prolonged wage stagnation that makes it hard to get ahead. They may suspect it’s only a matter of time before their neighborhoods, their families, get caught up in a terrorist attack.
Job losses, economic insecurity, terrorist threats are real problems that any credible candidate for president must confront. Trump’s formula for confronting them, however, is the tried-and-true one of the demagogue – combine blame and hate.
If jobs have evaporated, he would have us believe, it’s not only because of global economic shifts that have benefited some Americans while penalizing others. It’s also somehow the fault of immigrants – unfairly tarred as a group by Trump as violent criminals — who should be rounded up and shipped beyond the wall he vows to build along the Mexican border.
Because of the threat posed by some Muslim fanatics, Trump would suspend entry by all Muslims into this country – a massive exercise of guilt by association that would cloud U.S. relations with the Muslim world even further.
If Trump manages to surmount the remaining obstacles to his nomination, a critical choice voters will face as the presidential campaign unfolds goes beyond whether to embrace his blustery “make America great again” appeal — an appeal resting on misguided assumptions that this country can enforce its will via threats, confrontations and the exercise of raw, top-down power.
They will make a choice bearing on America’s relationship to the rest of the world, including other global heavyweights such as China and Russia as well as countries brimming with marginalized, alienated people who are ripe candidates for recruitment into anti-democratic terrorism.
When it comes to the hard realities of international affairs, the classical Christian ethic of turning the other cheek becomes increasingly problematic in response to insults that may even veer into acts of war.
It’s for folks with more forbearance than mine to maintain that an assault such as the U.S. endured on Sept. 11, 2001 should not have warranted an armed response, with the dual aims of punishing the perpetrators and deterring further attacks. Yet, 15 years and two wars later, it seems that our power-flexing policies, with all the sacrifices they’ve demanded, somehow have encouraged radical Islamic terrorism to metastasize.
Trump has gotten considerable mileage out of his claim that the religion of Islam embodies “tremendous hatred” of America. Naturally, that claim serves to fire up hatred of Muslims among his followers. It risks becoming a self-fulfilling and self-defeating prophecy.
Then, too, what about the many Muslims who are loyal, peace-loving American citizens, perhaps even members of our armed forces? Such distinctions apparently are too fine for Trump. But to ignore them is to betray one of this nation’s greatest strengths, as embodied in “E Pluribus Unum.”
Divided we fall
As for immigrants from Latin America, they are pursuing the most widespread of human goals – to provide better lives for themselves and their children. They are willing to work incredibly hard at jobs that in many cases would otherwise go unfilled, or perhaps to create their own jobs through ingenuity and entrepreneurship.
In a country whose entire history has been enriched by immigration, it’s an insult to that legacy now to point to the latest generation of newcomers as an ongoing threat to our economy and community well-being. This, while standing against reforms that would facilitate orderly paths to citizenship for the undocumented.
Trump points in that fashion because, among the sometimes desperate voters who are his core supporters, immigrants make easy scapegoats. We don’t have to look far for instances when scapegoating of vulnerable minorities became a hallmark of repressive regimes.
As Trump campaigned across North Carolina, there were challenges to his counterproductive doctrine of Us versus Them. The protesters who disrupted his rallies gave him even more targets on whom to sic his supporters with rhetoric that occasionally lurched into outright incitement of violence.
The candidate’s capstone North Carolina event came the day before the election at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory. The Charlotte Observer reported that more than 1,000 of his partisans, along with several hundred protestors, remained outside a filled-to-capacity auditorium. The pro-Trump chant: “Build that wall!”
In the Observer’s account, it fell to the Rev. Tim Taylor, a Lutheran pastor from Raleigh, to articulate a dissenting view.
“We’re called to care for one another, to love one another and to find ways not to divide one another,” Taylor said. “There are enough things to divide us. We don’t need to think up more.” It’s a perspective that should resonate as Americans in the coming weeks and months decide which of our would-be next presidents is best suited to keep this nation prosperous and secure.