The words we hear form what we think. The words we say form what we do. And when powerful people use words, the words have even more power. And so it is that the person who holds the highest office in the land, an office that has been described as the “leader of the free world,” though that moniker is draining away, should choose words carefully. Words make a world.
The words our president uses are beyond embarrassing. We passed that milestone months ago as my friends from other countries puzzled at how we would elect someone who admitted harassing and degrading women. Now, we are into the land of intolerable. Generalizing the people of entire countries is bad enough when each country, like ours, represents amazing individuals with astonishing uniqueness. Using profanity to generalize them is beyond the pale.
As a Christian my faith informs me that God values every person and not one of us has the privilege of devaluing that which God has claimed. Yet, even if the Commander in Chief has no cause to heed God, he might consider common decency. Even while his immigration policies continue to rend asunder the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in our communities, this vulgar rhetoric adds a nefarious layer to the policy tactics.
For the sake of argument, let’s replace his vulgarity with a synonym we don’t mind our children overhearing–something like impoverished, war-torn, devastated (as in by a hurricane or earthquake). And now, without distraction, we have our President saying we should not welcome people from those countries. Nevermind, as several commentators have already pointed out, nearly everyone of us came from a country just like that. My family were Scots-Irish on one side and Welsh on the other, arriving before the United States was birthed. They left behind less than desirable circumstances that some might describe as a “shit-hole.” The Trump family arrived from Germany in 1885, nearly a century and a half after my people. Interestingly, they denied this heritage, untruthfully identifying as Swiss to distance themselves from anit-German sentiment during WWII. Perhaps they left behind less than desirable circumstances that some might describe as a “shit-hole.”
Our President is a racist and a bigot. These are also words we’d prefer our children not overhear. But naming this truth will help us confront the racism and bigotry of the world his words are making. For our part at the Council of Churches, we will continue to see the world through the words of Christ, who said: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:38).