The effect of the executive orders and tweets from the first two weeks of President Trump’s administration is to divide us along ethnic and religious lines and to raise distrust among the groups.
The distraction allows the administration to curtail the civil rights of Muslims, Mexicans, LGBTQs and other vulnerable groups. For example, efforts to deprive women of birth control and responsibility and choices regarding their reproductive health affect mostly poor, and thus vulnerable, women.
The religious leaders who comprise the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta find these actions deeply immoral because morality is about how we treat each other. The administration’s actions try to make us see one another as enemies whose motives and intentions cannot be trusted. These actions are in direct opposition to the teachings of the great religions that we should treat others as we want to be treated.
The Constitution prohibits using a person’s religion or lack thereof as a consideration for holding office. This implies that such considerations have no place in the civic life of our country. The ban on Muslims from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering this country is directly counter to that understanding.
That is not to deny terrorism is a threat to our country. But a religious test for immigrants won’t work and is counterproductive. Terrorists across the world have cited religion as the motivation for their actions.
However, both religious leaders and laity have denounced them as not consistent with the core teachings of their religion and have worked with authorities to prevent such actions.
The majority of terrorist attacks in this country have been by right-wing Christians, yet we don’t have any problem in distinguishing them from the Christian teachings of love, compassion and peace. Banning immigration from countries that haven’t produced terrorists who have attacked us, while omitting those who have, shows that the ban is not about protection but about increasing fear among the populace.
Similarly, the proposed wall along the Mexican border has little to do with keeping out workers who compete with Americans for jobs. For the past couple of years, more people crossed from the United States into Mexico than the reverse. The wild accusations that those entering illegally across the border are mostly drug traffickers, rapists and murders are designed to raise fear of the “other.”
The tweets and speeches about the numbers of people attending Trump’s inauguration or the purported three million illegal votes for Hillary Clinton have the effect of deepening the existing rift between those who supported Trump and those who didn’t. Those divisions prevent us from uniting to protest actions contrary to the core values of democracy.
History has shown that when people are afraid, they become more susceptible to promises of safety in return for giving up some of their civil liberties. Ben Franklin warned, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
We must counteract the calls to fear and tribalism by using our actions and words to emphasize our common needs and aspirations – good schools for our children; well-maintained roads and bridges; good health care; security in our old age; jobs that pay a living wage; and safety on our streets and in our homes.
In a previous time of national crisis, Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “A house divided cannot stand.” It is our job to stand against division.
(The writer is president of the Progressive Religious Coalition of Augusta, and wrote this on the group’s behalf.)