First Lady Melania Trump read from a script “The [Christian] Lord’s Prayer” as part of her introduction of her husband at a rally in Florida, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. She did this at a time when Donald has consistently marginalized Muslims, and when reported hate crimes against Muslims and Jews (in addition to Blacks, Latinx, and LGBTQs) has continually increased since Trump’s election.
Where is this supposed separation of “church and state”? Trump has, though, fortified the already-solid and impenetrable wall between “mosque and state” and “synagogue and state.”
During Trump and Pence’s inauguration ceremonies, six religious clergy offered prayers and Biblical readings atop the balcony of the U.S. Capitol, interspersed by Trump and Pence placing their left hands on a stack of Bibles during their swearing-in ceremonies. And ending the festivities, sounds emanated from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Clergy invited to read and offer prayer at the inauguration included five Christians and one Jew. As I watched the proceedings on TV, I questioned whether I was viewing a presidential swearing-in or, rather, attending an evangelical tent revival as clergy invoked the name of Jesus at least eight times.
Not wanting to exclude Muslins, he said during his inaugural address, in usual Trump fashion, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones — and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth.”
Trumps continual marginalization of Muslims in his rhetoric and in his attempts to impose travel bans against people from the seven majority-Muslim countries where he has no direct business ties are testaments (pun intended) to his feelings about the followers and precepts of Islam.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day (27 January 2017), throughout his ceremonial speech commemorating the Holocaust, Trump denounced the “horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror” while never once mentioning Jews and anti-Semitism.
While the Nazis targeted several groups for interrogation, incarceration, and death, the regime singled out the Jewish people for mass genocide as their “final solution.” Though Trump has only a limited grasp on world history, we should at least assume that even he would know this basic fact.
During a campaign rally speech, in West Palm Beach, Florida, October 14, 2016, Trump said, in part that “The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself….For those who control the levers of power in Washington, and for the global special interests….This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue. This is our moment of reckoning as a society and as a civilization itself.”
Donald Trump may not have a general grasp of politics and history, but he certainly understands how to use of the propaganda of fascism to sway public opinion. Donald will never admit to lifting the sentiments and words almost verbatim from the notorious Protocols (Minutes) of a Meeting of the Learned Elders of Zion.
The Protocols was a fabricated anti-Semitic text dating from 1903 that was widely distributed by Russian Czarist forces to turn public opinion against a so-called “Jewish Revolution” for the purpose of convincing the populace that Jews were plotting to impose a conspiratorial international Jewish government.
The white nationalist website, The Right Stuff, celebrated Trump’s Florida speech. Lawrence Murray wrote an article affirming that “somehow Trump manages to channel Goebbels (Nazi Minister of Propaganda) and ‘Detroit Republicanism’ all at the same time.”
During his recent marathon and rambling White House press conference, Trump was asked by Jake Turx, an orthodox Jewish reporter, about the recent spike in reported anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Turx made it clear, using an agreeable tone, that he was not charging the President of anti-Semitism:
“Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren. You are their zayde,” (an affectionate Yiddish word for “grandfather”). At this point, Trump said, “Thank you.”
Turx then asked his question:
“However, what we are concerned about and what we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There’s been a report out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to….”
Trump cut him off and argued that his was “not a fair question.” He commanded Turx to “Sit down. I understand the rest of your question.”
The President continued, “So here’s the story, folks. No. 1, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life. No. 2, racism, the least racist person.”
Turx again tried to reassure the President that no accusation was intended or implied, but Trump demanded, “Quiet, quiet, quiet!” He accused the reporter of lying when Trump asked for questions that were straightforward and simple.
Trump lashed out: “I find it repulsive. I hate even the question because people that know me. …” Not completing his sentence, Trump added that Turx should have relied on Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu’s, endorsement of him, “instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.”
Trump voices no such indignation when the subject focuses on the promotion of conservative forms of Christianity. Televangelist Pastor Mark Burns, a Donald Trump surrogate who often traveled with his candidate around the campaign trail, warmed up the crowd at a Trump rally in Hickory, North Carolina, March 14, 2016 by calling on Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, to have a “come to Jesus” moment.
Speaking in front of the audience before New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s on-stage question-and-answer session with Trump, Burns declared that Sanders needed to be “saved”:
“Bernie Sanders who doesn’t believe in God. How in the world are we going to let Bernie? I mean really? Listen, Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. He gotta have a come to Jesus meeting.”
Earlier in the campaign, Sanders talked about his connection to his Judaism: “I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being.” He related that his father’s family had been brutally murdered by Hitler during the Holocaust for being Jewish.
While on stage, Trump did not distance himself from Burns’s inflammatory and offensive remarks, but, instead, characterized his rallies as “love fests.” By not standing up to Burns, Trump was complicit in attacking not only Bernie’s faith, but the faith of the entire world Jewish community.
While many Christians view proselytizing as offering the gift of Jesus to the “unbelievers,” many if not most individuals of other faiths and many non-believers consider this as not merely an imposition or as manipulation, but, in fact, consider this as a form of oppression. Christian proselytizing rests on a foundation of Christian privilege and a deep sense of entitlement in a U. S. context.
The concept of “hegemony” describes the ways in which dominant groups successfully disseminate dominant social realities and social visions in a manner accepted as common sense, as “normal,” as universal, and as representing part of the natural order, even at times by those who are marginalized, disempowered, or rendered invisible by it.
Christian hegemony, resulting in Christian privilege, can be understood as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on Christians. It is the institutionalization of a Christian norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be Christian, thereby privileging Christians and Christianity, and excluding the needs, concerns, religious cultural practices, and life experiences of people who are not Christian. At times subtle and often overt, Christian hegemony is oppression by neglect, omission, erasure, and distortion, and also by design and intent.
We cannot, though, conceptualize dominant group privilege monolithically, for we must factor into the equation issues of context and intersectionality of identities. As there is a spectrum of Christian denominations and traditions, for example, so too is there a hierarchy or continuum of Christian privilege based on 1) historical factors, 2) numbers of practitioners, and 3) degrees of social power. Therefore, we need to view forms of privilege along a continuum or spectrum rather than conceiving them as binary opposites.
For the most part, Christian privilege involves the notion that one does not have to educate oneself — to become familiar – with the religious beliefs and customs of other religious communities. On the other hand, members of these other, often invisible, communities need to be familiar with Christian traditions and customs not only because of the massive promotion (hegemony) of Christian religious and cultural practices, but also as a necessary condition for emotional and often physical survival to negotiate between the dominant Christian culture and their own ethnic and religious cultures.
Since first erected, that Jeffersonian wall of separation between “church and state” has suffered from increased battering and now barely stands as a worn and tattered ruin. Candidates and elected officials don their Christian credentials like armor to repel potential attacks on their motivations and character.
Everyone has the right to hold any, or no, religious beliefs as they consider appropriate to suit their lives. This is a basic constitutional right, and more importantly, a basic human right to which all are entitled.
Many of the framers of the United States Constitution were supremely (pun intended) aware of the dangers of entangling religion with governmental public policy and affairs. But while Trump demands the construction of a high and sturdy wall separating the United States from Mexico and a veritable wall preventing Muslims from entering, he, as other Presidents before him, have taken a wrecking ball to the wall separating “church and state.”
So then, how “separate” are religion and government in the United States? Where is the peoples’ right to freedom from religion?
Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld is author of Warren’s Words: Smart Commentary on Social Justice (Purple Press); editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon Press), co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge) and Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), and co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life (Beacon Press).
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