WASHINGTON — One of the most totemic pictures of the Obama era was a White House photo showing the president bowing to let a 5-year-old black boy touch his hair.
As Jackie Calmes reported in The Times, the boy, the son of a departing National Security Council staffer, had shyly told Barack Obama, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”
“Touch it, dude!” the president instructed the child.
It was a moment that summed up all the giddy dreams about race and modernity and a gleaming American future that propelled a freshman senator with an exotic name into office.
Now, one of the most totemic pictures of the Trump era has been tweeted by Melania from the El Paso hospital visited by the first couple amid the blood-dimmed tide of back-to-back gun massacres in Texas and Dayton.
The first lady is holding 2-month-old Paul Anchondo, whose parents, Jordan and Andre, died shielding him from a shooter who confessed to the police that he drove from his home in Allen, Tex., to El Paso to kill Mexicans with an AK-47-style rifle. A manifesto he posted on 8chan, an online forum that’s a haven for white nationalists, stated that he wanted to stop the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
President Trump, standing next to Melania and the baby in the picture, is grinning and giving a thumbs-up.
The infant’s uncle, Tito Anchondo, told reporters that he brought Paul to the hospital to meet Trump, while other victims refused to do so, because he wanted to tell the president about the pain of the family. His slain brother, he said, was a Trump supporter. He told The Washington Post that he felt consoled by Trump.
But still, there is something sickening about the photo. The picture of Obama with a child was luminous with hope and idealism. The one of Trump with a child was dark with pain and shattered ideals.
Devoid of empathy and humanity, Trump is mugging with an infant who will never know his parents. They were shot by a psychopath whose views echoed Trump’s dangerous and vile rants painting people with darker skin — like the baby’s father — as the enemy, an infestation and invasion aiming to take something away from real Americans. It is the same slimy chum thrown out by other Republicans, only more brutally direct and not limited to campaign season.
Even as we absorbed the grotesque image from the hospital, we had to watch the heart-rending footage of Hispanic children sobbing and stranded in Mississippi because their parents, many working at a chicken processing plant, had been rounded up by ICE.
The Post featured a disturbing headline on Monday about a new study: “Risk of Premature Birth Increased for Latinas After Trump’s Election.” The story said, “Researchers have begun to identify correlations between Trump’s election and worsening cardiovascular health, sleep problems, anxiety and stress, especially among Latinos in the United States.”
The shining city on a hill is an ugly pile of rubble.
Even on this most tragic of weeks for so many families, Trump was obsessing on himself, on his crowd size compared with Beto, and on whether he was getting enough obeisance from Ohio pols.
It defies one’s faith in the good sense and decency of America that we cannot stop the deluge of shooting rampages — even at a time of unprecedented weakness for the N.R.A. and the loathsome Wayne LaPierre, with the gun lobby awash in coup attempts and corruption.
Gun control has the aspect of an intractable problem when it is anything but. Inexplicably and abhorrently, we have decided to live with periodic human sacrifices. That became clear in 2012 in Newtown after the slaughter of the “beautiful babies,” as Joe Biden called the dead first graders. If that didn’t shock the soul enough to act, what could?
We’ve heard Trump talk about talking sense into N.R.A. officials three times now, during the 2016 campaign and after the Parkland shooting and again Friday after his sympathy calls in Dayton and El Paso. The first two times, he caved to the N.R.A. quickly.
Yet temperamentally, Nixon-to-China, Trump is suited to that job. Even though he’s a belligerent, he’s not so enamored of war and guns. “My sons love hunting,” he once tweeted. “I don’t.” He’s no gun nut; he’s a former Democrat from New York who likes to golf.
If he wanted to lead a crusade to get real background checks — or even a ban on assault weapons, which he said in a 2000 book that he favored — he would be formidable.
There is some movement now because the Republicans are scared — not of the shooters but of suburban voters.
For the most part, Republicans are gun owners and Democrats aren’t. But Republican voters are more supportive of common-sense gun control than elected members, who are wallowing with the swamp creatures at the N.R.A.
Mitch McConnell, Dr. No, won’t want to do anything; his spokesman was backing away on Friday. That same day, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, John Barrasso, pumped the brakes on possible inroads, background checks and red-flag laws.
If the president and Republicans come up with anything at all, it will be a remedy just marginal enough to give themselves cover, denying Democrats a powerful campaign issue.
Moscow Mitch and Dreadful Donald will keep talking compromise and hope that things settle down by September, when Congress gets back.
But point-blank: Our Republican leaders are cowards.
We shouldn’t let things die down. Because people keep dying.
In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren writes about the possible meaning behind Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (see John 2:13-17):
Perhaps it is not merely the cost of sacrifice that Jesus protests. Perhaps it is the whole belief system associated with sacrifice, based on the fundamental, long-held belief that God is angry and needs to be appeased with blood. Perhaps Jesus is overturning that belief right along with the cashiers’ tables, right along with the whole religious system built upon it. . . .
More than seven hundred years before Jesus, Hosea dared to say that God desired compassion, not sacrifice [see Hosea 6:6]. . . . Around the same time, Isaiah dared to say that God found sacrifices disgusting when people weren’t seeking justice for the oppressed (Isaiah 1-2). And centuries earlier, the poet-king David made the audacious claim that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice, but desires a “contrite spirit” and “truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51). In other words, . . . when [Jesus] said sacrifice wasn’t necessary . . . he was siding with the prophetic and mystical/poetic traditions within Judaism, even though that set him against the traditions of the priests and scholars. . . .
When the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Micah come along, they don’t advocate rejecting religion and culture, even though they are highly critical of its spiritual hypocrisy and social injustice. They want their religion to expand, to evolve, to learn and grow. The same is true with Jesus. He came, he said, not to abolish or replace, but to fulfill what came before him [see Matthew 5:17]. . . . [Or “transcend and include,” as Ken Wilber would say.]
The spirit of goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness, Jesus said, is always moving. Like wind, like breath, like water, the Spirit is in motion, inviting us to enter the current and flow.
The problem is that we often stop moving. We resist the flow. We get stuck. The word institution itself means something that stands rather than moves. When our institutions lack movements to propel them forward, the Spirit, I believe, simply moves around them, like a current around a rock in a stream. But when the priestly/institutional and prophetic/movement impulses work together, institutions provide stability and continuity and movements provide direction and dynamism. Like skeleton and muscles, the two are meant to work together.
For that to happen, we need a common spirituality to infuse both our priestly/institutional- and our prophetic/movement-oriented wings. The spirituality will often be derived from the mystical/poetic/contemplative streams within our tradition. Without that shared spirituality, without that soul work that opens our deepest selves to God and grounds our souls in love, no movement will succeed and no institution will stand. . . . It’s the linking of action and contemplation, great work and deep spirituality, that keeps the goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness flowing.
Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.
The American people are collateral damage in the president’s trade conflicts.
The Trump administration has been trying out a fresh line with the American public of late: Patriotism requires sacrifice.
As the president’s trade wars drag on, putting the economic bite on a growing number of Americans, his team is scrambling to put a nationalist gloss on his protectionist gamble, spinning it as a noble crusade in which the individual interest must be subordinated to the greater good.
Sure Americans “pay a little bit,” Mr. Trump acknowledged in a speech to real estate professionals in mid-May. “But it’s worth it.”
Concerned about losing support among rural voters caught in the tariff crossfire, he recently issued a Twitter proclamation that America’s “Patriot Farmers” would eventually be “the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now.” Until then, he plans to subsidize impacted producers. Last Thursday, the Agriculture Department announced that it would provide up to $16 billion in farm aid, to be financed, the president has said, using the “massive Tariffs being paid to the United States for allowing China, and others, to do business with us.”
Mr. Trump failed to mention who pays those “massive Tariffs.” (Hint: Americans.) But he has never been one to let details get in the way of a good plotline.
The president’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has been more frank about the United States-China showdown. “Both sides will suffer,” he said after trade talks with China broke down earlier this month. But the “possible improvement in trade and exports and open markets” make the suffering “worthwhile,” he added. “You’ve got to do what you got to do.”
Republican lawmakers, usually a free-trade-loving bunch, have taken up the cause as well. Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania allowed that tariffs are “absolutely painful and dislocating,” but he reasoned that, someday, Americans might look back and say they were “worth the price.”
And when it comes to wrapping tariffs in the flag, no one can touch Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Yes, the trade war will require “some sacrifices on the part of Americans,” he said, but the costs “will be pretty minimal” compared with those paid by American troops serving overseas and our “fallen heroes.”
Give Mr. Cotton debate points: Few would dispute that being killed in action is more of a hardship than paying a little extra for spark plugs or baseball mitts or live eels.
Fewer still would make such a tasteless comparison.
Previous presidents have appealed to Americans’ patriotism in wartime. In peacetime, President Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural entreaty — “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” — inspired an entire generation.
The Trumpian call to duty, however, is a particularly bold — even counterintuitive — choice for a president whose core message has always been that he can save anxious Americans from having to make tough choices, to adapt to economic changes or to face scary cultural shifts. His pledge to Make America Great Again has never been about helping move the nation into the future, but about easing it back into a more comforting past. In his capacity as Strong Leader, he has vowed to take care of everything, and it is all going to be “so easy.”
There is, in fact, no problem so big or so complex that Mr. Trump has not boasted of his ability to fix it quickly and painlessly.
- Repealing and replacing Obamacare with a better, cheaper system? Easy.
- Returning domestic manufacturing to its heyday? Easy.
- Lowering gas prices?
- Ending the drug problem?
- Dealing with China? Easy, easy and easy.
- Restoring cultural and economic security by erecting a big, beautiful border wall that Mexico will pay for? Piece. Of. Cake.
Of all Mr. Trump’s grandiose claims, his pledge to restore lost manufacturing jobs remains among the most heartbreaking. “Don’t move. Don’t sell your houses,” he soothed voters in the Rust Belt town of Youngstown, Ohio, in 2017. “They’re all coming back,” he promised of the jobs and prosperity.
In the meantime, Mr. Trump has no intention of abandoning his penchant for making impossible promises. At a rally in Montoursville, Pa., last week, he went on and on about how he had saved American industry, saying, “Remember the old days, we actually made our own product.” The president lamented the tens of thousands of factories that have been shuttered post-Nafta, before proclaiming triumphantly, “They’re all coming back!”
Are they, Mr. President?
In the Franciscan view, God did not need to be paid in order to love and forgive God’s own creation. Love cannot be bought by some “necessary sacrifice”; if it could, it would not and could not work its transformative effects. Duns Scotus and his followers were committed to protecting the absolute freedom to love in God. If forgiveness needs to be bought or paid for, then it is not authentic forgiveness at all. Love and forgiveness must be freely given or they do not accomplish their deeply transformative healing. Self-serving love does not change the heart. It must be free and undeserved love or transformation does not happen. (Think about that and you will know it is true!)
I’m not sure many Christians recognize the dangers of penal substitutionary atonement theory. Perhaps the underlying assumptions were never made clear, even though thinking people throughout the ages were often repelled by such a crass notion of God. This theory has become a nail in the coffin of belief for many sincere, thoughtful individuals today. Some Christians just repress their misgiving because they think it implies a complete loss of faith. But I would wager that for every person who voices doubt, many more quietly walk away from a religion that has come to seem irrational, mythological, and deeply unsatisfying to the heart and soul. And these are usually not “bad” people!
Christianity can do so much better, and doing so will not diminish Jesus in the least. In fact, it will allow Jesus to take on a universal and humanly appealing dimension. The cross cannot be an arbitrary and bloody sacrifice triggered by a sin that was once committed by one man and one woman under a tree between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Frankly, that idea reduces any notion of a universal or truly “catholic” revelation to one planet, at the edge of one solar system, in a universe comprised of billions of galaxies with trillions of solar systems. A religion based on required sacrifices is just not glorious or hopeful enough or even befitting the marvelous creation. To those who cling to Anselm’s understanding, I would say, as J. B. Phillips wrote many years ago, “Your God is too small.”