GOP candidate for president, Mitt Romney, has refused to repudiate Donald Trump, though the reputed billionaire continues to promote “birther” fantasies, the idea that President Obama was not born in the United States.
Romney’s apparent rationale for continuing to associate with Trump is “I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
What’s “good” about continuing to blow a racial dog-whistle in a presidential campaign? It is no secret that “birtherism” is racial code for “he’s not one of us.” More disturbing than Romney’s failure to disassociate himself with Trump and the birther fantasies, however, is labeling someone “good” who holds them. “Birtherism” itself is a troubling ethical failure that reveals how deeply divided Americans are on race despite their religious views that each person is created by God.
Despite decades of seeming progress on transcending racial divides, this racial gulf remains. Presidential campaigns expose this not only as candidates are selected and what those candidates say, but also through their “surrogates.” Trump’s function in the Romney campaign seems to be precisely to play the race card through birtherism. It speaks volumes to those whose ultimate choice in a Presidential candidate will be determined by the race of that candidate. Why aren’t we past this kind of division?
“Men in Black 3” premiered this weekend, knocking the comic book romp, “The Avengers,” out of its number one spot. Men in Black is a series of very popular films starring Will Smith and “Tommy Lee Jones” as two agents of a secret organization that polices aliens. One of the continuing sources of edgy humor in this series of movies is Smith (Agent J) being African American, a “man in black”; in the current film, Agent J has to travel back in time to 1969 to save a young Tommy Lee Jones (played by Josh Brolin), aka Agent K. The Will Smith character is told, as he prepares to jump through time to 1969, to be careful because that era was not that good for “for your people.” Smith’s face portrays the irony of it all: How good is 2012 for African Americans? This “man in black” is subject to prejudice in either decade. It is a brilliant, and poignant moment.
Why can we not make more progress on race? In 1969, as a college religion major supporting the Civil Rights movement, I never believed the racial divide in this country would survive this long. It is incredibly frustrating that racism is not only surviving, but even thriving, morphing into other forms to send racial signals. As a pastor, as a teacher and as a citizen, I experience this failure as enormously frustrating.
Mainstream Republicans are also frustrated that the birther fantasies will not go away. Trump’s birther views being associated with the Romney campaign frustrates George Will, for example. Will expressed this in erudite fashion this weekend, wondering what could be the cost/benefit analysis for Mitt Romney in the Trump association. What is the advantage to Romney, wondered Will, in the Trump association? On Sunday, Will called Trump a “bloviating ignoramous.”
But my own frustrations transcend those of George Will. Trump himself is not the cause of the racial divides that birtherism reflects today. His trumpeting these views, and Romney’s refusal to repudiate him for expressing these views, are a symptom of a failure of our faith traditions. We are a nation that expresses overwhelming faith in God, by some counts over 90 percent. How can we continue to ignore the religious teachings that we are to treat each other equally because we are all created by God, as Judaism, Christianity and Islam all teach?
“Birtherism,” and the racial signals it sends that the president is ”not one of us,” must be repudiated from a faith perspective. It does not speak well of the values of the Romney campaign that it continues to associate itself with these views through Donald Trump.