“All men are created equal.” Just words, right? Wrong. These five words, contained in the Declaration of Independence, were as revolutionary as the war they sparked. They proclaimed that we were, in Lincoln’s words, a “new nation,” built on not so base a foundation as ethnicity but on “liberty, and ... the proposition that all men are created equal.”
In the wake of his alleged racist slurs against “hut-dwelling” Nigerians and “HIV-infected” Haitians, I fear President Trump doesn’t realize the importance of—or much care for—the Declaration’s promise of equal citizenship. I fear he doesn’t see us as equal citizens. President Obama asserted that ”[t]here is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America—there’s the United States of America.” Trump seems determined to lead a Divided States of America. To be not commander-in-chief, but divider-in-chief.
Past presidents met divisive times with united visions. When terrorist Dylann Roof met the open arms of his Christian hosts with a closed mind of hatred, President Obama pushed for “unity and … fellowship”; in the confused aftermath of 9/11, President Bush implored Americans that Muslims “need to be treated with respect.” To Bush and Obama, Muslims and African Americans are as American as Protestant Whites.
Trump’s different. Rather than closing gaps, he opens them. As Mitt Romney wrote in reference to Trump’s equivocating Charlottesville speech, “In homes across the nation, children are asking their parents what this means. Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims are as much a part of America as whites and Protestants. But today they wonder. Where might this lead? To bitterness and tears, or perhaps to anger and violence?” These are the words of a leader—of a deeply religious man who sees all humans as God’s children. They call to mind President Jimmy Carter’s New Testament Christianity—a devotion that gave Carter an inner peace that, on a summer day in Camp David, helped him forge outer peace between Egypt and Israel. Carter brought people together; Trump drives them apart.
One wonders what resides in Trump’s heart. One wonders whether he sees all Americans as children of God with a sacred core of equal dignity. It’s indisputable that a segment of his base doesn’t; does he?
America is undergoing a crisis of identity. It asks: Who are we? It asks: What stitches together this multi-colored fabric? Something so base as an immutable characteristic? As race or religion? Wasn’t America’s innovation the fundamental recognition that we are, or should be, more than some stereotype of our group identity?
To white nationalists, to supremacists, and to neo-Nazis, racial unity trumps national unity; the legislative and judicial branches of the American government are enemies, brimming with elitist “cucks.” The rule of law—protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority—is the grandest enemy of all.
And yet. The president, like previous presidents, is duty-bound to provide a vision. The president—theoretically—speaks for all of us. Trump’s only speaking for some of us. He’s dividing us, granting credence not to that grand dream of America set forth in the Declaration of Independence but to that narrow nightmare of white nationalists: denying non-whites and immigrants equal dignity along with equal citizenship.
During the 1978 Camp David Accords, President Carter’s inner peace empowered him to produce outer peace. President Trump possesses no such power; his inner core is not one of peace but, instead, one of apparent turmoil. His mind is a narrowed one, full of fear of “HIV-infected” Haitans, of Mexican “criminals” and “rapists,” of “hut-dwelling” Nigerians. His motto counters that famous refrain marking American currency—E pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” His motto is “out of one, one.”
Like Mitt Romney, I fear the result.
An earlier version of this article was published at The Good Men Project. It is republished here with permission.