Trump’s SOTU Exposes the Fractured Soul of Our Nation

By Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush

Tonight the President read from his teleprompter and offered what the White House repeatedly called a unifying and upbeat message for the American people titled “Choosing Greatness,” which is an unoriginal theme for Trump’s ego-driven administration. It is a warmed over 1.1 version of “Make America Great Again” which has been the rallying cry of a nostalgic white supremacist, Christian base, whose white knuckled worldview is becoming increasingly lethal to the rest of America.

While Trump plastered a smile on his face as he did his dog and pony show, we must never forget that under the Trumpian flag of “Choosing Greatness,” this administration has passed bigoted laws targeting our Muslim neighbors, ripped children from their parents at the borders, passed a tax law written to benefit the wealthiest, willfully undermined efforts to combat climate change, targeted trans citizens, and fostered a climate of fear and division that is tearing our country apart. “Choosing Greatness” in the Trump lexicon has translated into equivocation in Charlottesville and dangerous increases in hate crimes towards Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, African Americans, and LGBT people as well as dramatic spikes in domestic terrorism that is informed by the warped MAGA sensibility. As the ADL recently reported, extremist-related murders in 2018 were overwhelmingly linked to right-wing, white supremacist extremists who are targeting the rest of us. In the draconian effort of “Making America Great Again” the United States has disposed of a moral compass, and in the quest for “greatness,” our leaders have become small-minded, selfish and mean.

 You cannot call for bridging divides when you yourself are the chief pontificator of walls, built of fear and hatred of the other. 

Trump’s feints during his address towards coalition building and bipartisanship rang hollow and insulting to anyone who has been paying attention to Trump’s words and actions over his lifetime. You cannot call for bridging divides when you yourself are the chief pontificator of walls, built of fear and hatred of the other. For the past three years, since he began his bid for the presidency by gliding down his gilded escalator with a declaration of war on immigrants, Trump has been banging the drum of race-baiting fear – fear of Muslims, fear of Mexicans and Central Americans, and fear of people from what he deemed ‘shithole’ countries, fear of people using the bathroom of their gender, fear a football player kneeling in his demand for justice.  

All of his hateful tweeting and speaking is intended to heighten the sense of threat, and to deepen the divisions and false distinction between who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them.’ He uses fear to create a crisis, making false claims about crime rates, as he did during his address, which he wants to use as an excuse to build a wall. Trump’s Wall is perhaps the most fitting metaphor for what he means by “choosing greatness.” It is an empty, ineffective, insulting symbol of power that is built on a foundation of fear, without impact or relevance for what might constitute a sane, graceful, just and good immigration policy.

Triumphal Trumpianism has created a crisis for the soul of our nation. Jesus reminds us: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Trump was right about one thing in his State of the Union address, America is faced with a decision – will we follow an empty, delusional, aggrandizing call towards greatness? Or shall we as a nation begin to turn ourselves towards goodness, making America good for the very first time?   

 America is faced with a decision – will we follow an empty, delusional, aggrandizing call towards greatness? Or shall we as a nation begin to turn ourselves towards goodness, making America good for the very first time?  

The state of the union is fracturing. We are at an inflection point in our country. Trump is a shiny, orange symbol that begs the question of which way America will be in the future. One way is a way of division, degradation, and diminishment of the many for the benefit of the few. But there is another way. My work at Auburn has introduced me to hundreds, thousands of leaders of faith and moral courage who are working across lines of religion and race, across gender and geography; people who are creating a blueprint, a vision for a new nation, one that has never been, but yet might be, with a foundation of justice that represents the yet unrealized promise of the United States of America.   

There is a new majority that has already arrived in America, we can come together now to relegate the new gilded greatness era epitomized by President Trump to the dustbin of history. 

There is a new majority that has already arrived in America, we can come together now to relegate the new gilded greatness era epitomized by President Trump to the dustbin of history. One of the most hopeful signs at the State of the Union address was the most diverse Congress in terms of religion and gender. We saw the power of possibility in the women dressed in white. Yet our movements for justice are not just about electoral politics. We do not need to wait for an election to do what is right, to turn away from the false idol of “greatness” towards the golden rule of goodness. We can do what we need to do now: trade in fear for curiosity, condemnation for celebration, loud shouting for deep listening to the people who are most affected by the adverse policies and unequal systems of that have been in place for too long. We can begin to live into a promise of a new future that is generous and kind, with policies that reflect the highest values.  

The wellness of our collective soul and the state of our union depend on how we choose.

Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush is Senior Vice President at Auburn and Editor of Voices.

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