Having it both ways on MLK Day

Dear Rebecca:

My friends at the Trumpist website AmGreatness are having a dilly of a day. First they published this:

On this day, which is no ordinary holiday for no ordinary man, let us speak a truth: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great American. He loved America, not because of the rightness of America, but because of the rights that were (and remain) so absolutely American: the right to protest for right, the right of freedom of assembly, the right of freedom of speech, the right of the freedom of the press.

He was a man of the Word, with a passion for upholding the true meaning of the words of one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. He countered physical force with soul force, because he knew—and it is a testament to the greatness of America—that he could awaken the goodness within the conscience of America.

They also published this:

The nation of immigrants concept is problematic in other ways. If this is the defining mark of the nation, the newcomer is the quintessential American, more American than actual Americans, in spite of his language, manners, and actual political ideas. By ignoring actual voters, a fetish is made of voting, even if the new American uses the procedures of self-government to impose substantive ends like sharia, socialism, or Satanism. The mere act of fleeing a bad place does not show they know or can adapt to the qualities that made this country a desirable place. Like locusts, they may simply be on the move, having destroyed their homelands—whether consciously or by accident—they may now destroy this place, and then move on to destroy another. (Emphasis added.)

This piece, one of the editors says, is one of the most important pieces ever published at AmGreatness. Ugh. It should tell you something about the dark, petty heart of the “Greatness agenda” that its soul is so small and selfish.

I won’t claim to know what MLK would’ve thought about immigrants and immigration. Suffice it to say: Under no circumstances would he have compared immigrants to locusts. He would’ve considered them children of God.


My only hope is that by praising Martin Luther King Jr., someday my friends will try to emulate his example a little more.

That’s all I can say, charitably, today.



Dogs, Fleas, Trump, & Republicans

Hi Joel,

To your own plea with conservatives who continue to support Trump, I share some advice from Ben Franklin (also probably Seneca and definitely my grandma).

You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. 

And the prophet Amos:

“Can two walk together unless they be agreed?”

The Message phrases Amos 3:3 this way: “Do two people walk hand in hand if they aren’t going to the same place?”

You hang out with Trump, you’re going to end up in moral bankruptcy.


Image result for trump hitler

Is it fair to compare Trump to Hitler, as Philadelphia Daily News did in this cover and many, many other newspapers, magazines, and editorial cartoons have done? It might not feel “fair,” but people judge you based on you who hang out with. And many people worldwide have deemed Trump racist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic. They will view you that way, too. Is this the person you want to squander your reputation on? 

“Blood and Faith”

Hi Joel,

I just finished reading Damon T. Berry’s Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism, (Syracuse University Press, 2017). Central to his argument is the idea that white nationalism isn’t framed internally (at least not always) as about hating non-whites but as about “protecting” whiteness. It’s why we see things like “It’s Okay to be White” posters on campuses and warnings about “white genocide.” While no one ever make the argument that it’s not okay to be white or really thinks that the world’s white population will be systematically exterminated, these are appeals to white resentment about losing power–and they are threats to nonwhite people on campuses. Berry eloquently argues that it is “loving attachment to the imagined racial community” that produces racial hatred (14).

Blood and Faith

Above, the cover of Blood and Faith shows a roof with a cross on it. 

As Berry points out, though, none of this is new. In writing about the early 20th century, he observes,

“To many Americans of that era, it seemed like the world was not working for them, the nation was imperiled by elites, a code for Jews, and that there was no future in hoping that any established institutions could set right what was wrong.”

Sound familiar?  This seems to be much of the explanation offered for the 2016 election. Economic reality was not keeping pace with the expectation of entitled whites. Anti-semitism was rising. Republican incompetence and overt efforts to undermine government as a force for the common good were paying off.

By the middle of the 20th century, white nationalists were not just “recovering and recoding old-time racism” as a political strategy for the Republican Party but attempting to

“fix what they regarded as conservatives’ failure to keep central the ideals of race that had previously guided immigrant policies, upheld segregation, and maintained white control of central private and public institutions” (77).

The italics there are mine. Berry is referencing our 1920s immigrant policies, in force through the mid-60s, that placed quotas on immigration based on nation of origin. The goal wasn’t to bring to America the immigrants who most needed to flee or the ones who had the skills to enhance America’s economic or cultural interests but the ones who were white. Mid-century whites were angry that political conservatives weren’t taking up the racist policies of the past. Many of the people Berry profiles wrote for outlets like National Review or were part of the John Birch Society but ultimately didn’t feel that these icons of conservatism were properly anti-Semitic or racist.

The logic of white supremacy is the logic Trump that uses now. There is nothing about a Norwegian (who Trump wants more of) that makes them useful to the US. Indeed, it is immigrants from the places Trump most despises who do so much of the hard work here: farm work, meat packing, sanitation work in hospitals, hotel cleaning, elder care and child care. By Norwegian, Trump just means white. He wants white immigrants.

Trump is not alone in his thinking. Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act that gave us Asian exclusion and quotas for European immigrants. And it stood as law for 40 years over 6 presidents. Berry writes:

“The ideas that defined American white nationalism in the years after World War II were not born in the subterranean currents of the extreme right in the middle and late twentieth century but in the mainstream colonialist logic that began to take shape five hundred years earlier” (74).

In other words, this is a much longer history. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore that this is a strategy of today’s white nationalists.



“Slavery is freedom” for many conservatives.

CW: Racism

Hi Joel,

Trump’s comments calling predominately black nations “shitholes” aren’t just racist comments about those places. They are far more sinister.

This is the logic that underlies one defense of slavery: that enslaved Africans and African Americans were “better off” as slaves in the colonies and the US than they would have been in Africa.

The next part of this argument is that African Americans were better off during slavery than they are now. 

And they should be grateful for the white people who enslaved them.

And, finally, that America itself was better off during slavery.

The bigger argument is that racial oppression is good for the oppressed and the oppressor so we should do more of it.

And Trump isn’t alone in making it.

Roy Moore argued that families were stronger during slavery–showing that he only thinks about “strong families” in terms of white families, he ignores the ubiquitous sexual violence of white men against enslaved women and the enslaved children it produced, and.or he thinks that black families today are so “bad” that they were actually better off under slavery.

This is the logic of The Marriage Vow, a document created by conservative Christians and presented before the 2011 Republican primary candidates. The original draft of the document said:

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African American President.”

Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann signed it, as did Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. The document was later revised to remove the offending passage, and Bachmann’s spokesperson clarified that Bachmann “believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible.”

And by “economic enslavement,” Bachmann means that white people are “enslaved” in a tax system that transfers their wealth to lazy people of color through welfare programs and that black people are “slaves” to the welfare system themselves.

In 2010, Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks said that “far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery.” Yes, in this logic, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and food stamp benefits are worse than life-long, race-based, inheritable enslavement. 

And here’s Pat Buchanan, in 2008, in response to the candidacy of Barack Obama:

“It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”

This was due to the generosity of white Americans. Buchanan argues:

“[N]o people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.”

White people did this, he argues, even though their generosity came at great and unfair cost to white people:

“Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks — with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas — to advance black applicants over white applicants.”

But African Americans, Buchanan says, shaking his head, just can’t be pleased! “We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?”

Here is the sum of Buchanan’s argument: we white people generously brought 600,000 people here, where they flourished, and what do we get? High taxes, high crime, and ingratitude! Ungrateful, of course, is just another word for uppity. 

The implication here is that you can remove the person from the shithole, but you can’t remove the shithole from the person. This is why it didn’t take long for Politico to find some racist Trump fans to guffaw that the NFL, filled with black athletes, some of whom are calling attention to police brutality, stands for “N—- for Life.” It’s not just that the NFL has lots of African American players. This racist logic says that there is some quality of blackness that so deeply engrained that it cannot be socialized out of African Americans. You can give them nice jobs and a million dollar salary, or you can give them emancipation and desegregated schools, or you can give them food stamps and government housing, but it won’t matter: this inferiority can’t be overcome.

In this framework, slavery was a “civilizing” force. Here’s Cliven Bundy, the rancher who led a standoff against federal agents while occupying federal land, and a hero to many libertarians and right-wingers and who, just this week, was released from jail, his case dismissed:

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?… They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Emancipation resulted in less freedom because we replaced slavery with a welfare system that discourages work. That’s not just Bundy. It’s what white conservatives hear every time Michele Bachmann or another Republican suggests that “slavery” and “economic slavery”–paying taxes that support the social safety net–are the same thing.

Better than freedom and more than such shithole people deserve. That’s what many white conservatives think about slavery. 

That African Americans were cut out of the best paying jobs, the unionized ones with pensions, doesn’t matter.

That most people who use welfare benefits are white doesn’t matter.

That we spend more money on wealthfare–subsidized for the already wealthy–and that this money goes disproportionally to white people doesn’t matter.

What matters is that white people believe that their taxes go to support people who are and will always be shithole people.



The Mennonite Future is African, Haitian, and Salvadoran

All our Christian readers and especially our Mennonite readers should be up in arms (I’m not sure how Mennonites do that, but you get the point) about Donald Trump’s hateful comments about African nations, Haiti, and El Salvador.

The Mennonite church is now centered on Africa and Latin and South America. It’s not just that the future of the church is in these parts of the world: the present of it is too. There are just over 500,000 baptized members of Anabaptist churches in the US. Twenty-three African nations have Mennonite communities, including more than 200,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.  And if you look at the obituaries in The Mennonite or other Mennonite publications, you see that we North American white Mennonites are not repopulating. Folks dying in their 80s and 90s now had a dozen siblings, half a dozen children, and half a dozen grandchildren. In contrast, the UN predicts that Africa will be responsible for half of the world’s population growth between now and 2050. Obviously, not everyone born into a Mennonite family chooses to become Mennonite, but the odds are that, just on birth rate alone, Africa and South and Latin America will continue to be the global home of Anabaptism.

Above, the Mennonite World Conference’s map of global Anabaptism, using data from 2015. 

Besides that, Africa and South and Latin America and other places where imperialist powers have historically extracted and continue to extract labor and resources–these are the places where Christianity is growing. The people of these places keep Christianity alive at all. If it was up to the wealthy nations, we would have no faith.






Ellen Kroeker, on those ‘shithole’ countries

Immigration stock photo

Dear Rebecca:

I think you know my friend Ellen Kroeker: Like me, she’s a graduate of Tabor College. And I gather, from the stories she’s told me over coffee, that my own attempts at lefty rabble-rousing at the conservative Mennonite college may pale in comparison to hers. She’s a wonderful person to know.

She’s also got some strong opinions about President Trump’s “shithole countries” comment. I asked if I could share her thoughts here. She gave permission:

Regarding the person installed in the White House and his comments about immigrants from s..hole countries:

Part of my beloved family is African by birth. My Congolese brother-in-law has a PhD in public health.

My father, an immigrant from a war-torn country, was not allowed to come to the United States because he was from a disregarded country (though now, the fact that he had been born in Russia might make him special to the president. )

Thank you, Canada, for giving the kid who saw a beheaded body when he was 4, saw people hung when he was 8, whose father disappeared when he was about 8, whose brother was taken prisoner and nearly died in prison, whose nephew starved to death, thank you, Canada, for not being afraid of an 11 year old and giving him, as well as his brothers, sisters, mother, and tiny niece Mary, refuge in North America. My grandfather, who arrived in North America two years earlier and was allowed into the US was later allowed to bring the youngest kids into the States.

This immigrant family has given this country social workers, nurses, doctors, preachers, teachers, farmers, journalists, writers, policewoman, computer specialists, linguists, truck driver, real estate salesman, antique dealer, banker, video marketer, architect….I’m sure I’m leaving out someone. Mothers and fathers who have raised children to be kind, to be decent, to care about social justice, to serve the poor and the suffering. We are the very fiber of this country. And those who are yet to come from other countries will also be part of the fiber of a country that creates and heals, not this distorted vision of hate and white supremacy that the current person staining the president’s house is promoting.

Gil just finished reading aloud the McCullough biography of John Adams, whose blessing on the White House is engraved on a fireplace there (in the dining room, I think). “…May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” That it is not so, and so blatantly not so at this time, saddens me.

Many American Mennonites can trace their heritage back only a generation or two to the first American generation of their family. We should all be saddened by the president’s comments.


An open letter to my Trump-loving friends, regarding those ‘shithole’ countries and conservative racism

Screen Shot 2017-07-13 at 6.40.50 PM
Technically, he’s white.

Dear Rebecca:

If you don’t mind, I’m going to address this letter to my Trump-loving Republican friends.


Dear Trump-loving Republican friends:

I know we’ve had our differences lately. And I write you feeling some anger about something that happened today. So let me preface this by saying I have your best interests at heart.

This is what your — our — president said today.

President Trump grew frustrated with lawmakers Thursday in the Oval Office when they floated restoring protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, according to two people briefed on the meeting.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.

Lest we read the (barely) subtext of those remarks too deeply, let’s look at the pattern:

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 4.49.05 PM

Listen, friends.

I know you hate being called racists.

I know you think that liberals get away with racism because they’re better at shouting about it. You’re not always wrong.

I know some of you think liberal complaints about conservative racism are unfair, a “chump’s game” designed for tactical advantage. You’re sometimes wrong about this, but again — not always.

I know that some of you will disagree with this, but: In an effort to find common ground, I’ve tried to restrain my own knee-jerk reactions. I try not to assume that disagreements regarding race makes anybody in the conversation a racist.

But folks: This president. The president you gave us.

He’s racist.

If he’s not racist, he’s so cavalier about racism that he doesn’t care if he appears racist. The damage to our country’s values is done either way.

There’s no way around this: If you continue to support this president, it’s not mean or out-of-bounds for other observers to conclude that you’re ok supporting a racist.

And if you’re ok supporting a racist for the highest office in the land, well, it might not be entirely fair, but it’s probably to be expected that people are going to draw conclusions about your character as well.

Your reasons for supporting Trump may not be racist. Maybe you’re sick of an economy leaving you behind and are glad somebody broke out of the neoliberal consensus that dominated both major parties. Maybe you’re anti-abortion and wanted the conservative judges Trump promised to elect. Maybe there’s something else.

But at this point, whatever your reasons for supporting him, even if you don’t feel racist — well, you’re OK enough with his racism to let it slide.

It may not feel like a big deal. Maybe it seems like it doesn’t really affect you. It may not affect many people you know.

But it affects a lot of people, who rightfully fear their government is not in the business of protecting their rights. And it strikes to the heart of the values many of us believe are important to this country.

I myself will make no assumptions about whether you’re racist, or have that in your heart. But at this point: Trump has demonstrated who he is. If you support him anyway, well, that’s up to you. But your complaints about being called racist — as though it’s worse than being racist — are going to seem ever more hollow going forward.

I hope you can find a conservative who can represent you without the racism. Really. There’s plenty of other stuff we can argue about. This doesn’t have to be it.

I wish you well.

Sincerely, Joel