Made in Our Image
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”
Romans 1:21- 23
I have been struggling with the notion of 70+ million votes for President Trump. Often the words “Trump Supporters” conjures up in my mind images of the president’s most radical and boisterous followers clad in MAGA hats, carrying placards, and saying things that I consider offensive. But I felt a tug from the Holy Spirit to try to understand them.
When I studied unconscious bias while researching my book “The Air Force’s Black Pilot Training Experience,” a familiar theme surfaced. We tend to like people who look like us, have things in common with us, think and sound like us, etc. It was then that I began to realize that for some people, President Donald Trump is someone who looks like them, sounds like them, thinks like them, and shares the same concerns. For now, I don’t want to put a value judgment on that but to just acknowledge it.
I saw a graphic of the final electoral vote tally. It was a map of the U.S. depicted in red and blue, for states won by the President or by Vice President Biden respectively. The entire center of the United States and the South was red. Now I know that no state is 100% red or blue, and Georgia actually changed to blue in the end. But what the graphic spoke to me about was that the hearts of men and women in the heartland of America beat differently in many ways than mine. For the 70 million people who voted for the president, he was enough like them to resonate with them.
I have driven across the country several times, and I have also been on two musical tours around the country. Some major portions of the “red” on America’s electoral map may always be somewhat rural geographically and mostly white demographically. Much of the “blue” may continue to be somewhat urban geographically and non-white demographically. Each geographical and demographical difference inevitably leads to cultural differences and norms. People in rural areas or predominantly white suburbs won’t know what it’s like to live in a multi-ethnic community and won’t be in tune with or likely understand their concerns or their behavior. The converse is also true. People from multi-ethnic communities or inner cities won’t understand or be able to connect with the priorities of communities that are predominantly white.
Don’t laugh, but the Holy Spirit took me back to kindergarten, back to Sesame Street to help me understand. He reminded me of one of my favorite Sesame Street stories as a child. It was entitled “My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World”:
"’The Most Beautiful Woman in the World’ is a Sesame Street story first read by Bob in Episode 0138. In the story, a little boy can't find his mother, so a village of Anything Muppets ask the boy what she looks like. He replies that she's the most beautiful woman in the world, but the boy rejects all of the beautiful women the village can find. When the boy finds his mother, it is revealed that she is a frail, gray-haired woman —but in the boy's eyes, she is beautiful.” (The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, n.d.)
This simple Sesame Street story was another reminder that we like people who look like us. That’s why we think our babies are cute because we think they look like us! Smile. I think this principle is behind what I called “Obama Angst” in MGA Vol I. There was a backlash against President Obama, the likes of which I have never seen. It was more intense than what was warranted for him being a Democrat.
I watched the response to President Carter when his attempt to rescue hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Iran failed. I watched the response to President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment. The word that best describes the response to President Obama was vitriol. Yes, that’s the word that came to mind, but I still had to look it up! Here’s a definition that fits what I am trying to convey:
“What is vitriolic hatred?
/ˈvɪt.ri.əl/ violent hate and anger expressed through severe criticism: He is a writer who has often been criticized by the press but never before with such vitriol.”
(Google Dictionary, n.d.)
There was a vitriolic hatred for Obama that was unmerited for a man with no scandals, no giant failures, and no views that were different from any other Democrat. I believe for many; President Obama was just too different. The irony? President Obama is half-white, but for many, he was too black. He didn’t look like them, think like them, share a common background, and so it became easier to magnify the differences. When Barack Obama was elected president, I anticipated a pendulum swing but nothing on a scale like this. For me, President Trump is the extreme end of the pendulum on the political spectrum, the snapback or backlash for those who viewed having a black president as an extreme swing.
When I was conducting research for MGA Vol I, I found a quote in an editorial on History.com that captured some of the angst of America going too far in having a black president:
“The most telling and most offensive part of the article for me is when it says, “there could perhaps be no greater reflection of the impact of immigration than the 2008 election of Barack Obama.” (History.com Editors, 2010) And just in case you missed what they were getting at, they point out that President Obama was African American. In other words, if we didn’t start letting all these immigrants in, we wouldn’t have had the great impact of having a black president— not only is America browning, but its presidents are too.” (Thompson, Vol I)
No politician in America has expressed this angst more ardently, more vociferously, more viciously than President Trump. From the outset, he attacked his status as a U.S. citizen, his faith (insinuating that he was a Muslim), and everything he built. One of the president's first targets was Obamacare. I believe he fought it so hard was because it had Obama’s name on it. Similarly, with the president’s reckless and deadly decision to close the organizational entity in the White House ( White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense) that was set up to deal with future pandemics. (Kessler & Kelly, 2020)
The anger and vitriol was greater than that would be associated with the fact that it was merely set up by a Democrat. I will always believe that the fact that Barack Obama was both black and president was too much for Donald Trump, who had previously toyed with the notion of becoming president and had done some previous exploration of his viability. I don’t believe in his psyche that there was room for Barack Obama to achieve this milestone before he did or to ever share the same title as his. I wrote as much in MGA Vol I when I again referred to this History.com editorial:
“For me, there could be no greater personification of these sentiments than President Donald Trump. Many times, he’s trumpeted that President Obama was the “worst president ever.” “Worst” fits with the sentiments of this article. For those who still possess a vision of a New Europe, President Obama is the personification of darkening hopes. Truly, if we are trying to Make America Great Again by making her White Again, the worst thing that could happen would be the election of a black president.” (Thompson, Vol I)
I have shared what I think is behind the president’s angst against President Obama. I believe many people felt the same way the president did, that having a black president was too far, too soon, etc. Further, I believe that some people were stirred up by the president to turn a dislike or disdain for a black president into vitriol.
Personally, the worst part of the phenomenon that I am calling Obama Angst are the sentiments that came from the body of Christ, from Christian leaders of national prominence. I saw them attack President Obama in ways that they hadn’t attacked President Clinton, even after moral failure in office. They attacked his Christian faith and even stated that his removal and replacement with President Trump was an act of God.
In MGA Vol I, I shot down this notion of Donald Trump appointed/chosen by God. If the Scripture (Psa 75) is true that says “God raiseth up one and setteth down another” and God put Donald Trump in office, didn’t God also put Barack Obama in office? The truth is that this Scripture is taken out of context and doesn’t factor in God’s gift of free will. In MGA Vol I, I talk at length about how God allowed the people to choose Saul as King when He didn’t want them to have a king in the first place. The American people, by their own free will, given by God, choose their president and bear the responsibility for that choice.
The following are quotes from MGA Vol I, that portray the Obama angst as expressed by some of our top evangelical Christian leaders:
“Unfortunately, however, this is not the worst consequence of Franklin Graham’s uneven treatment on issues of morality. As an African American, it looks like the reason President Obama’s standard for morality was held so high and President Trump’s has no basement, is because President Obama is black…
It appears Pat Robertson was trying to fabricate for President Trump, values, and character traits that he didn’t possess because he was a Republican. I have stated several times that I did not vote for President Obama, but there is no question that he is a family man and kind, goes to church, etc. How could Pat virtually demonize President Obama yet endorse Rudy Giuliani, who also was pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage?
Here too, Pat Robertson runs the same risk as Franklin Graham of establishing the perception that there is a different standard for black and white politicians.” (Thompson, Vol I)
The expression of Obama angst and the rolling out of double-standards by Christian leaders that I hold in high regard freed me to look at President Obama in a different way. Prior to that, I mostly looked at him the way a Republican Christian was supposed to look at him: how will he vote on abortion and family values? Republican Party and evangelical leaders later shattered the myth that character and moral standards were a primary consideration for the Oval Office by showing resounding support for candidate Trump in 2016 and inexplicably again in 2020.
I began to realize that I like President Obama. It started with the farewell party he threw at the White House. I started thinking President Obama was “cool.” President Clinton was allowed to be cool and play his horn on Saturday Night Live. President Obama was not. When he did things like play basketball or had a party, it wasn’t cool; it was black, too black. What my evangelical leaders have shown me this year is that a president can have lower standards for morals, character, and competence if he is white. It’s like the old black people used to say: a black man has to be twice as good:
“There’s one mantra many black parents drill into their children’s heads throughout their life: be twice as good. It goes that as black folks in America, we’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as our white counterparts. Some semblance of this speech has been handed down for generations, and given our history in the US – forced into chattel slavery, oppressed under Jim Crow, and racially stigmatized to this day – it’s proven itself to be true.” (Danielle, 2015)
Now that I was free to look at President Obama unfettered by the skewed racist lenses that claimed to be based on Republican and even evangelical ideals, I found that I really liked him. I’m not saying I would agree with him on abortion—ever. But I can distance myself from the crowd that tried to demonize him while being in denial about their own unconscious bias. He didn’t look enough like them, and they haven’t owned up to it. I discovered that I like him. I discovered that he looks like me!
The more I watched President Obama, the more I realized that he was like me, a black man, with black daughters, with Midwest roots. In fact, he was more than that. He is someone most black men would aspire to be. He is a Harvard-educated lawyer:
“After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he was the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. After graduating, he became a civil rights attorney and an academic, teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.” (National Society of Black Physicists, 2019)
He is one of the most articulate and polished speakers I’ve ever heard. He became a U.S. Senator at 44 and left that post three years later in 2008 to become the youngest man ever elected president. He “was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.” (National Society of Black Physicists, 2019)
President Obama is married to a beautiful, classy, intelligent woman, Michelle, who is a dynamic personality in her own right. She is both a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law school. She is Claire Huxtable in real life but on steroids. She was an amazingly supportive wife to the man with the most demanding job on the planet. She was an equally amazing mom raising daughters under possibly the world’s largest microscope.
The Cosby Show came out when I was in college, it was and still is one of my all-time favorite shows, but the knock on it was that it was unbelievable. A black doctor married to a black lawyer with middle-class kids and problems. It was too good to be true even for me at that time because of my own conditioning as to what a black family should look like. The Obamas were a black fairy tale, not characters from a horror movie as my prior conditioning led me to believe. They were black royalty living in the White House, yet I never voted for them to get into office or to stay in office. My Republican training and certainly my Christian conditioning told me that I couldn’t vote for them and what they stood for.
I have already stated that in addition to my own personal faith convictions, my Republican and evangelical leaders set a bar too high for the type of man who should sit in the Oval Office. Barack Obama shouldn’t have been allowed to clear it.
Then in 2016, the unthinkable happened. These same leaders not only lowered the bar but dropped it all together when they supported Donald Trump as a candidate. Even after his character flaws, lack of experience, and integrity were clearly manifest, these same leaders clung to him in 2020 like a man being pulled up out of the ocean by rope into a helicopter.
Why? Because President Trump was their version of the Huxtables. He was a role model for them. He was someone who looked like them, held the same values, and the same views. Not only that, he was not afraid to speak those views and even champion them.
I was struggling to understand a friend’s ardent defense and support of the president. Then somehow, we got on the subject of illegal immigrants, Mexicans in particular. My friend’s tone instantly became harsh and biting—I’d never experienced that from her. I had struck a nerve. In my friend’s heart were the same views on Mexican immigration that the president had in his heart. He was a man that looked and sounded like her.
It answers the question that I have for her and so many others: Why don’t you hear the racist things that the president says? Because they don’t sound racist to her. In her mind, and in the minds of many others, the things the president says sound correct, factual vs. racist. The things that he is saying are accepted because they have said the same things or believed the same things in their heart.
I remember someone saying we shouldn’t be too critical of other people’s choices and actions because if we were them, we’d make the same choices. Meaning if we were raised like they were, went to the schools they went to, had the friends and family that they had, we’d likely have the same beliefs and take the same actions.
I can admit that my view of Mexican Americans has changed after I became a teacher in predominantly “Mexican” schools, became a coach for all-Mexican sports teams, and became a godfather for three Mexican American children. Outside of the direct intervention and conviction of the Holy Spirit, it is unreasonable for me to expect someone who doesn’t know any Mexican American people personally, to have the same empathy for them that I have.
It even felt weird for me as I wrote this paragraph to say Mexican Americans instead of Mexican. But I felt that someone who hasn’t had the experiences I have had might interpret Mexican as Mexican national or illegal immigrant. I’ve had the experience of working with kids whose parents were illegal when they came to America, so-called “dreamers.” My love for those kids and my experiences with their parents automatically puts me in a different mindset than that of my friend.
America will be a red and blue country well into the future. Its geography dictates that many people will continue to live around people with similar mindsets and beliefs. Our only hope as a nation is to be open to the Holy Spirit and let Him separate biases, conscious, and unconscious, from the truth. The only way America can succeed as one nation under God is relying on the strength of God, walking in the love of God, praying for the grace of God. Otherwise, our unique geographic and demographic differences will tear us apart.
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