thoughts on the transfer of power
This morning our country witnessed the peaceful transfer of power, from one President to another. The power did not just move from one man to another, it moved from one vision of the world, one set of core beliefs, to one, although obscured and unknown in many ways, that is certainly very different than the vision proclaimed for the past few years. While the title and power of the Presidency has certainly been placed upon the shoulders of Donald Trump, I am hopeful that his vision for our country will not supplant the vision of his predecessor.
I must recognize that I am predisposed, and biased, toward an inclusive vision of our country. I am a person of faith, and my approach to others is foundationally shaped by the movement of God toward all people created in God’s own image. I believe that my value, indeed all of humanity’s value, is rooted in the dignity of our creation, guaranteeing that we are all made with equal worth and promise. I am not more valuable because of the work I have done; indeed, I know that my accomplishments are a reflection of the foundation of privilege into which I was born. Because I believe my redemption comes from Christ, I am also fully aware that my knowledge of God, my dependence on God, my purpose within God, is only possible because God moves toward me with forgiveness, sacrifice and grace. This awareness gives me no choice but to move toward all the people around me with a similar sense of forgiveness, sacrifice and grace. This bias, which I fully own, leads me to align myself closely with the vision of Barack Obama, and to reject the vision of now President Trump.
I fundamentally believe that I am stronger and wiser and more resilient when I am confronted with and impacted by the diverse perspectives of others. I fundamentally believe that the opportunities and prosperity of others do not threaten my own in any way. I also fundamentally believe that my own prosperity and security require me to give others the same privileges I enjoy (I realize that I have lived a life of abundance and it is a privilege to not feel threatened by the growth of others).
President Trump disagrees. He has consistently argued that immigrants are destroying the American way of life, and that corrupt and selfish government has bankrupted this country in order to build and bolster other countries. These statements and decisions are manifestations stemming from a belief that immigrants and all other nations are takers at best, and out to destroy America at worst. His vision, I think, is a direct reflection of “American Exceptionalism,” that is, the idea that America was founded on a grand idea, and that our ability to reject our colonial founders, establish a lasting democracy, and quickly rise to become the leading world power means that we are God’s chosen people and THE global authority—morally and otherwise—in a way impossible for other nations. While this idea is certainly gratifying, it can lead to a certainty that our perspective is uniform, and always correct. When we encounter a perspective that confronts ours, or find evidence that we have not behaved as the exceptionally correct and magnanimous power we believe ourselves to be, that exceptionality, indeed our identity, feels threatened. This foundation leads, I believe, to President Trump’s posture of chronic defensiveness, and although it starts at a national level, it results in a fear and rejection of individual others. Because I see through a frame of appreciating and moving toward others in curiosity, I have to challenge his policies and rhetoric that encourages the demonization of others. Will you join me?
President Trump’s inaugural address has been called a Populist Manifesto. Indeed, he offered a prescription for healing the divides his campaign speeches widened by saying, “when you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
He called out the selfish corruption in Washington, and this year he consistently promised to never again forget the countless people our government has left behind. Any honest look at our country, our history, and current reality will confirm President Trump’s wise assessment that our country does not actually value all “the people.” I am thankful he acknowledged this inequality, and appreciate the attention he has given to those who have struggled to find a place in our rapidly changing economy and cultural norms.
His vision for our country and his promises to “drain the swamp” or that they “will be forgotten no more,” however, do not line up in any way with the decisions he has made during his transition. First, 15 of his 20 cabinet-level nominees are white males. These men, most of whom are millionaires who have been very politically active, are Trump’s most trusted advisors. I see their uniformity of class, race and gender as a sobering reminder that President Trump does not know or value perspectives different than his own. Many of the men he has placed in his cabinet and on his top advising team have no track record of remembering those Trump rightly claims have been forgotten. It is troubling to me that he has surrounded himself with people whose life experiences mirror his own, and I have to challenge the notion that the best professionals in every sphere are white males. Will you join me?
My other concerns are more specific, and involve economic prosperity, tax rates and regulatory reform. Wealth inequality has been growing, as middle and lower income earners’ wages have stagnated, while investors and owners’ wages have increased. Since 1963, the wealthiest Americans’ net worth increased 6 fold, while the bottom 50% barely grew at all (Urban Institute). In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), our poorest 90% must share 24% of the country’s wealth. President Trump is right! 90% of our country has been forgotten! While technological advances continue to present challenges to our work force and model, the greatest blow to our economic stability came in the Great Recession, precipitated by rash and greed-fueled decisions made by members of the financial industry. These decisions were permitted because laws regulating the industry had been repealed. Knowing that the removal of these regulations paved the way for decisions that caused the global economic crisis—felt most destructively in middle and lower class homes—Trump has promised that one of his top priorities is to deregulate the financial industry. Moreover, his tax plan shows no consideration whatsoever for the ones he calls “forgotten”: the CBO predicts his tax plan will raise the incomes of the top 1% by 10% or higher, while the tax impact on middle and lower classes will remain unchanged. In this and so many other arenas, his cabinet picks and policy commitments prove his real vision to be quite the opposite of the promises he made in his inaugural address. Because I reject the notion that deregulating industries and lowering tax rates for those who provide capital will cause wealth to “trickle down” to the rest of us (a notion never successfully demonstrated in America), I have to challenge his policies based on the premise that if we trust the guys at the top with more power and money, the rest of us will be okay. Will you join me?
Despite my grave and worthy concerns, I have committed to keeping an open mind as our new President is sworn in. To that end, I must say I am heartened by the inclusion of Rabbi Marvin Hier, who uttered the following maxim at today’s ceremony: “A nation’s wealth is measured by her values, not her vaults.” This notion feels endangered by our current power structure, and yet these words continue to articulate an idea many Americans want to embody. Whoever our President, most Americans also want to be part of a government by and for and of the people. If this is true, we must join together now and demand policies—not just promises—that demonstrate these values. Will you join me?