Van Ens: Fear, and the changing face of a nation
“What do you see,” asks a psychologist. After looking at a pen and ink drawing, a client responds, “A vase.”
“Look again at the sketch from a different angle,” suggests the psychologist. The client now spies a silhouette of two faces looking in opposite directions, like the double-faced ancient Roman god Janus.
Some older white men in the Republican Party cringe at and question the surge of Hispanics changing the face of the United States of America. These white GOP members are disturbed by what they see. Rather than embrace this demographic reality, they slip into nostalgia and look for a “solid vase” of Caucasian Protestants who controlled every aspect of American life from 1776 through the early 1960s.
These Republicans are scared because shifting demographics show a population that no longer favors nor mirrors who they are. America grows younger, less white and more urban as brown-skinned immigrants cross the U.S. southern border.
America’s emerging face of darker-skinned citizens doesn’t reflect the present nor future Republican Party. Consequently, President Donald Trump’s July 14 tweets tell four minority “progressive Democrat Congresswomen” to “go back” to countries where they were raised.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board corrects the president and exposes his racist remarks. “Three of the four women were born in the U.S., and ‘go back’ is a taunt immigrants have heard in America for more than two centuries. It was used against Catholics, against the Irish, German and Italians, against Chinese and Japanese, and in our day most often against Mexican-Americans. A President of the United States shouldn’t sink to such a crude nativist trope, but we repeat ourselves.”
Over 50 years ago, a cultural shift started changing who calls political shots. From our nation’s birth until the early 1960s, white men, who immigrated from northern European countries, built an American empire with a dominant Anglo-Saxon Protestant feel to it. Since the 1960s, however, Protestant white men who possessed privileged status began losing their grip on defining our national identity.
Fears turns the GOP inward to protect what’s left of former glories. Trump’s supporters blindly see only a solid vase of their clout returning because he promises to reclaim what made America great in the 1950s: white Protestant power.
Trump’s supporters see the GOP as their Alamo, a citadel for making a last stand, a fortress to fend off attacks from minorities.
Uncomfortable with two profiles of white and brown people defining our national image, the GOP stokes incendiary border policies based on stark fears that America is changing too fast, thereby forsaking its white Protestant heritage.
“The fires of fear in America have long found oxygen when broad, seemingly threatening change is afoot,” reports historian Jon Meacham in his history of white supremacy in America. “Now, in the second decade of the new century in the presidency of Donald Trump, the alienated are being mobilized afresh by changing demography, by broadening conceptions of identity, and by an economy that prizes Information Age economy brains over manufacturing brawn.”
“We are determined to take our country back,” David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, said in Charlottesville, Virginia. “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in, that’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. And that’s what we gotta do.”
Consequently, partisan politics look at life as we do through binoculars, with views that magnify the sins of opponents. Meanwhile, our own major faults look so far away that we deny they even exist. This binocular view sees white Protestant culture as the greatest, grandest, coolest ever to exist.
Quite a contrast to General George Washington who saw the last British Redcoats sailing from New York harbor in 1783. He and his troops paraded down Broadway to a tavern for a dinner in which they toasted their victory. Washington lifted his wine glass and praised “the memory of those heroes who have fallen for our freedom.”
Then he bravely looked to the future, toasting freedom for whom? “May America be an Asylum to the persecuted of the earth” (These Truths: A History of the United States,” Jill Lepore, Norton Company, 2018, p. 108).
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.