Trump’s fifty-plus minute diatribe in Charlotte, North Carolina reminded me of a Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . . .” I flashed to 1963.
In June 1963, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc publicly burned himself to death in a plea for President Ngo Dinh Diem to show “charity and compassion” to all religions. By November 1963, Diem was overthrown. Students of history, all of us should compare such self-sacrifice against the tyranny of the current administration. To be fair, Trump doesn’t hate protests, only dissent.
Pandering to cult leadership is not new. However harmful we thought previous leaders were, I don’t recall the overly targeted criticism of athletes who knelt, silently and peacefully, during the national anthem. Public rebuking NFL players in a series of tweets ended the NFL quarterback (Kaepernick); goodness of evil was emphasized when white supremacists marched; and black men and women are wrongly shot, most recently in the back. And most Americans sat on our asses and watched it all while the ‘shit-show’ ran amok.
In four short years, America witnessed institutional dismantling, justice to the preferred, truth for those who lied under oath, and rapping U.S. coffers for personal gain. In four years, healthcare dismantled, environmental standards ripped apart, legal norms suffocated, sought election interference from foreign powers, separated children from immigrant families and threw them into cages like stray dogs, told citizens to inject bleach (or maybe a light), spouted unproven medical quackery, and by December, will have witnessed 300,000 U.S. citizens die. We watch, all the while acknowledging the damage.
The president’s sister described him as a liar and fake. A former senior official at the Department of Homeland Security deemed him a danger to the country. CNN claims a prominent Fox News anchor had once called him “batshit crazy.” John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have described our leader as a danger to America. Sadly, none of these men or women were able to rise above the moment to demonstrate something greater. Perseverance of love failed miserably.
In his death, Thich Quang Duc demonstrated his compassion love – the need for bridges, not hatred. Presidential Historian Jon Meacham echoed Duc’s sentiment at the recent Democratic Convention, “Extremism, nativism, isolationism and a lack of economic opportunity for working people are all preventing us from realizing our nation’s promise, and so we must decide whether we will continue to be prisoners of the darkest of American forces or will we free ourselves to write a brighter better nobler story. Our (the American) story has soared when we have built bridges, not walls.”
Which story will you build? Bridges? Or walls?