Trumpism was created in the crucible of the “Southern strategy.” We have sown to the wind, reaping the whirlwind.
We can’t isolate Donald Trump and his supporters, because that is a simplification. When you unpack the policies of all of his competitors, most of their disagreement is in tone, not substance. It is not as though they are moderate and he is extreme. Trump is not the problem; it’s all of the xenophobia and racist innuendo and othering of immigrants that is the problem. It is all of the coded language about people who want free stuff, from the Southern-strategy lexicon of Wallace, Nixon, Reagan, and Atwater that has been spewed for years. That is the problem. Add to it the more recent rhetoric that says President Obama is unfit. Long before Trump, all of this rhetoric created a kind of us-against-them mob mentality, which after it is loosed can manifest in the violence that we now see.
These were tactics used to end the first Reconstruction in America, too, when many white elites began to fear a black-white coalition. And they were used in the late 1968, to create the so-called solid South and push back against the gains of the 1960s, brought about by black, white, Latino, and interfaith relationships. We need to understand all of this as we approach this election and think about the kinds of questions we ask the candidates.
Recently, Senator Ted Cruz was in Raleigh, North Carolina’s Calvary Baptist Church when FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly asked him about his moral values: “How do you manage to keep your integrity working in Washington?” Cruz said as president, he intended to “pass a simple flat tax and abolish the IRS,” “prosecute Planned Parenthood,” and end the Common Core educational standards instantly.
Presidential candidates of all political stripes have long courted what the media calls the “evangelical voters” in the South, using the language of morality. Well, I am an evangelical. I have been born again. I don’t think it is because I have African and Native American and some European blood flowing in my veins that I have a different view of evangelism. Yes, I learned my evangelism from my father, a Disciples of Christ minister. But I also learned it from Duke Divinity School, from Union Theological Seminary, and from great philosophical thinkers and biblical scholars across this country. I learned that persons who claim to be evangelicals are anointed to preach good news to the poor.
As the Gospel of Luke says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he hath anointed me to preach good news to the Poor.” The word poor here is ptochos, a Greek word that means those who have been made poor by economic exploitation. Evangelism always starts with Jesus’ words: “When I was hungry did you feed me? When I was naked, did you clothe me?” In North Carolina, even our state Constitution notes, in Article 11, “Beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate, and the orphan is one of the first duties of a civilized and a Christian state.”