What would Ronald Reagan say to Donald Trump and his convention? We don't have to guess.
A few weeks ago I was flicking through some old CDs while driving to a concert. It was a few days after the furore created by Donald Trump's plans to stop Muslims from entering the USA and his incendiary comments about Mexicans.
Being the political geek that I am, I bypassed Sarah McLachlan, and Jars of Clay, and went straight to a CD called 'Great Speeches'. So for the next 45 minutes I was inspired by Martin Luther King, JFK, and Winston Churchill. But I wasn't prepared for what happened next. It felt like a holy moment, and I had to pull over in the darkness to make sure I heard every word. A prophet was speaking from beyond the grave. And his name was Ronald Reagan. I have spent many years decrying the inequality that his economic policies produced in the USA and the rest of the world. On that my opinion hasn't changed. But my pulse quickened as I listened to what he had to say in 1983, and how surgically important it is for now.
I didn't do anything with those words for two weeks. And then yesterday Trump's convention was a roll-call of dear folks who had lost loved ones to terrorism or attacks by illegal immigrants to the USA. Their very real pain was being used and choreographed into an altogether darker dance. The branding master was again branding the "alien" in a toxic way. I feel it's now time to let the 'Gipper' speak to us.
I have also now made the fairly obvious calculation that Trump followers are unlikely to listen to me, but that they may just listen to their hero Ronald Reagan. After all, Trump has co-opted Reagan's 1980 campaign slogan "Let's Make America Great Again" for his own campaign. The attempted resonance with that era is I am sure intentional, so perhaps these words can also find some purchase. They were spoken to the National Prayer Breakfast in 1983. I pray we listen.
"We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world and we're enjoined by scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation too has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past, for example the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights. What was once a source of disunity and civil war is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-semitism, or other forms of ethnic or racial hatred in this country. (LONG APPLAUSE)
"I know that you've been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst. The commandment given us is clear and simple, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (LONG APPLAUSE)"
Humility. Dignity. Love of neighbour.
I don't think I need to say anything else.