A Christian minister and friend of mine, Marcus Singleton, said recently: “We go to church to dress up, not to take off.”
What was his point? We put on our clothing and we protect ourselves against the nakedness of heart and soul that tells the real truth about who we are and what we must do. Instead, we wrap ourselves in known phrases, in liturgy we can recite by heart. We are good, we hear the word of God clearly, there are safe havens for us.
Yet: If ever we needed to take off and take away what we think we can use to protect ourselves, it is now. And we must not only do this in every faith setting we know. We must do this work as a nation. Who are we now? What have we become?
We can wrap ourselves in symbols and platitudes as Americans just as we can wrap ourselves in liturgy and scripture, but if we do not face the raw truths of our condition and name the naked realities before us – whether we are in church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or the streets of our country – there will be no clothing of any kind to protect us or the generations after us. Our democratic institutions are vulnerable and naked.
When Donald Trump was inaugurated, I told family members that I was pretty sure that if he relieved himself on the Oval Office rug, leading Republicans would rush in to ask “May I clean that up for you, Sir?” I was engaging in dark, ironic humor. So I thought.
My friends, we have seen exactly this occur for years. Donald Trump has effectively done just that all over our democracy and every institution that upholds it. The Republican Party leadership has rushed in to clean away the evidence and pretend that there are no stains. They have regularly engaged in selling out America’s democracy, and they are doing just that right now.
Breaking News: The president of Acirema just lost his bid for reelection by millions of votes. He is refusing to admit defeat. He has publicly lied about the voting process, claiming corruption and fraud though there is no evidence of either. He is filing lawsuits to throw out ballots and pressuring his party leaders for support. He is refusing to engage in a peaceful transfer of power and his party leaders are, so far, supporting him.
This is no banana republic. Acirema is America, backwards. This is us, right now.
There is a real effort to subvert the rule of law going on. There is an attempt to hold on to power despite the will of the people. The leadership of one party in this country has acceded and agreed to support the destruction of the country they claim to serve.
Republican leaders are putting on all sorts of fancy clothing. The president has a “right” to file frivolous lawsuits. He has to have his “say.” He has to “ask questions.”
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick will offer up to up to $1 million to “incentivize, encourage and reward” people for reports of voter fraud even though members of his own party dominated election results up and down the ballot, winning and winning big. That’s how important supporting a would-be dictator is to Mr. Patrick. What Trump has excreted on our country is being spread about by Republican leaders.
There are not just stains to contend with. Acid is being thrown at our democracy, on our country. I want to know where my fellow Americans are — Republican, Democrat, Independent, et al. What are you dressing in, today?
Last Monday and Tuesday marked Kristallnacht, a nation-wide pogrom the Nazis unleased on Jewish communities. Some 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland were destroyed. Thousands upon thousands of Jewish businesses were attacked or destroyed. The Nazis arrested and imprisoned 30,000 Jewish men in concentration camps.
Maybe we should remember what happens in dictatorships. Because there are people in this country leading this country who sure don’t seem to mind if we look like one. As a historian, I can say this: Looking like one leads to becoming one.
You thought your clothing protected your body? You thought our institutions would protect your rights? History demonstrates that states give rights and states can take them away.
You, and the country you love, stand naked. If we do not recognize how vulnerable we are right now, and if we fail to do the work of protecting the democratic institutions of these United States of America, what comes may be no United States of America at all.