Having seen the image of a toddler crying while law enforcement questioned her mother, my daughter was filled with fear, anxiety, and confusion. After tearfully asking if she would be taken away from me, my nine year old followed up with the question, “Will Donald Trump go to heaven?”
It is true that the young girl was not a child who was being separated from her mother. Nonetheless, she has become the face of this time in history where American values no longer include “family values,” protecting children, or respecting human dignity.
The business mogul who claims a Christian identity with a room full of bibles to prove it, has made oppression, injustice, and the general devaluing of life the core of his administration. While Jesus calls us to embrace the stranger, walk with the least of these, to be a loving neighbor, and work for the liberation of every person, Trump’s actions and policies violate every teaching. And so, my daughter’s question was not out of line.
Like many Americans, I wonder whose Christianity he claims allegiance to? Certainly not the tradition founded by a Middle Eastern refugee who was crucified for standing against injustice perpetrated by a corrupt government. In fact, if Jesus lived today, my guess is that Trump would offer to pay the legal fees of anyone who would “punch him in the face.”
A bit less than half way through his presidency, Trump has managed to insult our nation’s closest allies, praise the world’s most vicious dictators, and turn his back on fundamental American principles. Referring to our Constitution as “the dumbest laws in the world,” Trump took office with the goal to “Make America Great Again.” As many have asked, when was America great? What time period are we looking to? And, how does banning Muslims, snatching children from immigrants, supporting Neo-Nazis, damaging the Earth, encouraging bigotry, committing sexual assault, and making friends with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un achieve this goal?
Still, Trump is rapidly succeeding in destroying our nation’s global reputation for being a human rights defender and is leading its citizens backward as we relive the ugliest moments of our history in a new context. Hate crimes have surged, Islamophobia is at its highest rate since 9/11, and many are being forced to live in a state of constant terror because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and/or sexuality.
It is no surprise given that the leader of the “Free World” has encouraged violence against nearly all persons who are not white males and commends the brutality of dictatorship. Trump praised Kim saying that he is intelligent, a tough leader, that many could not do what he has done, and that he knows how to keep people in line. Apparently torture, imprisonment, mass starvation, public executions, and even the murders of his uncle and brother are of no consequence as long as it gets the job done. Likewise, when reminded that Putin is a killer, Trump responded by saying, “so what?” Rather than challenging inhumanity, Trump offers admiration.
SCOTUS ruled five to four that Trump could refuse border crossing to particular groups regardless of his inflammatory comments about Muslims. Interestingly, no Muslim-majority nations that engage in business relations with Trump’s organization are on the list and zero refugees from the countries listed in the ban have killed anyone on U.S. soil.
In her scathing dissent, Justice Sonya Sotomayer compared the decision to the 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling to uphold the use of Japanese internment camps during WWII. Such a decision will also have a significant impact on immigration, another sticking point for Trump as he continues to refer to Latinxs seeking residency in the U.S. as rapists, murders, and drug dealers.
Although Trump did back down on the zero-tolerance border policy after months of harsh and well deserved criticism, thousands of children remain in detention centers wondering when and if they will see their parents again. Separating families ensured that child immigration cases are separated from their parents’; as a result, toddlers are being forced to appear in court for deportation without a guardian. Thus, little has changed and Trump continues to defend caging human beings as necessary to keep our country safe.
While supporters of the policy are quick to argue that immigrant families are being separated because they have broken the law, seeking asylum is not a crime. Furthermore, crossing the border without documentation is a misdemeanor. Consider for a moment what that would mean if children were taken from every person who has committed a misdemeanor. Our nation’s youth would be sitting in detention centers punished because a parent got a speeding ticket.
Our nation, founded on immigration and providing safe refuge is now characterized as heartless and cruel in favor of policies that are victimizing and morally wrong. Trump has condoned hate crimes and created a divide among compatriots so deep, some are beginning to question whether the next civil war is on the rise.
This is not politics as usual. Trump is not just another politician who fails to live up to principles and universal rights dictated by our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. No doubt, our nation is guilty of falling short in many ways — some that are unforgivable. Nonetheless, the U.S. continues to represent liberty, democracy, and human rights in the world and every president before 45 has advocated these values. Trump, however, through his discriminatory policies and incessant tweeting, has communicated to the world that our nation’s guiding values are dead.
Trump is a man addicted to power with no concern for the wellbeing of others. Not the U.S., not its citizens, not even his “friends.” Trump’s primary concern is himself. He has never intended on fulfilling his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again,” because he doesn’t even know what that means. We have allowed a man to enter the oval office who has no respect for laws, civility, or humanity. He is a tyrannical dictator who is willing to push the nuclear button if it gets him what he wants.
And so, I return to my daughter’s question while acknowledging that as a good Catholic I know I should not judge — but alas, I also fall short.
Trump has incredible power and wealth on this earth, both of which he uses to manipulate, oppress, and maintain his position in society. Thus, at this moment, it seems that Trump’s ability to defend his life is lacking. After all, Jesus taught that a camel can fit through the eye of a needle more easily than a rich man can enter heaven. But Jesus also taught us to be forgiving, to commit to the wellbeing of our communities, and to love our enemies. And that includes Donald J. Trump.
As such, rather than wondering what Trump’s fate will be in the world to come, it is up to us — the community — to correct his wrongs and reassert the morals and values of this nation. And so, the question we should be asking is, can we confront our own fears of losing power, work for equity and social justice, and “make America great?”
Gina Messina, Ph.D. is an American feminist scholar, Catholic theologian, activist, and mom. She serves as Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and is co-founder of FeminismAndReligion.com. She writes for the Huff Post and is author or editor of five books including Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again and Women Religion Revolution. Messina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram: @GinaMessinaPhD, Facebook, and her website ginamessina.com.