I’ve taken a tour of the 45th president’s speech in Poland and find it disturbing. This sentence lurks in the skillfully crafted rhetoric:
“We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”
Trump’s Speech in Poland, set out here.
The speech contains numerous other references to “faith” which disturb me, but this sentence most clearly shows Trump’s apparent intention. He seems unaware or unconcerned that our country does not promote “bonds of faith”, but, rather, disdains them.
As one of our founding fathers wrote:
“Religion and Government are certainly very different Things, instituted for different Ends; the design of one being to promote our temporal Happiness; the design of the other to procure the Favour of God, and thereby the Salvation of our Souls. While these are kept distinct and apart, the Peace and welfare of Society is preserved, and the Ends of both are answered. By mixing them together, feuds, animosities and persecutions have been raised, which have deluged the World in Blood, and disgraced human Nature.”
John Dickinson, Pennsylvania Journal, May 12, 1768, reprinted in The Founders on Religion, ed. James H. Huston (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 60–61.
Broadcasting the intent to promote “bonds of faith” signals a dangerous course. Americans represent extraordinarily diverse religions. Many have no religion whatsoever. Some have no faith whatsoever, instead self-identifying as atheist. Of 35,000 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center in 2014, 9% stated that they did not believe in God. The percentage of Americans identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014 .
While these statistics show by extrapolation that Americans are predominantly religious and Christian, nevertheless, it is not all Americans, and the number seems to be shrinking. Moreover, the separation of church and state has not been abrogated in our nation. Our government was not formed on the bonds of faith but to escape those bonds.
Some have said that the smoothly talking Trump shows a scripted side that does not reflect his true inclination. Such pundits point to the late-night, erratic twitter rants of Trump as being a more accurate reflection of his nature and proclivities. Crude, self-absorbed, vindictive, and outraged, Trump thumbs away at his phone with one-line blasts and condemnation which critics say give voice to his genuine agenda.
If that be so, then who wrote the Poland speech? Who used Trump to articulate this declaration of intent, this challenge, this defense of faith? Who defies the Constitutional mandate that the government forsake involvement in religious matters? “As president, [john] Adams signed (and the U.S. Senate approved) the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli, which reassured that Muslim nation that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” The Atlantic, 15 June 2011. Yet now we have a president who stands in front of a largely Catholic nation and professes that our two countries should ally in defense of faith.
How come we here? Did we, as comedians aver, fall asleep at the wheel and let the fox sneak into the chicken house — or something worse? Is Trump the ranting late-night tweeter? Is he the cool collected defender of faith who stood before a crowd in Poland bussed into the arena to strengthen the local impact of Trump’s message? If the suave, appealing speech in which he underscores the importance of faith signals his actual agenda, the consequences are dire enough. But what if his scripted speech has its origins in a hidden puppet master who seeks to erode our secular nation?
I find myself shivering at the thought that institutionally endorsed religious persecution will find its footing and come out from the shadows. I fear that this ripple of “faith-based” rhetoric will creep into our schools, our city halls, and our state capitols right after it entrenches itself in Congress. I do not think I am overly alarmed. From the Secretary of Education’s preferences for private school to Trump’s avowal to join with Poland to protect the bonds of faith, Church oversteps its separation from State in many Washington corridors these days.
Be alarmed, my friends. And do not be complacent. 1984 came and went 33 years ago, and with little fanfare. But now it seems that its insidious elements have been germinating. They might now come to flower. Make ready the weed-killer, for the roots of this invasive pest have grown deep and remarkably strong.