This week Isabel Wilkerson the renowned historian, social scientist, journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author, appeared on MSNBC to discuss Bernie Sander’s comments about poverty, institutional racism, and the ghettoization of America. After advising that we must be disabused of our outdated stereotypes that invariably arise in such discussions, Wilkerson shared her thoughts about recent images of young black women being assaulted at Trump’s rallies. She spoke of being deeply disturbed by how easily animosities surrounding race can be triggered and openly displayed in America in 2016. She said, “We should be well past this. We have been here before. We’ve seen the movie before and here it is playing out again. How quickly, how easily people’s passions in these matters can be invoked. Wilkerson then pleaded, “We need to know our country’s history. We need to know how far we’ve come, and yet how much farther we have yet to go, so that we can actually address this issue. One thing I can say (repeating something she said in New Orleans in July of this year) is that we can change the laws, but that doesn’t mean we’ve changed the heart, and I think that the heart is the last frontier for many people.”
As painful as it is for me to say, it may be that Donald Trump, regardless of what is at the heart of his motives, intentions, and his rhetoric, may be helping America face a most painful truth about itself. There is no use pretending anymore. Our national divisions are not superficial. They defy all attempts at a reasonable resolution. Trump has held a mirror up for us all to see with crystal clarity that most original flaw or sin that has from the very beginning kept America from fulfilling her every aspiration to greatness. Trump has brought us face to face with the frightening reality that America cannot much longer exist, let alone be great, unless we stand together in a unified recognition that if we continue to refuse to wholeheartedly embrace and fully institutionalize racial and ethnic equality in this society then none of us have a bright future.
The anger that we are witnessing at Trumps rallies, as is evidenced in the surprising level of support from self-identifying evangelicals, is an anger born of fear. It may be the fear that we will never find our way out of our national dilemma that revolves around race. A national commitment to discrimination that breeds hatred continues to manifest without interruption in every successive American generation. It corrupts our discourse, it makes us believe in war, not peace, as the reason for our collective being. It bankrupts us, it makes us increasingly violent, and it keeps us from constructively and collectively addressing other immanent existential threats like the very real possibilities of nuclear or environmentally disastrous holocausts. Our failure to be great here as a nation is this one thing that guarantees that we shall surely fail at everything we attempt.
Where will our salvation come from? Certainly not from a Donald Trump who fails to comprehend that which truly keeps America from embracing a much better destiny. Religion and politics can be helpful. Neither has provided the solution. Perhaps it is fair to say, that if they have been offering guidance and wisdom, too few have been listening. In fact, both political and religious institutions are buckling under the weight of our national, collective failure to resolve that which divides us as a nation. We the people have put a burden on our secular and religious institutions that they cannot much longer endure. And neither our religious institutions nor our government can do for us what we must do for ourselves – commit ourselves to a revolutionary transformation of the heart and soul of America. A double-minded nation we can no longer be. The perils that confront us and the entire human race are too great.
Wilkerson says that this is a Karmic moment in the life of America in that we are trying to deal with the unavoidable question about who we are as a country. Let us admit that what we should not fear the most is Trump or any other of the 2016 candidates for the Presidency. What we must fear are the consequences that will surely play out in an America that does not willingly and energetically conquer this last frontier of the heart. Let us hope that this present electoral process will serve to shock us into an awareness that we must turn all of our resources – secular, intellectual, economic, cultural, and religious – to the freeing of the human heart from any devotion to the idea of inequality based on gender, race, or ethnic heritage.