We witnessed the worst and best of Washington this week
While Donald Trump dined with anti-Semites and hatemongers, a man of true faith and public service passed away.
Is it really surprising that Donald Trump had dinner with two anti-Semites, one of whom is a virulent white supremacist who prides himself on being a neo-Nazi? Or that Trump, when exposed, kept lying about knowing who his dinner guests were? Or that he won’t denounce his meal companions and their hateful and violent ideologies? Or that Trump won’t do that because white supremacists and anti-semites and all kinds of extremists are part of his base?
No. No surprises there.
Republicans were slow but eventually condemned Trump’s ugly dinner guests. According to the Washington Post:
At least eight Republican senators joined in criticizing the dinner. Their leader, Mitch McConnell, chimed in on Tuesday, saying, “Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.” Trump responded to McConnell by calling him a “loser” in the Fox News interview.
Also on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters he believes that nobody “should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes” and that “he has no place in the Republican Party.” When reporters noted that he had incorrectly suggested that Trump had condemned Fuentes, McCarthy said, “Well, I condemn his ideology. It has no place in society. At all.”
But few Republican leaders so far have said they will not support Trump’s candidacy for reelection as President. In case you missed it, Trump announced that he’s running on November 14.
Again, it’s the Republican base, full of white grievance and hatred of “the others,” that no party leader wants to offend. What does that say about one of our two major political parties and about our country?
This is about more than about politics; it’s about the problem of evil. Evil is always there, but it can grow, and when political leaders won’t speak out against it, it continues to expand and spread. Silence in the face of evil is, indeed, complicity. Trump is the leading Republican for the presidency and it is frightful to think about who might be invited to the White House in his new administration. Let’s remember, when there are only two candidates running for the highest office in the land, either one can win because of circumstances and events we cannot predict or control.
It also should be pointed out that among the Republicans distancing themselves from Trump, it is clearly not because of an outbreak of morality. We have not seen a Republican denunciation of the use and abuse of white racism, the anti-brown immigrant hostility, bans on Muslims coming to America, or the ideology of autocracy. Their careful distancing from Trump is only because of winning and losing. Trump has led to successive Republican election losses and they want to win. Ego isn’t an adequate response to evil. And that’s all we see in the Republican Party.
One good sign of America’s best was when Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes and his leading deputy were found guilty this week of sedition. The jury carefully deliberated for three days to find the violent right-wing militia group leader guilty of seditious conspiracy to stop the peaceful transition of power in the assault on the Capitol on January 6. These are right-wing armed and racist groups that Donald Trump has brought into the mainstream of America. But with their unanimous verdict, a jury of American citizens has told militia leaders that undermining American democracy is not acceptable and the rule of law will be upheld. That is our best.
Another sign of our country’s best was the moral witness of Rep. Donald McEachin, a Congressman from Virginia, who passed away this week after a long struggle with cancer. Representative McEachin died on November 28, at only 61 years old.
Senator Tim Kaine, also from Virginia, called his friend “a gentle giant, a compassionate champion for the underdog, a climate warrior, a Christian example, an understanding father, a proud husband, a loyal brother.” President Biden added, “He fought for justice, for civil rights, and for communities left behind. Thanks to Don’s leadership and tireless advocacy, we passed historic legislation to combat the climate crisis and advance environmental justice.”
This summer, Congressman McEachin spent time with seminarians who came to our Center on Faith and Justice Summer Academy at Georgetown. Those students had the blessing of hearing why Don McEachin fought for the issues most important to him. McEachin was himself a seminary graduate, earning a Master of Divinity from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology in Richmond, Virginia, alongside his law degree from the University of Virginia. The busy congressman stayed with our seminarians for a long time and, to our great delight, was eager to dialogue about the relationship between his personal faith and his commitment to the public good. It was his religious identity and spirituality that led McEachin to become a legislative pioneer for climate justice. Expanding health care, especially for those that don't have it, was also a key commitment for this Member of Congress.
Congressman Donald McEachin was animated in his discussion with our seminarians, eager to share how his faith had driven him to public justice and to ask the students how they saw politics. As an African-American elected official, he testified to how voting rights and economic equity were not just political issues but matters of faith. To hear theology discussed so thoroughly that day on the Hill with leaders like McEachin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Chris Coons and Raphael Warnock, led a seminarian to ask why faith wasn’t more visible in politics, especially by Democrats. I recall Congressman McEachin agreeing with the student’s critique and his challenge for both parties to take genuine faith seriously in politics.
This week, after our brother McEachin passed, I felt grateful for one elected official who demonstrated how faith applies to politics. He was one of our best and stands in the sharpest contrast to a former President and his fearful and hateful supporters who represent the very worst in America.
Lord, hear our thanks and prayers for Donald McEachin who called for our better angels and fought our worst demons.
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Being a Virginian, I remember when Rep. McEachin began his career in politics when he was elected to represent Richmond as a member of our state's House of Delegates. I did not realize until reading of his death yesterday that he had been so ill for so long. Even though I did not live in the districts he served on a state and, later, on a national level, I appreciated his devotion to his constituents and the service he rendered which touched all of us whether he was our representative or not. I shall miss him.