Trump mocks the disabled, immigrants and women. And his voters laugh

As scholars of religion, we cannot remain silent as this poison continues to corrode the soul of our nation.


There is no point in making a rule that no one wants to break. The reason almost every religion teaches some form of the Golden Rule − “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” − is because humans are wired to do the opposite.

That is particularly true of suffering. We do not want anyone to make us suffer but often derive pleasure from other people’s misfortune. The German language has a word for it: schadenfreude. Who hasn’t thrilled just a bit when a rival is taken down a peg, or when a self-righteous hypocrite is exposed?

It also kicks in to cement our group identities. From sports teams to political parties, the reward centers of our brain light up both when our team wins and when the other team falters. We justify even cruel behavior toward those we perceive as a threat to our group’s success, way of life or values.

Tragically, political discourse has turned this common human weakness into a virtue, celebrating the ways we inflict pain on one another.

It is no longer news that former President Donald Trump takes great delight in ridiculing political opponents and anyone who crosses him. With a mix of derisive nicknamesmockeryinsulting physical descriptions and baseless accusations, he has turned transgression into an art form.

Yet, millions of Americans remain captivated by his displays of cruelty. Attendees at his rallies laugh and cheer − disparaging not only political adversaries but also ethnic groupsdisabled individualsundocumented immigrantswomen who call out abuse and others. Conservative media outlets relish replaying the clips.

Trump would give Russia green light: Trump’s NATO threat gets less attention than Biden’s gaffes. Only one puts Americans at risk.

Trump’s cruelty is the point for his supporters

Adam Serwer, a staff writer for The Atlantic, has argued that “cruelty is part of human nature” and American history. It’s not inherently right or left wing.

But in the case of Trump and many of his most ardent supporters, “the cruelty is the point”: “Somewhere on the wide spectrum between adolescent teasing and the smiling white men in the lynching photographs are the Trump supporters whose community is built by rejoicing in the anguish of those they see as unlike them, who have found in their shared cruelty an answer to the loneliness and atomization of modern life.”

Trump’s blend of political attack and personal insult has been rewarded with enormous amounts of airtime and control of the Republican Party. What gets rewarded gets repeated, of course, so politicians and strategists of various stripes have tried to capture the appeal of verbal abuse.

Even Trump’s detractors cannot turn away from this political theater of “us” and “them.”

As scholars of religion and diverse members of the body politic, we cannot remain silent as this poison continues to corrode the soul of our nation. The tongue is a small part of the body, but its fire can do great damage, as the New Testament author James warns (James 3:5-8).

Biden’s toast. Trump’s unhinged. How about a third-party ticket led by Nikki Haley?

We need to reject the politics of cruelty

It’s not about Trump. It’s about us − if we don’t reject the politics of cruelty. Our parents and schools teach us not to bully others but to report bullies, stand up to them and build people up rather than tear people down, even people we view as different.

For this reason, the Hebrew Bible’s most repeated instruction involves the stranger: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). “Love the stranger as yourself” (Leviticus 19:34) − and similarly over 30 times.

The natural response to experiences of oppression is to do the same to others if we get the chance, but our religious values teach us otherwise.

Perhaps the clearest picture of how we are all harmed when cruelty is given free rein emerges from another arena in which we face this challenge. At the end of January, social media CEOs appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to give an account for how their platforms place children and youth at significant risk of great harm resulting from online bullying and harassment.

Parents shared stories about children who committed suicide. Kids talked about cyberbullying ruining their lives. Others showed up just to make clear that children are priorities, not products.

The culture of cruelty makes witnesses afraid to stand up lest they become targets themselves. They make excuses for it or write it off as a meaningless joke. Sometimes they join in. Everyone is enveloped in a cloud of shame − those who spew the hate, those who are targeted and those who hear it but do nothing. The social fabric frays and puts everyone at risk.

The Senate committee held the social media giants accountable. Dismantling the culture of cruelty in political life, however, requires us all to take responsibility. As parents and citizens, we cannot simply teach about the Golden Rule. We must model it.

Paul Louis Metzger is an evangelical Christian professor at Multnomah University & Seminary. Rachel S. Mikva is a Reform rabbi and professor at Chicago Theological Seminary.

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