Well, I’m not actually for Donald Trump, I am for someone clearly repudiating what he has said and – even more importantly – offering a true alternative that is not the result of careful focus group tests, surveying which way the wind is blowing and political consultants, but reflective of the kind of country we are trying to build together.
That shouldn’t be too much to ask. But will it happen?
Trump and his offensive rhetoric and positions have taken the country by storm, and there is growing worry about the collateral damage he’ll wreak on our politics and public affairs. And yet I don’t count myself among those who worry. Here’s why: Whether intentionally or not, Trump has set down a challenge to all those who seek to be president and those who wish to lead. The question is, “Who will answer the challenge with clarity and conviction rather than hand-wringing or even cowering?”
Trump is tapping into a reservoir of real, deeply-felt frustration within a segment of the American people who believe their country is spinning out of control, and who fear that they and what they cherish will be left behind. As he makes his way across the country, his crowds grow in number and intensity. Just a week ago in Arizona, 4,200 people waited for hours in 100-degree heat to attend his rally, with many others left outside, unable to secure a seat. This we must recognize as important.
But in his presidential campaign kick-off, he said that Mexico is bringing “drugs, crime and rapists” to the U.S. In Arizona, he doubled-down, stating: “These are people that shouldn’t be in our country. They flow in like water.” A man in the crowd then yelled out, “Build a wall!” Then let’s not forget his most recent disturbing comments about Arizona Sen. John McCain and his time as a POW in Vietnam.
It’s easy to dismiss Trump and his antics. He’s like the carnival barker whose only goal is to gain attention in order to gin up ticket sales. But before we choose to willy-nilly write-off Trump, or say his support will naturally top-out, or hope for his carnival to leave town before it causes any more damage, he deserves our undivided attention.
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, recently called Trump in hopes of getting him to “tone down” his comments. And the Huffington Post just announced on Friday that it would no longer cover Trump as part of its political coverage and only report on him in its Entertainment section. But I say, let him go. Let him speak out. When he does, our leaders must not turn away. Instead, they must turn outward toward him – and more importantly, toward the American people.
By his words and actions, Trump is challenging all candidates and leaders to spell out their view of a changing America with clarity and conviction. If one doesn’t like Trump’s perspective, then what is their alternate vision? Who is to be part of it? What kind of America should we be seeking to create? And how is it that people’s concerns about the future can be addressed?
The debate over immigration has been driven by bumper sticker slogans and divisive rhetoric. Now Trump has generated a new opening for leaders to try to knit together seemingly disparate segments of the country to forge a more perfect union in a decidedly imperfect world.
Indeed, the goal ought not to be silencing Trump. Nor should it be simply to denounce him. Because silencing or denouncing him does not mean that a more hopeful message will be sounded; it only means that Trump will not be heard. Who will step forward, not simply to condemn Trump, but to offer a real alternative?
In Arizona, Trump told the crowd, “We have to take back the heart of the country.” It’s time for our presidential candidates and leaders to express their own hearts before too many hearts in the country harden in the midst of fear.