Do You Hear What I Hear?

The President gave a speech on the 4th of July, 2020. What did you hear?

A good friend of mine recently reflected on the president’s 4th of July speech. A speech some people claimed was the greatest speech Ever made by this president. Others who heard it felt it was dark. This was my reply to him.

Sam, I believe you to be a person of faith and good will. Normally, I would choose to avoid engaging in discussion on this post because it usually devolves into anything but discussion. But one of the great freedoms we have in our nation is to speak freely, and hopefully respectfully, even when we differ in opinion.

So with that I can tell you I came away from that speech with a very different feeling. First off, you asked us to not focus on the speaker, but instead focus on the words. Unfortunately, you cannot discount the speaker, because it is HIS message. While he likely didn’t pen much of it, these are his authorized sentiments. He has chosen to be such a polarizing force both in our nation and around the globe, so not only the words matter, but the speaker. When you hear words from a trusted source, you can focus more on the words, but when you hear words from a source who has consistently proven untrustworthy, and divisive, you have a hard time hearing the words alone. You have a context of past abuses of trust. You have a context mistreatment and ill will.

I’d be happy to go through line by line of the speech, highlighting both what was true and exemplary, and what was projection and purposeful disinformation. But since your comments did not parse each line of the speech, but instead summed your takeaways, I’ll address some of those.

While it may be scary for some citizens to see protests and the tearing down of statues, for other citizens that is an expression that brings hope. America is not a finished product, but a wonderful, ongoing experiment. Protests are meant to demand further progress towards our stated ideals, outlined in the speech, that all men are created equal. We live in a nation that professes that, but has historically resisted its’ reality or manifestation. Women didn’t get the right to vote for 140 years. People of color didn’t get their right to vote for nearly 200 years, and that vote is still widely suppressed.

Statues are meant to honor people or events of historical accomplishment that align with our nation’s values. But when people see statues erected of people who perpetuated hatred, dominance and enslavement that were in direct contradiction to our national ideals, you can understand their disgust, and their distrust of their government, that is supposed to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people”.

But statues are not history. And none of our history is being “erased”. That is hyperbole designed to scare people. Our history always has been one of change, and resistance to that change. Granted, sometimes that change is scary, and does not always prove to be for the better. But much of our national story of change has been the relentless march towards our nations stated vision. We are not erasing history. We are making it.

You mentioned attacking businesses and people of faith. We can agree that those are destructive behaviors and do not forward our nation. Yet there is a greater attacking of people going on, not just of faith, but of all backgrounds. Especially our non-white brothers and sisters. This administration has heralded and dog-whistled all kinds of hatred for Asians, Blacks, and Spanish-speaking people. Of all faiths. As an educator who has a diverse classroom of children, it is heartbreaking to hear the personal stories of kids and their families being harassed simply for being who God created them to be – fearfully and wonderfully made.

A cancel culture refers to shaming people that we disagree with, and demanding that they change to our view or standards. I agree with you that this practice can be toxic. Again, you cannot take the speech away from the context of the speaker. Sadly, this president, more than any before him, has used his bully pulpit to harass and bully political rivals, private citizens, or businesses that don’t agree with him. If he feels the least bit slighted, he goes out of his way to drag his perceived foes through the mud. He foments a “cancel culture” at every opportunity, but decries it when it doesn’t serve his purpose.

China. What is happening there is frightening and despicable. There is religious genocide, that has been given the tacit approval by our president. The government has become more and more authoritarian, just as Russia, Turkey, and Syria continue to do. All without any real pushback from our president, who seems to have quite the admiration for autocrats. Much of his leadership style seems to resemble theirs.
You ask us to pay attention, because protests won’t be allowed if we stay on this path. But isn’t that exactly what our current president has attempted to do? The vast majority of our protests have been peaceful, and the vast majority of participants have been people seeking genuine change from their government, but Trump has tried to portray citizens exercising their first amendment rights through the lens of “looters and thugs”. He wants to “dominate them” with tear gas and overwhelming force. We’re worrying about the tightening grip of China because it has already been happening here in America under this very administration!

So back to the speech. Back to the words. Trump fills the airwaves and the internet with words daily. There is typically not much substance, but tons of bluster. His words often contradict themselves from one day to the next. But taken as a whole, his words and actions have left imprints and patterns. Tweets, conferences, interviews and speeches together tell a story. That story is interpreted by three distinct portions of our country. Some believe they hear a story of making America great again. Some hear a story of that is destroying America by tearing apart our citizens. Some have not yet decided what to make of this president and his words.

I do not see America being made great by this divisive administration, but I do see Americans trying to move America towards its promises and stated ideals. I see hope in the people filling the streets in peaceful protests. I see hope in the citizens willing to embrace the talents, ideas, and perspectives of people who have different races and cultures than they do. I see hope in the people who are willing to beat their swords of hate and resentment, into plowshares of cooperation and collaboration, working together to build the nation our builders envisioned.