By Eboni Marshall Turman, Ph.D.,
President Donald Trump is a terrorist. His hateful and uninformed rhetoric and action have uncovered and emboldened a contemporary surge of racism. It is undergirded by a unique religious fervor that unrelentingly induces violence against black and brown communities in the name of the god of “America first.”
On Sunday, September 24th, Trump called for a boycott of the NFL if protesting players who “disrespect our flag and country,” are not fired or suspended. This, of course, came on the heels of his stump speech for Senator Luther Strange on Friday, that turned into an all-out attack on African American NFL players who silently protest disproportionate state-sponsored violence against black men during the national anthem by sitting or kneeling.
Without referencing any one player by name, Trump exhorted the Huntsville, Alabama, crowd to an audible frenzy by asking them in his embarrassingly ungrammatical fashion if they would “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”
Whether or not one supports the NFL players who nonviolently exercise their Constitutional right to protest is not the issue. In fact, in light of the persistent silence that shrouds the relatively high incidence of violence against women, most especially domestic violence, perpetuated by NFL players, many black women, while supportive, have also challenged the moral legitimacy of the players’ protests and the more general calls for a public protest of the NFL.
In my book, Toward a Womanist Ethic of Incarnation, I examine the inconsistency of promoting racial justice while sidelining gender justice in ways that further subordinate black women, a longstanding dilemma that has fragmented the movement for black freedom in the US. Nevertheless, Trump’s verbal tirade against African American NFL players and their mothers reveals the rhetorical texture of his terror that facilitates violence against communities of color across the gender spectrum in significant ways.
In the first place, his antagonistic comments that are based on political disagreement insinuate the viability of physical confrontation. He engages in profane name-calling while explicitly gesturing for the economic disfranchisement of black NFL players through job loss. The fact of the matter is that political disagreement that intimates the reasonability of ad hominem verbal assault, economic and social disfranchisement, and physical confrontation with the potential of death, is a problem. Especially when such political disagreement arises from data that demonstrates that black people are disproportionately incarcerated, victimized by police brutality, and killed by state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence.
To be sure, some will maintain that Trump is not a dangerous racist, but is merely showing his concern for the white working class. Not only does this line of reasoning dismiss the reality that the American “working class” comes in all colors, but also that Trump is not president of the white working class but of the United States of America. Similarly, it dismisses the fact that Trump’s most recent diatribe in Huntsville merely scratches the surface of the racist violence that he has stoked and provoked.
We don’t have to reach back to Trump’s implicit call for the death of five black children in 1989 New York to prove this point. We don’t have to engage his well-documented practices of housing discrimination against blacks. We don’t even have to reckon with the first-person testimonies of his former employees and others who corroborate his racist, sexist, and classist practices that have destroyed American lives in order to know that Trump is dangerous.
More recent evidence does the work for us. While pardoning Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who was the hands and face of punitive anti-brown immigration policies and at the forefront of the birther movement, Trump called him “an American patriot.” He staunchly defended neo-Nazis and white supremacists protesting on behalf of the confederate traitor Robert E. Lee, while blaming “both sides” for the deadly violence in Charlottesville. During the campaign, a young black woman, Shiya Nwanguma, was physically assaulted – pushed, shoved, and called racial epithets – at a Trump rally, while he exhorted the mob-like crowd to “get them out of here.”
All of these acts of terrorism and so much more, most terrifyingly, have occurred with the religious fervor of so-called patriotism that has nothing at all to do with Islam. Contrary to the language and images that underscore the prevalence of Islamophobia in the US, terrorism is not inherently linked to black and brown Muslim bodies. In fact, when terrorism is understood as an unlawful exercise of violence and intimidation against civilians to produce political aims, it is reasonable and necessary to contend with the face of terror living in our own White House.
Such terror has everything to do with the fanaticism that accompanies the worship of the American god of whiteness and white supremacy. This god was erected on bastardized promised land theology that makes sense of the contemporary nostalgia for making America, that “land flowing with milk and honey,” great again. This god formerly ordained the genocide of Native Americans, sanctified the slavocracy, and consecrated Jim Crow. Today, it calls for those who actively disavow its tenets – who will not kneel at its altar, wave its flag, or sing its star-spangled hymns – to be brutalized by physical, social, economic, psychological, and spiritual violence.
This is terror; and Donald Trump is the man, literally, calling the shots.
Eboni Marshall Turman is Assistant Professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale Divinity School. She is a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project.