Donald Trump did not change America. He revealed America. He held a mirror up and forced us to look at who we really are as a country, with all our beauty and all our bruises.
What we see is a deeply divided nation, especially when it comes to race. Even though the mythology of racial hierarchy is an artificial construct, it still shapes much of the American psyche, and the American experience. It is clear that white folks and people of color are experiencing a very different America. We can see it in our competing visions for what we want America to be. And we can see it in how we vote.
White people voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. People of color voted overwhelmingly for Biden. It is states like Georgia and Pennsylvania, with a massive turnout among black voters, that created the final blow to the Trump Presidency. Powerfully, the hometown of John Lewis helped bring things home. And my own city, Philadelphia, which is 44% black and only 35% white, was also part of that final push. I must say it is poetic – that the City of Love voted out the hateful rhetoric and policies of this administration. It is also remarkable to see the voter turnout among Native Americans and Hispanic voters around the country. America showed up like never before – with the highest turnout of voters in our history.
Four years ago, we saw a surge in white voters backing Donald Trump, on the back of the first black President, and in the midst of a national racial reckoning manifesting itself in the movement for black lives. As we see the changing demographics of Congress, and of the country in general, there has been a palpable anxiety among many white Americans. Some have called it “whitelash” – a backlash of white fragility, fear, and even a nostalgia about how the country used to be. It is clear that when many people say, “Make America Great Again,” they really mean “Make America White Again.”
This election was a referendum. We know who Donald Trump is – the last 4 years have shown us that. This election has been about who we are, and who we want to be as a country. And yet it was anything but the blue tidal wave that some folks expected. Even though Trump will soon be gone, the conditions that led to Trump are not going away anytime soon. In the words of Eddie Glaude: “It’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders . . . This is us. And if we’re going to get past this, we can’t blame it on him. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”
We still have work to do.
The whole world has been watching. Leaders around the globe declared their solidarity with the American people, and voiced their concern for a peaceful transfer of power, echoing the familiar statements of our own leaders as they have denounced dictators overseas who seize power without the consent of the people. But the tables have turned.
And now the world is celebrating with us. In the words of the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, “Welcome back America.”
It’s time for a regime change. The current administration, comprised largely of white men and a few women, will now transition into what is likely to be the most diverse administration that our country has ever seen —notably with the first female Vice President, who is also a black woman and a woman of Indian decent. Little girls and young black women have one more piece of evidence that anything is possible for them.
I am encouraged by how the new administration has promised to fight as passionately for those who voted against them as for those who voted for them. I’ve been talking with some friends who are likely to help lead the next administration. I suggested to them that one of the first things they should do is a national “Listening Tour,” visiting the areas where they had the least support and simply listen to the people of these communities. When people do not feel heard they shout louder and find ways to make sure they are not ignored. As Dr. King said: “Riot is the language of the unheard.” The Trump administration has not done a good job of listening, especially to people of color. Recent groups of armed militia and Trump parades also warrant a fair hearing, as do the base of historically marginalized communities that voted for Biden. I hope the new administration does better – both at listening to historically marginalized communities, and at listening to those who don’t agree with them. In a recent conversation with Sr. Simone Campbell, she suggested we might need a whole new department in the White House – the Department of Listening!
One of the things that the election has made clear is that this is not only a battle for the soul of our nation, but it is also a battle for our faith. The people who led many of us to Jesus have led us to Donald Trump, and they have continued to defend his un-Christlike rhetoric and policies.
White evangelicals came out in droves in 2016 to support Trump in the tune of 81%. They have been his steady base of support since then. In 2020, that number dropped to 76%, which is significant and worth celebrating, but it is still alarming. It is a reminder that we may need to send some missionaries to tell evangelicals about Jesus—and by Jesus I mean the brown-skinned, Palestinian, Jewish, refugee Savior whose Gospel is “good news to the poor.” The one who told his followers to love their enemies, to sell all that they have, and give the money to the poor. The Jesus who said whatever we do to the least of these we do unto him and who we can rest assured is outraged by what’s happening on our border.
This year, white evangelicals are the only voting bloc of religious voters where a majority voted for Trump. As you look at the broad spiritual landscape of America, you also see that outside of white evangelicalism the opposite is the case – some 80% of non-white Christians voted against Trump. It is clear that the fixation with Trump that we see in many white Christians has more to do with their whiteness than with their faith. It’s more of a white thing than a Christian thing.
We can see the racial disparities when we look at the issues that matter to us, especially in an election year. White evangelicals are the only voting bloc to list “abortion” as one of their top concerns as they vote. In fact, it was #1 for white evangelicals, and did not register as a top priority for any other demographic. Abortion matters to me. But it is not the only issue that matters. And it grieves me that abortion has too often eclipsed all the other issues of life and death.
More and more people I talk to are hopeful that we can find common ground, even on abortion. For many faith voters, reducing abortion is precisely what has led them to vote for Democrats, even as they would like to see a better conversation on reducing abortion within the progressive movement. As we look at history, we see that the number of abortions is dropping every year, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. And many of us are convinced that if we really want to reduce the number of abortions, we should support healthcare and other social services for low-income women, since the leading reason for having an abortion is consistently a lack of resources and financial support to sustain the child. More on that later.
For now, I am encouraged to see so many people stand up for faith over fear, for love over hatred, and for hope over despair. We did it in many different ways. It’s important to remember that denouncing Trump does not necessarily mean endorsing Biden. I have been committed to keeping Trump from getting reelected, and it is my devotion to Jesus that fuels me and so many others. Some folks, including many of my friends, explicitly endorsed Biden, and others did not. In this election, we saw new factions of pro-life evangelicals stand out in their courageous support for change in Washington while not compromising their convictions on issues they hold dear. Others, like myself, did not endorse Biden-Harris but worked closely and prayerfully with them to get Trump out of office. I have said many times that I do not agree with the Democratic party on everything, but I agree with them on this: Trump and his enablers needed to go.
In the days to come, I look forward to engaging the new administration on a number of things we may see differently. In fact, I’ve been making a list: military spending, nuclear weapons and drones, defunding the police, restorative justice and the death penalty, racial justice and reparations, and abortion—to name a few. And I am confident that they are ready to listen, not just to me, but to all of us.
I have already had the opportunity to pray with the folks leading the new Biden-Harris administration, and I am thrilled to see how committed they are to their faith, including Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. Joe Biden will be our second Catholic President. In the days leading up to this election, I’ve participated in late-night prayer services, Gospel concerts on Zoom, and I’ve written devotionals for Joe and Kamala on the campaign trail. I am inspired by their commitment to their faith.
So today, let us celebrate. And tomorrow, let us organize. We are still in a battle for the soul of our nation, and for the soul of our faith.
This election is not the finish line. It is the starting line.
We now get to create the next chapter of American history together.