I’m a Midwesterner. It’s been a long time since I left, but I’m still a Chicagoan—from Carl Sandburg’s “Hog-butcher of the World” Chicago. The Chicago of my day was the rail center that brought the farm to market. Though I was born, raised, educated, and married there, my roots are in the small towns of America’s heartland. My mother, daughter of an evangelical preacher, grew up in the villages of South Dakota and Iowa. My father was raised in a slightly larger town in Illinois that is now a suburb of Chicago. I still carry the values of plain-speaking, hard work, and fair play—what New York friends, with the patronizing sneer of Easterners, referred to as the “down-to-earth values of the heartland.” Where have those values gone?
I understand that for the last forty years, the greed of Reagan conservatives plus the blindness of liberals drowned out those values and left you voiceless. I, too, have felt a helpless rage and have written blog after blog about the liberals’ part in this. I’ve also written about the way the rampant “me-ism,” and the quest for wealth and status have destroyed the sense of community service that has been the hallmark of Midwestern culture.
I understand that being city-bred has changed me, but I still believe that self-reliance, that sense of one’s own power, is the underlying strength of our democracy, and that it comes out of Protestantism. My great aunt traced my family’s roots back into the seventeenth century, and I confess a certain proprietary pride in the creation of America’s founding institutions.
But therein lies the Achilles Heel. Christianity names Pride as a Cardinal Sin, not evil in itself, but an emotion that, if carried to the extreme, can lead us astray. Our ancestors based our institutions on the belief that certain rights belong to all humanity—an idea that has drawn the world to our shores. The concept of inalienable rights changed the world, but ideas don’t have ownership; they are shared by all who hold them, regardless of race and gender—as do the institutions created in their name.
But then came a man who sang to your Pride, gave voice to your sense of ownership. Echoed your belief that you—Christian whites—are the “true” Americans lost in a sea of valueless rabble—and promised to fix it. And you rose to the intoxication of power you had never known—despite the warnings of your own faith.
I once saw a double image of Christ and Lucifer that brought this concept home to me. I don’t remember where it was, and I can’t find it, so I’ve created the crude copy below from memory:
This mirror image returned to me over and over during the 2020 Presidential campaign as I listened to an outrage from one side repeated the next day verbatim by the other, changing only the name of the culprit. To distinguish one from the other you need to decide which is speaking the truth. I’m not suggesting here that either side is Christ—far from it—but only who is the speaker, who the imitator, and who you should believe. The images are identical, except one is the negative of the other. The white speaks of love and tolerance, the core of Christianity, the dark to the allure of rage, fear, and bitterness—and the belief that hatred, vengeance, and violence are the road to salvation. The siren voice of Donald Trump.
You’ve set sail on the wrong ship. I no longer feel that I know you, because I can’t believe that down-to-earth, common sensical midwesterners could fall for a flagrant fraud, self-infatuated blowhard, and value-free tyrant. You’ve abandoned common sense, honesty and fair play. Put that man back in power, you will send the institutions that have been the grounding principles of our lives for generations crashing upon the rocks. Where are the pastors? Where is the voice of Christianity?