Diversity, compassion and inclusiveness are not losing propositions in this election season. They're moral values worth fighting for.

Share story

A commenter who critiqued my column on identity politics last week, and who presumably leans left on the political spectrum, gave me some food for thought when they wrote this:

“So essentially, you revel in the perceived moral justification of your views and would rather lose an election than compromise any part of an objectively divisive strategy? … Forgive me, but are you sure you are not a member of the alt-right?”

This one deserves some unpacking, especially given the horrific acts of hate we’ve just witnessed over the last week.

First there were the package bombs that Cesar Sayoc allegedly mailed to two former Democratic presidents and about a dozen other politically left-of-center targets. Luckily, no one got hurt. One of Sayoc’s former bosses in Florida described the man, an apparent ardent Trump supporter, as openly racist and homophobic.

Then Gregory A. Bush, a white man, was arrested Thursday in the fatal shooting of two African-American seniors at a suburban-Louisville Kroger grocery store in my home state of Kentucky. Minutes earlier he tried — unsuccessfully — to force his way into a black church.

And on Saturday, Pittsburgh synagogue massacre suspect Robert Bowers allegedly made anti-Semitic remarks as he opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 people in what was the deadliest attack on Jews in American history.

I wrote last week’s column, and today’s follow-up, to call on all of us to re-affirm our democratic ideals at a time when the threat of hate crimes and partisan violence has spiked.

But let’s be clear about something: While President Donald Trump didn’t commit any of last week’s crimes or tell anyone else to commit them, he is chiefly responsible for the current bitter atmosphere that has placed this country on edge.

We’ve just lived through a week that should make anyone who loves this country sick in the stomach, but only fools and the blindly loyal would look to our national leader for wisdom and solace.

Trump didn’t invent racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism or hatred of Jews and Muslims.  Bigotry in America predates him by centuries.

What’s true is that the president proudly calls himself a “nationalist,” when only a year ago white nationalists in Charlottesville chanted “The Jews will not replace us! The blacks will not replace us! Immigrants will not replace us!”

What’s also true is that right through this past week’s terrible events — as his supporters giggle and egg him on — he has scapegoated and villainized identity groups and vulnerable populations. At the same time, he’s been chipping away at the rights and privileges of whole communities behind-the-scenes.

Rejecting science and common decency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is apparently working to gut Obama-era protections for trans people in federal programs by narrowly redefining gender as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” according to The New York Times.

Trump is also busy telling bizarre lies about migrants trekking north from Central America, all in a racist attempt to make midterm voters think that people fleeing unsafe and economically depressed societies south of our border are dangerous, paid invaders harboring “Middle Eastern” terrorists.

Because dehumanizing people who seek asylum or who enter the country illegally isn’t bad enough, the administration’s going after legal immigrants too. It’s mulling plans to restrict green cards for those who access federal programs like food stamps, despite immigrants earning their keep by being among the hardest-working and most crime-free people in the country.

Directly contradicting hilarious attempts by Republican politicians to make us believe they want to protect Obamacare access for people with pre-existing conditions, the administration is working behind the scenes to limit that kind of coverage. If they succeed, millions of ill and financially strapped Americans of all backgrounds may be at risk.

Soon after becoming attorney general in 2017, Jeff Sessions announced plans to roll back Obama-era efforts to address racial inequities in the justice system by easing prison sentences for low-level drug offenses.

In what is becoming a tradition, the GOP is again engaging in suppression tactics to keep typically left-leaning African Americans and Latinos from the polls this election season, undercutting their voting rights.

And don’t get me started on how the president and his surrogates demonize women who come forward with stories of sexual harassment and assault, while taking actions to threaten their reproductive rights, among other things.

We shouldn’t think of attacks on civil liberties, social justice and observable reality as distant concerns. As we saw last week, no community is immune. Tomorrow the targets and victims could be our own families, friends, partners, co-workers, neighbors. Maybe even you.

This is not the time to be silent about the efforts we’ve made in this country to bring more kinds of people into the mainstream, and to mainstream freedoms and opportunities that were only a dream to those who previously were denied them.

I would like to believe that at least one of the nation’s two major political parties would never compromise in the fight to maintain the civil protections we’ve already won. A loud-and-proud stand on diversity, access and equity is not a losing proposition.

To the commenter, I say this:  What good are my views if they lack “moral justification”? Why shouldn’t I be bold about expressing them that way, especially now?

President Barack Obama, our first African-American president, twice won convincing election victories by linking his personal story to the values of the nation he aspired to lead.

Unlike his objectively divisive successor, Obama’s words made difference seem like a moral value totally in step with our reputation, sometimes not deserved, as a melting pot.

He didn’t win by hiding his identity to attract skeptical voters, not that a black politician ever truly could. He did so by writing books about it. He launched his national political career in 2004 with a convention speech that was electrifying — and unifying — precisely because of who he is.

In voting for Obama, people engaged in a historic act of social justice, proving that a nation whose presidential residence was built by African slaves had the moral courage to send an African-American family to live in it.

Inclusion, equity and compassion are not tearing this country apart, and they’re no cause for reticence among people like me who consider those ideas to be nonnegotiable virtues that we must promote in the face of the type of violence that took place last week.

Refusing to accept this country for what we’ve painstakingly made it — through political activism, conscientious journalism and everyday acts of grace and generosity toward people who’ve been treated as “the other” — that’s what’s divisive.

When we compromise those virtues and get shy about reveling in their transformative power, we all lose.