We find ourselves in the midst of what one day might be thought of as the constitutional version of the Cuban missile crisis. And as during those dark days of 1962, the continued existence of the Republic is not preordained. We now exist in a present moment where we cannot be assured of anything. Yet our nation’s survival also means avoiding the providential teleology of defeatism. Anyone doubting the new president’s extremism, or the influence that radical voices have on him, must by now surely see the folly of expecting this administration to moderate. The president’s recent executive order is a de facto Muslim ban, which has split families apart and forces to send back to Syria and Iraq men and women who often risked their lives in the service of our nation during our military debacle in Iraq. This order, with its religious litmus test, violates the establishment clause, and turns its back on the American city on a hill which promises religious liberty for all. In a nation of laws, this order is flagrantly unconstitutional, unethical, inhumane, and un-American.
Courts in New York, Washington, Virginia and so on have ruled that parts of the order are illegal, yet there are accounts that Office of Homeland Security agents are ignoring those rulings. We are headed towards a full-blown constitutional crisis – one short week into the new administration. This blinding moment of now may be the one in which future American history is decided. More than the primaries, more than the election, more than the transition, now may be the brief period where it is confirmed if we are a nation of laws, where rights are respected, or rather the sort of nation that the revolutionary American ideal was framed against. And whatever comes of this in the short term – whether a victory for tyranny or for civil rights – will look relatively small. But in its smallness lay the possibility of great significance. Surely there are dark signs – an extremist cabinet, extremist advisers, and as always the never-ending messages from the White House with no sense of propriety or decency, where the word “freedom” is apparently too long to fit into a 140 figure tweet.
But what of those other signs, what of those early buds on the tree? In the face of this unconstitutional and un-American order protesters thronged the international arrival gates at our nation’s airports. Dulles, Logan, JFK are our new Gettysbergs and new Valley Forges. These sites of resistance are a new forge for a new politics, a new progressivism which unifies black, white, Hispanic, LGBT, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jewish – a new progressivism whose animating principle is something very old, that too often forgotten call to “Solidarity.” We must remember that not only did the president receive three million less votes than Hilary Clinton, but that he received twelve million less votes than all of the other candidates on the ballot combined. His approval rating hovers at around a third of the nation. His order has been condemned by Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and the shameful silence of other Republican senators and representatives may give way to denunciations soon. Most evangelical leaders are on our side. The Pope is on our side. The people are on our side.
The protestors who have come to the defense of their Muslim brothers and sisters know that fundamental truth: that all men and women are in their own accord strangers and pilgrims, but that it is in that communion of commonality and empathy where we truly define ourselves, and the blessed nation is that which reaffirms this truth, the wicked one that which denies it. Remember, that to deny the Mother of Exiles is an act of privilege, entitlement, or ignorance (or all three), but that it is also sinful. For “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And what then, when a Pharaoh becomes the ruler of Canaan, what of when we leave Egypt only to find that Egypt is now in Canaan, what do we do when New Jerusalem becomes a city in just another Babylon? When we have failed at our charge and in the words of John Winthrop we’ve been “made a story and by word through the world?” Then we recommit ourselves, we ask for contrition over our wickedness at abandoning the covenant of liberty. We welcome and give succor to the stranger, for we were once strangers and could be again. We tattoo that motto on our hearts and we emblazon it on our minds, lest our hands wither and our tongues cleave to the roofs of our mouths, and we recall by these rivers of Babylon that resisting tyranny is obedience to God. America is a nation that has yet to be discovered – though, she may yet still be found.