One-hundred and seventy-two years ago today the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints crossed the Wasatch mountains into the Salt Lake Valley. By the time the next day had passed, acres of potatoes had been planted. A day later, Brigham Young and other pioneers entered the valley.
A few weeks ago my family and I visited "This is the Place" - a park dedicated to these pioneer memories. We washed rags on a washboard, plowed a 20 yard field with a miniature plow, stopped in at the schoolhouse where they were teaching the Deseret Alphabet, finished at the splash pad, and made our way home. I bought a pocket knife with my name on it as a memento.
During this month I often think of my pioneer ancestors who fled violence and crossed into a foreign country for safety. While watching the news last week, I saw something that brought to mind the mobs that forced them out.
President Trump made some explicitly racist remarks on his twitter account regarding members of congress that he disagrees with. Instead of ignoring these members of congress or presenting arguments against their points of view, this president decided to personally attack them; telling American Citizens to "go back where you came from" which is a well-known, textbook-definition of a racist trope.
Fast-forward to a rally in North Carolina last week. President Trump mentioned one of the members of congress in his speech. While President Trump continued, the crowd started chanting, "SEND HER BACK." As they were chanting, I could see a twinkle in President Trump's eye; a pleased expression on his face as he patiently waited for them to finish. As I saw this, It was as if I could see in my mind a mob being whipped into a frenzy over the "Mormons" coming into their state. I could almost hear their leader complain about how they'll make Missouri a free state, or they'll vote the wrong way, or any number of other offenses. Muskets in hand, faces masked, mob violence ensued; houses were burned; hundreds were killed. I could almost hear in my mind what I imagine could have been their chant, "KICK THEM OUT." I imagine a man in the front of the mob spewing lies to keep them going; lies and words that killed.
Today Donald Trump, our President, is the one spreading lies.
Part of what makes me who I am is a memory instilled in my blood of my pioneer ancestors being forced to flee. We were forced to leave the United States. Forced to leave because of our religion. Forced to leave in spite of a constitutional right granting us freedom of religion; a freedom written in ink, but not in the hearts of those forcing us out. After this past week, I'm afraid that pockets of the United States still do not have constitutional freedoms written in their hearts.
And, yes, words and lies can do great damage. Here are a few damaging moments off the top of my head:
- A man rushed into a pizza store and fired a gun, confident that it was a front for a child sex trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton.
- People disrupted funerals of mourners burying their children after the Sandy Hook Massacre, confident that the mourners were making it up as a political ploy by Barack Obama to take their guns away.
- A man opened fire on a Republican congressional baseball practice, confident these congresspeople were bad for the country.
- A police officer posted on Facebook that one of the members of congress that President Trump is complaining about should be shot.
When we partake in perpetrating these lies through our own social media accounts, we are complicit in a larger mob not much different from the mob that kicked my ancestors out of their homes.
Shortly after this rally, North Carolinians proclaimed their shame. "This is not who we are," they said. Others joined in the condemnation. I have hope that we are getting better as a country. Maybe we are permanently devolving back to the pre-civil-rights era. Maybe it's a three-steps-forward, two-steps-back kind of thing and we're experiencing the backward movement. Either way, let us all stand up to the mobs.