Dear conservatives: The fruit is rotten
“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
“By their fruits you will know them.” While not the most commonly-quoted passage from the Gospels, these words echo for almost anyone who grew up in conservative, evangelical circles. Like most of Jesus’s teachings, it’s fairly simple: the only way to tell if something is truly good or bad is to wait and see what it produces. Someone can have “all the best words” and still be wrong if their speech brings about evil.
Jesus’s words also bring a weight of accountability. If the difference between good and evil is purely rhetorical, a question of propositional right and wrong, then no one can be held responsible for what their words create. On the other hand, if we’re to judge ideas based on the fruit they produce, people are responsible for what they say. If a tree produces good fruit, good; if not, Jesus says, it “is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
That brings me to just one question. How bad does fruit have to get before we throw it out?
Last week, two men carried out terrorist attacks on United States soil. Both came from the far right wing of the Republican party, and both targeted groups that Donald Trump had either directly attacked or had been associated with opposition to his policies.
Cesar Sayoc, a vocal and energetic supporter of the president previously captured in 2017 Trump rally footage, mailed at least fifteen explosive devices to people Trump had identified as his political and ideological enemies. The domestic terrorist’s “hit list” of additional Trump enemies included over 100 targets from media and politics.
In response, Trump blamed media personalities (many of whom were targets of Sayoc), claiming, “it is their Fake & Dishonest reporting which is causing” the hatred and division. He went on:
Sayoc was arrested on Friday, October 26. Hours later, Robert Bowers posted a string of racial slurs on social media, alleging that Jewish synagogues were helping to plan an invasion by offering support to migrant refugees, and added, “can’t sit by…screw your optics, I’m going in.” Five minutes later, he opened fire with an arsenal of semiautomatic weapons in Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing eleven before engaging police in a firefight and surrendering. As he gunned down worshipers, he shouted that he just wanted to kill Jews.
Bowers told the arresting officers that Jews “were committing genocide to [sic] his people” and said all Jews should die. In recent months, he had posted a long chain of racists epithets about Jews and the Jewish advocacy group HIAS’s offers of support for South American refugees:
- He claimed Jewish financiers were helping fund transportation of the migrant caravan seeking asylum.
- He referred to Jews as a “k*** infestation” and said Jewish support for refugees was “sugar-coated evil”.
- He claimed the caravan of refugees seeking asylum were “violent” and set on invasion, commenting, “I have noticed a change in people saying ‘illegals’ that now say ‘invaders’. I like this.”
Admittedly, Bowers criticized Trump…but only for his close connections to Jews, stating he was too much of a “globalist” and not enough of a nationalist. Trump called himself a nationalist and denounced “globalism” — a term used by the alt-right to represent the claimed global conspiracy of Jewish bankers and political financiers — at a deep-south rally just a week before.
Trump’s initial response to the shootings on Saturday morning publicly decried antisemitism, calling it an “assault on humanity” and urging unity. However, less than 48 hours after the attack, the president unapologetically repeated the same language cited by Bowers on his Twitter:
Calling the refugees an “invasion” and implying they contain violent elements is not a coincidence. It’s the exact rhetoric used by Bowers, the alt-right, and neonazis to foment violence against minorities and immigrants. The only difference? Donald Trump uses the same language but conceals its racist origins to make it just palatable to the rest of the conservative-leaning field.
“By their fruits you will know them.”
The principle can be misapplied, a point I tried to make (usually without success) at many points during my teen years. If you grew up in a conservative evangelical environment, you probably heard the passage quoted along with others (like “bad company corrupts good character”) to explain why you couldn’t do the thing you wanted to do, even if it didn’t seem problematic in itself. “Sure, you could play video games, but what kind of fruit would they produce? Better not.” “Oh, you can’t believe what that person says; she’s been divorced. You know bad fruit doesn’t come from good trees.”
Correlation does not prove causation, after all.
But the situation we find ourselves in is a far cry from loose allusions and tangential connections. Since the very beginning of his political career, Donald Trump has made poorly-concealed racism the foundation of his message. He entered politics by spearheading the birther movement, claiming that Barack Obama was a Muslim African with a forged Hawaiian birth certificate…an assertion which no one can honestly say was prompted by anything other than Obama’s skin color.
Trump campaigned on the claim that Mexicans send rapists and criminals over the border to assault “our” women and rob our cities, even though immigrants who cross the border illegally are still far less likely to commit violent crimes than American citizens. He advanced a ban on visas from Muslim countries…though, of course, his friends and financial backers in viciously-theocratic Saudi Arabia were conveniently excepted. After taking office, he said that there were “good people on both sides” of the march in Charlottesville where a woman was killed by neonazis.
Yesterday, Trump released a horrifying new ad blaming Democrats for murders committed by a drug dealer who had been deported twice during the Clinton administration. The ad pans across the refugee caravan, openly asking how many of them are also coming here to murder, in a transparent bid to stoke fear and division.
In addition, Trump began advancing a new plan: using an executive order to revoke the citizenship of Americans whose parents crossed the southern border illegally. It’s a plan as unconstitutional as it is repulsive. Even Paul Ryan, former vice presidential candidate and GOP speaker, agrees it is wholly unconstitutional…but Trump lashed out, tweeting, “Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the Majority rather than giving his opinions on Birthright Citizenship, something he knows nothing about!”
Why now? With the midterms less than a week away and the Democrats all but certain to retake the House, Trump needs a new issue to energize his base. What better than the issue of birthright citizenship, a target of the alt-right since its inception? Trump can tell obvious lies in order to mobilize unwitting conservatives while nodding to white nationalists that he is still advancing their agenda.
Through it all, evangelicals and the GOP base have consistently defended the president.
- “He’s just telling it like it is.”
- “He’s only getting the crowd excited.”
- “Maybe he’s just more blunt than we’re used to.”
- “A Democrat said something like that, once!”
- “Some of this stuff is just common sense.”
- “It’s not racist; it just sounds that way to liberals.”
- “We can disagree with his words but still support his policies.”
But…by their fruits you will know them.
When does it end? How many bombs have to show up in mailboxes? How many elderly minorities have to be shot to death in their house of prayer? How much hatred and evil and bloodshed must we see before conservatives and evangelicals finally admit that the fruit is not worth it? That Trump is consciously encouraging actual Nazis, and the GOP is simply unwilling to rein him in?
I’m not asking you to vote for a Democrat. Maybe their fruit still seems too suspicious at this point (though that’s something to watch). You don’t have to agree with me on everything. Just agree with me that this administration cannot continue to be rewarded for its dangerously reckless rhetoric. I’m only asking you not to vote for a Republican in the national election next week — not unless it’s someone who has pledged to hold Trump accountable.
“I tell you the truth, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth: this defiles a person.”
If your national Republican candidate isn’t willing to stand up to Trump, find someone else to vote for. Look for candidate in the Libertarian Party you agree with…or, heck, someone in the Constitution Party, if that’s where you fall. You can even vote for local candidates and choose not to cast a vote in the national election. Send a message to the GOP that people are more important than power, truth is more important than money, and principles can’t be sacrificed for policy.
By their fruits you will know them.
David MacMillan is a freelance writer, paralegal, and law student in Washington, DC.