Donald Trump has been explicitly disrespectful to wide swaths of people both inside the United States and outside it. But he is not alone in his failures. Both Hillary Clinton and Mike Pence have also demonstrated, though not as explicitly, a lack of respect that troubles me.
In the first two debates, Clinton was given the opportunity to discuss the relationship between the U.S. government and Muslim communities. And in both cases, Clinton failed to illustrate mutual respect. On both occasions, she described the relationship as a purely strategic one, as though the Muslim communities were to be used for our benefit. Focusing on her comments about Muslim-Americans, in the first debate she put it this way. "They’re on the front lines. They can provide information to us that we might not get anywhere else." She repeated this view in the second debate: "We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines." Both statements fit into a normalized view that the Muslim community has a primary function as a strategic resource in the fight against terrorism.
Contrast this representation of the Muslim community’s value with Tim Kaine’s description of community policing from the vice presidential debate: "You build the bonds between the community and the police force, build bonds of understanding, and then when people feel comfortable in their communities, that gap between the police and the communities they serve narrows." Rather than suggesting that blacks and other minorities work as "the eyes and ears" of the police force, Kaine suggested that the key is recognizing our common bonds and developing mutual respect.
When Clinton described the American Muslim community as our "eyes and ears" and as part of our "homeland security," she invokes and reinforces the idea that Muslims, as a group, are dangerous and to be viewed with suspicion, even by other Muslims. This treats Muslims as separate and different, not as part of the pluralism of a society that respects freedom of religion.
Clinton would have demonstrated equal respect by suggesting that we expect the same thing from Muslims that we expect from Catholics, evangelicals, Jews, atheists, agnostics and every other citizen or resident: respect for the rule of law and for others with all of their differences.
And Pence demonstrated disrespect for the plurality of religious and moral perspectives in the United States. Near the end of the vice presidential debate, he was asked about a time when he had made a decision as a public servant that did not align with his personal religious beliefs. His answer was long and circuitous, and produced no such example. He could recall no example of a decision that did not align with his religious beliefs.
The implicit message here is that at no point has Pence set aside his personal religious beliefs when making a judgment about what is best for the citizens of Indiana. This suggests that from Pence’s view, moral and religious beliefs that differ from his are less valuable – it is his moral beliefs that will govern and not a general respect for a diversity of moral perspectives.
It suggests governing not as a reflection of the citizens from different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives, but as dictated by his personal, moral and religious directives. Judgments and decisions made entirely on one’s own religious worldview are the common coin of a theocracy, not of a truly democratic republic.