On February 26 at a meeting between President Trump and 40 of the nation’s state governors, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state suggested to President Trump that “we need a little less tweeting here and a little more listening” on the issue of arming teachers to deter school shootings. Trump was visibly annoyed by being addressed so boldly by a governor inside the White House in the presence of about 40 other governors.
The comments of Gov. Inslee directed to a tight-jawed and arms-crossed President were replayed over and over throughout the evening news cycle. From all appearances, President Trump may have heard what Gov. Inslee was saying, but he was not listening.
In our curriculum at the divinity school we talk about the Hebrew word “shema” which means both hearing, and, also taking seriously what you have heard. In the Hebrew text in Deuteronomy 6:4, real hearing involves doing something about what one has heard. It was clear by Trump’s quick and curt response to Gov. Inslee that Trump heard with his ears, but he was not listening with his heart.
The words of Gov. Inslee reminded me of the words of Jeanette Rankin, the first female member of the United States Congress, who was elected in 1916 from the state of Montana. She was elected on the promise that she was going to advocate and legislate, in order to gain the right to vote for women in the United States. She spoke proudly of hoping to encourage the passage of what she called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That eventually became the 19th Amendment that was adopted in 1920.
However, upon her arrival in Washington, DC in late February of 1917, she was confronted with whether or not she would vote to support U.S. involvement in World War I. People from Montana, from across the country, and from the White House and the Congress were pressing her to announce her position on going to war in Europe. She eventually joined 48 other members of Congress in opposing U.S. involvement in World War I.
According to Will Englund in his book March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution, in reaching her decision Jeanette Rankin vowed first to “keep my mouth shut and listen for a while.” As a result of listening, she voted to oppose World War I. She would later be the only member in either chamber of the Congress to vote against war with Japan on December 8, 1941. In 1968, after she had left public office she led a group of several thousand women in a march in Washington, DC to oppose the war in Vietnam.
Whatever Jeanette Ranking heard while she was listening would affect her for the rest of her life. Gov. Islee was inviting President Trump to follow the example of Congresswoman Rankin of Montana, and to “keep his moth shut and listen for a while.” Jeanette Rankin lost her bid for reelection two years later, but she was returned to the Congress from that same district in Montana in 1940. She may have paid a heavy political price for her vote in 1917 against going to war in Europe, but she was true to her conscience.
The U.S. did go to war in 1917, and it proved to be the most gruesome human conflict in the history of humanity with millions of young men on all sides dying from mustard gas, artillery bombardment, diseases that occupied the trenches on both sides of the line, and battlefield slaughter on a scale never before witnessed. World War I was not “the war to end all wars.” It was the war that was directly responsible for the beginning of World War II, that gave birth to the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam war and most of the conflicts occurring in the world today!
Perhaps, if more people in power would follow the example of Jeanette Rankin the world would be a better place. That is what Gov. Inslee was saying to President Trump; “we need a little less tweeting here, and a little more listening.”
The Rev. Marvin A. McMickle, Ph.D. is president and professor of African American Religious Traditions at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School