It’s hard to imagine Vicar Edgar Gutiérrez-Duarte and the parishioners at his Chelsea church feeling more afraid, given the miseries of the last few years.
Yet, here they are.
Stung by President Trump’s dehumanizing rhetoric about black and brown people, terrified of arrest by immigration officers that might rip them from their families, members of the Episcopal Church of San Lucas are now reckoning with another fear that is suddenly more immediate after last weekend’s carnage in El Paso: that some white supremacist, emboldened by the president and his enablers, might take it upon himself to attack their community, too.
“It is a weird feeling, when you know that you are the target of that hate,” Gutiérrez-Duarte said. “You feel like a sitting duck. The people of El Paso could have been us.”
About 90 percent of the congregation is Hispanic, he estimates, and many are probably undocumented immigrants. On Sunday, the pastor said, they were asking the same questions as the rest of us: Why did this happen? Why doesn’t anybody do something about the guns?
But they knew one answer already.
“They said, ‘It’s no surprise, because Donald Trump hates us,’ ” Gutiérrez-Duarte recalled.
He sure does. How could anybody outside Trump’s distressingly wide circle of fellow racists and enablers doubt that, at this late stage? Why do we waste time and breath ruminating on whether this president was sincere when he read a speechwriter’s condemnation of white supremacy off a teleprompter on Monday?
The tell is in Trump’s every unscripted moment: the comparisons of black and brown people to vermin, their homes “infested”; his constant talk of an “invasion” by Central Americans crossing the border; his obvious enjoyment at a Florida rally when one of his devotees shouted that those immigrants should be shot; his call for four congresswomen, three of them US-born, to go back to the “totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”; his infamous “very fine people on both sides” comment after the deadly mayhem at a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va. If you’re still reading this, you’ve seen this list, and longer ones, eleventy times since Saturday, so let’s move on.
Actually, let’s not, since the long list is part of the problem here. Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth, the saying goes. Obviously, plenty of Americans — gulled by the sycophants at Fox News — believe the president’s lies, about immigrants and everything else. Other Republicans don’t, but they play along because it serves them to.
But when you repeat lies endlessly, they also become part of the wallpaper, and that is arguably even more dangerous. Trump violates the standards of the presidency — of human decency — so often, that many who might call him out barely register most of his deceptions and transgressions any more. After more than 10,000 provably false or misleading claims, much of the outrage that animated the first massive marches after his inauguration has drained away. Trump is utterly indefatigable, and many of us are exhausted. Those who can, tune him out, as an act of self-preservation. There is just too much of him.
It takes a horror like the terror attack at El Paso, where a white supremacist murdered 22 people because, echoing Trump’s rhetoric, he was angry about a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas, to shock us back to full attention.
At San Lucas, they don’t have the luxury of tuning out, ever.
“There is always that element of fear,” Gutiérrez-Duarte said. “As a public figure in a public place, it is always in the back of my mind. . . . We could easily be a target. You have to go into some form of denial, because we cannot stop living.”
Even before El Paso, some parishioners were afraid to come to church, or use the food pantry, for fear of arrest by immigration authorities.
With one eye on the door, Gutiérrez-Duarte tends to those who remain.