The Magazine

Jeremiah Wright's 'Trumpet'

The content of the magazine produced by Barack Obama's pastor reveals the content of his character.

May 19, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 34 • By STANLEY KURTZ
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In fact, for all his rousing rhetoric, Wright is a bit of a policy wonk, moving fluidly and frequently from excoriations of American foreign policy in various African countries, to denunciations of Senate votes on the minimum wage, to fulminations against FCC licensing policies and Clear Channel, and so much more. Wright is up to speed on local, national, and international politics, and it's tough to imagine him missing an opportunity to confer with Obama on his wide array of legislative crusades.

When Trumpet surprised Wright with a "Lifetime Achievement Trumpeter Award," it said that he "preaches a liberation theology" whose "religious message [is] fused with political activism." Not only does black liberation theology founder James Cone see Wright as his most important follower, but Wright's successor as pastor at Trinity, Otis Moss III, also views Wright as the quintessential political pastor. Moss (himself now considered the most promising young black-liberationist preacher in the country) turned down the opportunity to step into the leadership of his own preacher-father's nationally known church for a chance to serve at the still more renowned Trinity. Wright's Trinity, affirms Moss, is "the most socially conscious African-centered and politically active church in the nation."

While the majority of Trumpet's articles weave radical politics into a religious framework, some are purely political. For example, the April 2006 issue features a column entitled "Demand Impeachment Now!" The author pointedly refuses to call Bush "president," merely referring to him as the "resident" of the White House (and therefore as "Resident Bush"). Another piece taunts Vice President Cheney for his shooting accident and ends, "America, it's time for regime change." Neither piece has so much as a religious veneer.

What about patriotism? While many consider Wright's call for God to damn America irredeemable, others might argue that "in context," Wright's prophetic denunciations actually prove his love of country. Unfortunately, neither Wright nor any of the other regular Trumpet columnists displays a trace of this "I'm denouncing you because I love you" stance. On the contrary, the pages of Trumpet resonate with enraged criticism of the United States. Indeed, they feature explicit repudiations of even the most basic expressions of American patriotism, supporting instead an "African-centered" perspective that treats black Americans as virtual strangers in a foreign land.

Although the expression "African American" appears in Trumpet, the magazine more typically refers to American blacks as "Africans living in the Western Diaspora." Wright and the other columnists at Trumpet seem to think of blacks as in, but not of, America. The deeper connection is to Africans on the continent, and to the worldwide diaspora of African-originated peoples. In an image that captures the spirit of Wright's relationship to the United States, he speaks of blacks as "songbirds" locked in "this cage called America."

Wright views the United States as a criminal nation. Here is a typical passage: "Do you see God as a God who approves of Americans taking other people's countries? Taking other people's women? Raping teenage girls and calling it love (as in Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings)?" Anyone who does think this way, Wright suggests, should revise his notion of God. Implicitly drawing on Marxist "dependency theory," Wright blames Africa's troubles on capitalist exploitation by the West, and also on inadequate American aid: "Some analysts would go so far as to even call what [the United States, the G-8, and multinational corporations] are doing [in Africa] genocide!"

According to Wright, America's alleged genocide in Africa, as well as its treatment of "Africans in the Western diaspora," both leads to and flows from a single underlying truth: "White supremacy is the bed rock of the philosophical, ideological and theological foundations of this country." So for Wright, it's really not a question of correcting America in the spirit of a loving patriot. America, to Wright, is a kind of alien formation, scarcely less of a "cage" for "Africans in the Western Diaspora" than it was during the days of slavery: "[T]his country is built off, and continues to exist on, the premise of white supremacy." Again and again, Wright makes the point that America's criminality and racism are not aberrations but of the essence of the nation, that they are every bit as alive today as during the slave era, and that America is therefore no better than the worst international offenders: "White supremacy undergirds the thought, the ideology, the theol-ogy, the sociology, the legal structure, the educational system, the healthcare system, and the entire reality of the United States of America and South Africa!" (Emphasis Wright's.)