Now That Trump Has Been Elected: Three Difficult Tasks Facing American Christians

the better angels of our nature

Three Difficult Tasks Facing Christians

And just to be clear, I would have written the following even if Hillary had won.

(1) Drop the mocking spirit; instead, turn away anger.
Rising anger across in America – left and right, Democrat and Republican – has contributed to our country’s uncivil, graceless, and derisive political rhetoric. This has been normative during 2016 in the blogosphere and social media, on talk radio, in campaign ads, and even from our presidential candidates and many of their leading supporters.

Sadly, many Christians – to call out those in my own faith – have taken their rhetorical cues from these sources. I was on the receiving end of this earlier this year, when a Christian looked me in the face and said, “If you don’t vote for Trump, it’s a vote for the enemy,” after I told her I couldn’t vote for Trump. Well. I did not vote for Hillary Clinton either, but not because I saw her as my enemy (I abhor some of her political positions, as I do some of Trump’s). More recently, I heard the malicious ill will from a Christian woman who asked me in a Facebook comment if I had heard the latest news about “Killery.”

These are just private examples. Public examples abound in the above-mentioned sources, so well known that they need no mention here.

I don’t know why the Bible comes down so hard on mockers. Maybe it’s because mockers are said to have attitudes and actions that smack of pride and discord (Proverbs 21:24; 14:9). Maybe it’s because they get marque billing alongside fools, who hate knowledge, and even alongside the wicked  (Proverbs 1:22; Psalm 1:1). Maybe it’s because they have become so angry that they “stir up a city,” rather than being like the wise, who “turn away anger” (Proverbs 29:8). But that’s not all:

“Penalties are prepared for mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (Proverbs 19:29; see also Proverbs 9:11 and Isaiah 29:20).

The Lord “mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34).

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).

“How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery?” (Proverbs 1:22). Yes. How long? How long will the poison of a mocking spirit continue to corrupt the political community our country?

Right or left, Republican or Democrat, from sea to shining sea, Christians, of all citizens, should be leading the way to stop this decay of our national body. What way is that? The answer is also in the Bible.

“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6)

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).

In other words, let us no longer take our cues (or our cures) from the political rhetoric; instead, let us speak wisely: stop stirring up the city; instead be wise and start turning away the anger (Proverbs 29:8). There will be no flourishing political community in America if we do not repent of our mocking spirt and humbly seek God, praying to become vessels of civility, grace, and hope – to everyone.

(2) Recognize that America is not exceptional or indispensable.
The 2016 campaign season was also a time when the question of America’s greatness gave rise to all sorts of punditry surrounding the assertion that “America is an exceptional nation.” For some, this is a cruel joke; others tout it as a valued and trusted trope. The general impression I get is that you couldn’t even get elected dog catcher in this country if you didn’t believe it.

So it surprised me when Donald Trump said he dislikes the term. But if you read between the lines of what he said, he seems to be saying that if America were truly exceptional – if so many nations weren’t “eating our lunch” – he wouldn’t mind applauding the phrase. On the other hand, at the end of August, Hillary Clinton was in Cincinnati at the American Legion’s national convention giving a speech that lauded America exceptionalism and attacked Trump’s dislike of the term.

hourglassPersonally, I think America is a great nation that has in recent decades gone down some roads that aren’t great. But is America “exceptional?” In other words, is America “inherently different” than other nations and does it have a “unique” role to transform the world. This is the question we must answer truthfully. Words have to mean things. And the words “American exceptionalism” mean that America is inherently different than other nations, unique among nations.

But that fact is that America is like other nations. If it were not, it would not be a nation. It would be some other kind of entity and unsuited to be numbered among 194 other nations of the world. What kind of entity that might be, I don’t know. But if America were unique, it would be a stand-alone something. And it’s not that. It certainly is not, for instance, a school, or a church, or a business. It is a nation among nations.

There has been only one unique nation in the history of the world, exceptional because its founding began with the revelation of God – beginning with the call of Abram:

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’” (Genesis 12:1-2),

and continuing with the mission of Moses:

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).

America had no revelatory founding.

In 1776 (not 1620), the nation certainly began unlike other nations extant in the eighteenth century in that it was not birthed as a monarchy or as an extension of some other kind of dynastic line of rulers. The legal founding of the nation galvanized around what we could call a synthesis of big ideas such as Puritan Calvinism, Enlightenment rationalism, and Virginia deism (to be brief about it). But this beginning was not a revelatory founding.

This ought to make us not only humble but also fearful and prayerful about the future of America as a nation. Every time I hear a politician claim that America is “indispensable,” I cringe. This descriptive for our nation began with President Bill Clinton, as far as I can determine, and it was afterward noised about by his secretary of state Madeleine Albright. Hillary Clinton affirmed it, at length, as an essential feature of America’s role in the world in her speech to the American Legion.

This political hubris (see Clinton’s speech) ought to frighten us. If ancient Israel was uniquely and exceptionally founded, let us remember that, except for its prophets, it also believed it was indispensable. But it wasn’t. Brothers and sisters, where do we get off believing that the United States of America is? Let us stop falling prey to this lie and start looking more biblically at our nation. As the theologian John Peck taught many of us: “If you start from an unbiblical position in your analysis of a problem, you’re not going to come up with a biblical way ahead.”

(3) Admit that America is under judgment.
As an American who is also a Christian, this has been hard for me to swallow. It’s put me in a place of great dislocation. Well, no, that’s not quite right. It’s more accurate to say that it is the only explanation that has, at least for me, sufficiently explained the confusion, if not the famine, of answers attendant to American reality. We used to call it a collective worldview crisis. Call it what you will.

SunsetI had been thinking for some time that perhaps this may indeed the case with our country, although I quickly add that when this was on my mind I trotted out theological arguments to counter it. But after the number of presidential candidates dropped to two in 2016, I suddenly found myself without any theological defenses against the “judgment” narrative. As a professor once said, “If the facts don’t fit your theology, change your theology.” This is why I have plucked up my nerve to say I now believe that: (1) America has been under some kind of strange judgment for many years; (2) we ended up with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as our presidential candidates as part of that judgment (evidence: the unprecedented large number of people who concluded that both were horrible candidates); (3) it did not matter who got elected; the judgment continues. If so, the path that our country is traveling is going to get more perilous as we head to January 29, inauguration day, and into the new year.

I hope I am wrong, but it seems to me that this is the deep crisis of our nation. I have been in grief over this and haven’t a clue about how we get out from under it. It seems like it is not enough to say: Let us seek the Lord. Public action is also required. As much as possible let us strive to be vessels of civility, grace, and hope during this period of disorientation and dislocation. Who do we think we are, anyway? Who do we think God is?

“Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path to understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust… Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing” (Isaiah 40:13-17).

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

All images, permission via creative commons.

A note from Charles: For more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”?

Donald Trump & White HouseHaving recently returned from three weeks in England, I can tell you it was a relief not to be Trump-blitzed everyday by the media. But I’ll also tell you this. When conversation in my home-away-from-home turned to American politics, as it frequently did, not one person I spoke to – and I was with many different kinds of people in varied contexts and cities – was a fan of the Trumpster.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that most had concluded that Hillary Clinton was no great catch either. And among some that I met, I heard a wryly spoken running joke: “Until June, we used to take pride in not being as divided as America. But now we have Brexit.” Welcome to the club, I’d reply. You guys import too much stuff from America! Misery loves company.

Anyway, I’m back home and again running for cover. But I did happen to catch a most enlightening piece of television journalism the other day about Donald Trump’s so-called business acumen that made me take notice. It speaks for itself, so I’m not going to comment on it. I’m just going to quote the speakers. All I want to say, first, is that it left me with the title of this article: “Is Trump Merely Lending His Name to ‘America’”?

During the September 8, 2016 PBS-TV NewsHour program, correspondent William Brangham talked with Mark Fisher and Tim O’Brien. Fisher is senior editor of The Washington Post and co-author of Trump Revealed: An American Journey of Ambition, Ego, Money, and Power. O’Brien is executive director of the international news agency “Bloomberg View” and author of Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald. Both have extensive knowledge of Donald Trump and his business dealings over many decades, and O’Brien is one of the few journalists who has actually seen some of Trump’s tax returns.

O’Brien doesn’t think Trump will release his tax returns “because I think they will go towards offering substantiation around a bunch of things that Trump has made central to his political campaign: his track record as a business person, how charitable he is as a philanthropist, his operations overseas, and the kinds of business and financial conflicts that could potentially come to bear on him should he end up in the oval office.”

Specifically, however, Brangham pressed the two journalists for some understanding about what we should conclude from Trump’s decades’-long roller coaster ride with his many and varied businesses, for Trump talks about his successes but he’s also had terrible failures, including many bankruptcies. It was Fisher’s and O’Brien’s replies that made me take notice; after all, what did I know, really, about Trump’s business history?

We know a lot about Hillary Clinton’s long, diverse political history – the good, bad, and ugly – so we can therefore make an informed conclusion about what that might mean for America if she were elected President. But about Trump’s long, diverse business history, what do most of us really know? On this question, I found Fisher and O’Brien offering a major piece of of the picture. And what might that mean if he were elected President?

Fisher and O’Brien both pointed out that in recent decades Trump has changed his business model. Instead of organizing and running businesses, which were many and varied and included taking on a lot of debt, and which had both successes and terrible failures, including many bankruptcies, Trump, said Fisher, has been “taking on less debt and less risk. [Now] he essentially rents out his name and uses others to take the risk – investors and others – so he merely rents out his name and gets a guaranteed income stream from that.”

O’Brien confirmed that. “The Donald Trump of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said, “was essentially a creature of debt. The last time he really operated a large business that involved complex financial and management decisions was when he was running his Atlantic City casinos, which he essentially ended up running into the ground. He put those through four separate corporate bankruptcies. And he almost went personally bankrupt in the early 1990s. And the Trump who emerged from that is essentially a Trump who is now a human shingle, as Mark said. He oversees a licensing operation where he puts his name on everything from mattresses to men’s underwear to vodka and buildings. And he’s got his golf course development operation, and then essentially a self-promotion publicity machine that made itself most visible during the ‘Apprentice’ years.”

To me, this was enlightening. It’s certainly not an unlawful business practice – lending his name to products. And it’s making the billionaire tycoon more money. Fair enough. But it said to me: “Donald J. Trump businessman” is certainly nothing like the image of a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs or a Nelson Rockefeller (41st U.S. Vice-President). Instead, I was left wondering: is Trump going after the U.S. presidency to lend his name to “America,” like he has done to other products he wants to hawk for personal profit? Is he letting “America” take all the risk? Why not? That is his business. I want to see him asked these questions during one of the presidential debates, which start September 26.

For more than 100 years, U.S. presidents – Democrats and Republicans – have been increasingly running the United States like a business enterprise rather than a political community. Like them, Trump as president of “America” would amplify this fundamental problem of our nation, big time. During an ABC-TV 20/20 interview (Friday night, Nov 20, 2015), before he won the Republican nomination, Trump was asked what he would do should he lose in November. He admitted it was possible, noting that he was up against many “not stupid people.” He then quickly added, “What’s next? I go back to what I was doing.” It’s an answer that speaks volumes.

Image via VAZVorpal Creative Commons

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

A Christian View of Not Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump

choices coffee mugsSeveral times over the past few months I’ve tried to explain to people I’ve run into why I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the November presidential election. Mostly, I’ve been bumbling through the explanations, still trying to get a good handle on my position. But recently when I tried it out I thought, okay, that’s nailed it. So, heart on sleeve, here it is. It’s pretty simple, actually. Here’s my story

When the Democratic and Republican conventions took place in July, I watched all 12 hours over the four nights of each of them that were shown on PBS-TV. And I approached them as a professional researcher – as someone who knows what his own biases and beliefs are but who has been trained to know how to set those aside as far as possible to listen as objectively as possible – for the sake of learning and discovering further truths, and perhaps even the changing of one’s mind.

And at the beginning of each 12-hour period I said to the TV: okay, convince me; I’ve already decided not to vote for Hillary or Trump; change my mind. But neither party convinced me to support its presidential candidates. Instead, most of the speakers on those stages for the Democrats and the Republicans, including Hillary and Trump, left me deeply grieved that this is the best America can do for itself and the world.

I’m not voting for Hillary for many reasons, but the tipping point for me came during Bernie Sanders speech, when he announced that there had been a “significant coming together” of the Democratic Platform Committee – between his campaign team and Hillary’s – to produce “by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” – a point he emphasized with exceptional clarity and deliberateness several times during is speech, to huge applause.

dominoesI’m not voting for Trump for many reasons, but the tipping was the accumulative effect of the speeches during the Republican convention. Speakers: defining themselves by what they are against; blaming Hillary Clinton and President Obama for all the turmoil in the Middle East and with Russia; and giving shockingly inane analyses of domestic and international problems and offering the vaguest generalized (i.e. impossible) policies as solutions (something the Dems also did the following week). And there was: the explosive, war-mongering speech of Gen. Michael Flynn (former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency); Chris Christie’s utterly stupid mock prosecution of Hillary Clinton, in which he had the coliseum rocking and screaming “Guilty!” every time he presented his “evidence” – and this is the guy who would like be appointed Attorney General if Trump wins the presidency?!. The flagrantly misleading claims about the rise of terrorism and ISIS were unconscionable, and there was not a word, not one single word, about how the Iraq policy of the George W. Bush administration gets implicated in the tragic condition today of Iraq. And especially for solving problems of international relations, the barrage of militaristic hubris overwhelmed me. Didn’t we get our fill of what a disaster that can be from the first four years of the Bush administration? I could go on, but I’ll stop.

Since this is a time when both main presidential candidates are the most unpopular candidates in modern history, surely our country must be under some sort of judgment from God. If so, it’s not “just the Democrats” fault, or “just the Republicans fault,” or just anyone else’s fault. We’re all at fault in our own ways. So what’s a Christian who tries to be a good citizen to do?

You can makeup your own mind. Here’s where I have arrived. I had told friends for a long time that I would probably not vote this year. But recently I went on the Internet and discovered that the state in which I live is one of dozens that permit a write-in vote for President. So that’s what I’ll probably do this November 8. I know, I know, the person I vote for isn’t going to win. But I figure that if enough millions also cast protest (write-in) votes, maybe it will send a good message. That doesn’t mean that either party will listen. But we are not responsible for others’ actions. Only for our own.

The heavyweight theologian St. Augustine taught that Christians must assume the obligations of citizenship. Let us remember, however, that there are limits to the claims that political parties have on conscience. For some, and I’m one of them these days, there may be too much distance at times in our land between the City of God and the City of Man. If the two major candidates seem to you capable only of furthering that distance, God is not forcing you to vote for either one. Yet you can still participate in political community as a responsible Christian citizen by finding a way to protest against the status quo. You don’t have to stay away from the voting booth, as I was going to do. Find out if your state allows write-in voting.

gobsmackedIf you’re not up for voting this year, you can find other ways of engaging in political community for righteousness sake. For example, think through your political view, so you can clearly communicate it to others, or explain your good and sufficient reasons (briefly!) in a “letter to the editor” or to your senator or representative. You could start a group (or join an existing one) to pray for elected officials in local, state, and national governments, or meet with politically frustrated, like-minded others and brainstorm creative forms of political witness, and then chose one and go for it. And it is especially good to get involved in the lives of the poor, the needy, the helpless, the outcasts, on whom the Bible places special emphasis – for they need our help more than the rich, who have power and means to be their own advocates.

In other words, for heaven’s sake and for your community’s sake exercise some political muscles. If you have not done this for a while, those muscles will soon let you know they exist – you’ll notice the ache! It’s good feeling.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images via Creative Commons. Top, by Lauren Macdonald. Middle, by Great Beyond. Lower, by Magdalena Roeseler

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept 16]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.