In the Shadow of Trump a Beacon?
December 17, 2016 § 15 Comments
The Friends I know are totally freaked out over the election. They break out crying. They wake up crying. They are literally throwing up. In every aspect of his being, Donald Trump assaults our sensibilities. His decadent moral character, his coarse, bullying personality, his utterly self-absorbed psychology, his willful and dangerous ignorance and lack of identifiable personal or political philosophy, his divisive and demeaning political tactics, his racism, xenophobia, and misogyny—we can’t believe that this man, a self-confessed sexual predator, will now be our president.
But I live and worship among liberal Friends on the East Coast. What about the evangelical Friends who live in Iowa and Kansas and Indiana? Are they among the 80% of evangelicals who voted for Trump? Hard to imagine, but it’s clearer than ever that we really don’t know each other in America anymore. I hope any Friends who read my blog and who voted for Trump comment here, to help me understand.
The election of Donald Trump is a rebuke, not just of the week and outdated liberalism of the Democratic party, but of liberal identity itself, including that of liberal Quakerism. We liberal Friends are waking up with nightmares partly because the liberal identity and sensibilities that drove the Clinton campaign are dominant elements of liberal Quaker culture and identity, as well, so his election feels like a personal assault and an existential threat.
But clearly Donald Trump speaks to the legitimate concerns of a lot of Americans whom the Democratic party has betrayed and abandoned—the white working class, especially those folks whose economic prosperity used to rest in the manufacturing sector, and especially their men, who, unlike some of their wives, have found jobs in the service and public sectors both demeaning and hard to find; folks in rural America and in those suburbs that have avoided becoming exurbs and remain predominantly white; and the strongly and overtly religious.
Both parties have some soul searching to do. Both are on trajectories aimed toward collapse. But what about us liberal Quakers (and Christ-centered Quakers, for that matter)?
Have we also abandoned the white working class? Do we have a message that speaks to folks whose jobs followed NAFTA’s “giant sucking sound” out of the country, as Ross Perrot put it so presciently way back when? Do we harbor veiled prejudice against “guys”—men who have not internalized the sensibilities we value in today’s liberal Quaker culture, men who don’t work behind a desk or in the secular church? And about the church . . .
Hillary Clinton may be a genuinely religious person, but you would never know it. She seems deaf to the voices of a large portion of one of the most religious countries in the world. I am glad she ran openly on a woman’s right to choose, so it was going to be uphill from there with evangelical Christians, granted.
But the gospel of Jesus is one of the most revolutionary ideologies on the planet. Did she have any advisors who know the many elements of the “good news for the poor”, as Jesus put it in Luke 4, with which she might fill out a meaningful progressive message to the Christian electorate? Either she didn’t have progressive Christian advisors or she decided against such a message, fearing she would push away her non-religious base, or I missed it.
So also with many of our meetings. Do we have members who know and cherish the progressive message of the gospel? Do some of us cringe when some vocal ministry invokes Jesus Christ or quotes the Bible, for fear that we will push away the non-religious among us? To that point, to what degree do we think of ourselves as “spiritual” but not “religious”?
And the gospel of Jesus is, at its core, a message about relief for the sufferings of the poor. Do we know the economics of redemption in the commonwealth of God, the planks in the platform of the new covenant Jesus offered? Are we equipped to offer the Christian electorate that voted for Trump an alternative vision for society that is fully grounded in the gospel and the rest of Christian scripture? Are we interested in taking our place in the progressive religious opposition to the proto-fascism that Donald Trump and his conservative and alt-conservative coattail riders will be shoveling up? Are we ready with the Word of wisdom and truth, the weapon of the Lamb’s War?
For surely, Donald Trump will betray his Christian voters. He only wanted their votes, and that not very badly. Otherwise, he really has nothing in common with them. Do we?
And he will betray his core, the abandoned white working class, not by failing to give them what he promised, but by delivering on promises that were never going to solve their problems in the first place, by driving the real economy into the dirt, by guaranteeing a global warming catastrophe, and by degrading all the shaky protections we have against an immoral and predatory capitalist system and its captive social and political cultures.
Like the Democratic party, we now need to examine our identity and our message. What do we have to say to the millions of Americans that we now think are either stupid, ignorant, or snookered by a dangerous con man?
Much of America is held together by the ties of religion, family, and community. Is liberal Quakerism a religion or a “spirituality”? Do we have a meaningful message for those who identify as religious? Do our meetings reach and retain young families? Do we know our local communities and share their struggles?
We are going to be a haven for those who are fleeing the reality of Trump. But will we also be a beacon for those who voted for him and whom he will probably ultimately betray?