Be Careful What You Ask For

July 20, 2018 § 5 Comments

Donald Trump’s movement is, in many regards, an apocalyptic movement. Theologian Adela Yarbro Collins describes apocalyptic faith this way:

“apocalyptic faith often correlates with marginality, cognitive dissonance, and relative deprivation. ‘Marginality’ is a sociological term referring to the social status of an individual or group as anomalous, peripheral, or alien. ‘Cognitive dissonance’ refers to a state of mind that arises when there is significant disparity between expectations and reality. . . . ‘Relative deprivation’ identifies the self-understanding of those whose expectations or perceived needs are not being satisfied.”

The folks who voted for Trump, the marginalized white working class and white evangelicals of all classes, have been left behind by an economy that once offered ladders to a better economic future. They have been abandoned by political institutions and structures that once represented their interests, most importantly, the Democratic party. And/or they are held in contempt (they’re deplorables) by Americans who have rejected many of their value-defining institutions, like church, and their culture-defining, or tribe-defining, social practices and signifiers—they are “latte-sipping, Birkenstock-wearing” people whose kids play soccer instead of football and baseball.

Apocalyptic faith believes things are so bad that only a supernal* intervention can bring deliverance. Usually, this means God. In practice, though—that is, in the face of these oppressive forces and institutions in the real world—the extra-worldly intervention needs human agents. It needs prophets and messiahs. For the Trump movement, the prophets are the right-wing media; the messiah is, of course, Trump himself.

This helps explain why many evangelicals voted for Trump in spite of his obvious faithlessness and corrupt character—he’s not the one who is acting, really; it’s God. And God can use a broken tool, even a pagan one, just like he used the Persian emperor Cyrus to release the Israelites from captivity in Babylon. And anyway, we’re all sinners. And even Jesus was broken—though he took on human brokenness deliberately in order to save us.

The thing about apocalyptics is that they don’t give up their worldview, even when—as inevitably happens—it has demonstrably failed to deliver them. This means that when the corrupt world is not overturned as expected, apocalyptics often go ballistic. This is because you become apocalyptic in the first place when you already think things are as bad as they can get and are completely out of your control. You already feel desperate and helpless—though you still have your anger. The messiah is your last hope. When he (always a “he”) fails, that anger, coupled with utter despair, flares out in violence.

David Koresh (“Koresh” is the Hebrew transliteration of “Cyrus”) and his Branch Davidians are a prime, relatively modern example. But post-Pauline apocalyptic Christianity is itself the paradigmatic example—marginalized Christians have been expecting the apocalypse any minute now off and on for 2,000 years.

Thus, when Trump fails and is dethroned—when he has been crucified—his “base” may explode. The prophets will rage against their scapegoats. The messiah may try to take down as much of the temple as he can, Samson and Delilah style. The racists may lash out (even more) against black and brown people. The xenophobes may unleash mob violence against immigrants and especially, against Muslims. The Christians may hunt down their usual target, the Jews. The gun nuts may start shooting. The global warming deniers may start setting forest fires. The militia types may target federal buildings.

I’m just sayin’. I’m a little worried that we may regret it if we get what we’re asking for here—Trump’s spectacular and rightly-deserved come-uppins.

 

* Supernal: being or coming from on high.

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