Thousands of article have been, can, and will be written about Trump. How did he win the election? What was his appeal to certain voters? Why do some voters continue to support him despite controversy after controversy, ineptitude after ineptitude? Today I found myself pondering these questions from the perspective of the disconnect between the Judaeo-Christian values that many conservative voters claim to value so much and the un-Christian candidates they support, in this case Trump.
First off, it’s been said many times that Trump speaks the language of so-called Middle Americans: working class, sometimes rural, almost always Christian, almost always white, generally less educated (not to be confused with less intelligent), and generally people who have not seen much job growth over the last decade. Over the last eight years under Obama the rights of the LGBTQ community had been fought for, an African American had become President, for the first time a woman won the nomination of a major political party for President, and the fight for the rights and well being of African Americans was heating up like nothing since the 60’s, but all the while these Middle Americans were losing jobs and no one seemed to be fighting on their behalf, only for these other “liberal” causes. Where was their champion? What about their cause? This anger, however misplaced, found voice in Trump.
Trump’s rhetoric does not appeal to intellect. These Middle Americans didn’t want intellectual explanations or excuses. They wanted promises and they wanted someone to stand up and sympathize with them. Trump fulfilled that. “Fear the outsider”, “look out for yourself, not others”, “America first!” Feel familiar? Trump only said the last quote, but the obvious message of that quote and so much of the rest of his rhetoric is in the first two. His rhetoric, at its most inspiring (at least to his supporters), is almost never about intellect, but about painting a striking and emotional picture that overwhelms the intellect of the listener and causes them to be afraid. What do we think of when we’re afraid? We think of our safety and ourselves, nothing else. Trump’s inauguration speech is a good example:
Trump could not have been more clear: Being generous by caring about and giving to others is bad for you and makes no sense. One would think American Christians would have been appalled at such talk. Apparently not. Naturally the appeal or lack of appeal that Hillary Clinton had to American church goers, particularly evangelical Christians, is important to take into account. But that’s another discussion.
Why should American Christians have been appalled by Trump’s rhetoric? Let’s compare it to Jesus and His rhetoric. Turn the other cheek, judge not lest you yourself be judged, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated, be kind to strangers. I’m paraphrasing but all of these generous, Christian, and liberal (yes, liberal) sayings that we hear all the time originated with Jesus and are part of the backbone of Christianity. The Bible, particularly Jesus, challenges us to go beyond our gut reactions to people and situations and transcend our baser instincts of fear, hate and selfishness. Jesus challenges us to instead respond to the world and its problems by tapping into our love, compassion, inquisitiveness, and acceptance. Government policies should reflect these Christian values, as conservatives often remind us our country was founded on Judaeo-Christian values after all. Trump’s rhetoric and his policies contribute to a government and a country of selfishness and fear.
And yet despite these blatantly unchristian policies and rhetoric, the most “Christian” citizens of our country continue to support him. Why? Sad to say, the robust intellect of Jesus and of Christianity seems to hold no importance to them any more. Theology that takes the whole Bible, as opposed to selective excerpts, as its source for reaching conclusions seems to be more and more rare. What we see more of instead mirrors how some Americans view the Constitution. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence to some are documents that exist for them to selectively cite so they can uphold their point of view. What should happen instead is people need to adjust their point of view to uphold the American values of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence. The Bible too is being used to justify preexisting opinions and prejudices (homophobia for example), rather than being examined to shape new, more informed opinions.
Trump has exploited this Biblical misinterpretation, this lazy way of practicing religion. It’s not natural to forgive or be generous as Jesus taught. Trump and his policies would have us be our “natural”, “animal” selves, selfish and dog-eat-dog. Christianity teaches us to transcend these natural instincts and become human beings instead. We instinctually want to keep our money. We instinctually want to hate those who hurt us or who we perceive as hurting us. It’s instinctual for us to fear those people we find strange or don’t understand. Christianity, when taken as a whole, asks us to be more than that. We should ask our President and our government to be more than that too.