Viewing the Democratic National Convention this week has clarified for me, and deepened quite a bit, my party affiliation. Compared to the empty and contradictory sentiments of the Republican National Convention, the Democratic message feels rich, comprehensible, and values driven: something I could dive into, and find answers in. Many have commented on the simplicity of Donald Trump’s proposition to “Make America Great Again” versus Hillary Clinton’s more nuanced approach to problem solving. In his speech on the second night of the convention, Bill Clinton said, “cartoons are 2-D and easy to absorb,” when referencing the opposition, meaning that it is easier to communicate Donald Trump’s message of reckless self-interest than it is to take up the mantel of the DNC: the paradoxical claim that there is unity in our diversity. However, watching the Republican National Convention last week, I was struck by how little was communicated through their disjointed and flimsy messaging. Many see Donald Trump as the source of empty egotism in his party—the man who has dragged down the national conversation—but the contents of the Republican platform do not convey any more substance. In the face of an opponent whose policies rely on the basic function of enemy making, Democrats worried that presenting a complex vision of American society would alienate their supporters. In reality, the values of shared prosperity demonstrated in the Democratic platform are easier to understand than the RNC’s contradictory statements about Christian duty.
For a refresher: the Republican platforms seeks to nationalize the death penalty, repeal universal health care, increase military spending and argues against any and all types of gun control. A quick word search reveals 0 results for “black” or “African American,” but three for “police.” It vows to overturn marriage equality and reduce protections guaranteed to LGBTQ people. It also seeks to make abortion illegal. The Republican platform is exclusive, divisive, and encourages state violence. It exposes those most victimized by institutional injustice to further structural violence, and it actively pushes back against movements for equality.
Jesus told us to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” The 2016 Republican platform stands strong on Trump’s proposal to build a wall across our entire southern border. It also pledges to have a rigorous vetting process that puts limits on refugees coming from “terrorist-sponsoring countries,” like Syria, where hundreds of thousands of families are fleeing by any means necessary to escape violence. In my heart I know that Jesus’ sentiment means more kindness shown to refugees and immigrants, who risk everything to bring their families to safety.
The inconsistencies between the teachings of Christ and the Republican platform can be partially understood through an examination of two leaders of the Republican party– Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz–and their admiration for the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Rand was a novelist and political philosopher who wrote in the mid-20th century. Her work promoted reason, rationalism, and egoism over altruism and religious belief. Ted Cruz a Christian conservative, who relied heavily on his Evangelical voting base in the primaries, holds Rand as one of his “all time heroes,” and Paul Ryan, a devout Catholic and Republican Speaker of the House, gives out Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s best-seeing novel, at Christmas to his staffers. Ryan cites the philosophy of Ayn Rand as the reason he went into politics.
In her lifetime Rand was calling for a referendum on man’s moral duty to live for others. Rand thought Christ on the cross, the greatest indication of God’s loving character, was a “monstrous idea.” She questioned any and all institutions that promoted Christian morality because she wanted to challenge the premise that the strong must help the weak. Ted Cruz read from Atlas Shrugged during his 21-hour speech against Obamacare saying, “we are living in the days of Ayn Rand,” Implicit in Cruz’ statement is the idea that the time for Christian mercy has expired. Yet, Cruz’ campaign was touted as a “reclamation” of Christian values. This belief that the time for Christian altruism is over, but Cristian social control isn’t, makes for a conflicted, inconsistent, and gloomy worldview.
One can certainly picture Donald Trump agreeing with Rand that faith in God reveals “psychological weakness”. Although he has been dubbed a “baby Christian,” Trump has continually displayed contempt for the idea of repentance. He once said, “why do I have to ask for forgiveness if I’m not making any mistakes?”. This is why he is able to offer up such unrelenting pessimism without any hope of renewed possibility. Any semblance of faith would speak to communal sacrifice and shared redemption. In this way, Trump is more forthright than his Rand-loving Christian peers. He admits to a deep skepticism towards Christian doctrine, while the other men continue to prop up Christianity when discussing exclusionary social practices
Democrats, while they struggled to counter Trump’s extremely simple messaging in the primary, are showing at their Convention just how logically stable their message is comparatively. Each speech reflects the Democratic view, communicated in this passage from their platform, that “our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith in many forms and the countless acts of justice, mercy, and tolerance it inspires. We believe in lifting up and valuing the good work of people of faith and religious organizations and finding ways to support that work where possible.” In other words, where there is good to be done on behalf of American communities, people of all backgrounds are encouraged to exert themselves and get it done: weak and strong, side by side, empowered by one another. While this is a Christian principle, it does not limit American altruism to Christian expression. It values bridge building and non-judgment. It values service and love, over the harshness of individualism. This reliance on communal salvation as the backbone of the Democratic social platform makes for a deeper and richer set of speeches which draw upon the complexities of our social contracts with each other and our government. Many want to blame the influence of Donald Trump for the sparse, infomercial-like quality of the RNC, however when a party is running on a platform so insistent on ruthless individualism, how can it present anything other than an angry, incoherent, and sanctimonious facade? It is cut off from the deep well of Christian values that help us make sense of our world and our shared humanity.
Allison Harrington is a Summer Fellow at Eleison Group, a faith-based political, governmental, and non-profit consulting firm; she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University. She is interested in American religious history and the intersection of faith and politics.