Love and Rage in Trump’s America

Pulp mill in distance. Salish Sea
Sunshine Coast, BC. Pulp mill in distance.

Feeling my Reaction

The Gospel reading for November 9th, the day after Donald Trump won the US Presidential election, was from the second chapter of John:

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”

As I read it, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of holy rage at the election results; Trump’s actions and words have consistently demonstrated the kind of policies he will pursue, policies that threaten the American values of freedom of speech, religious freedom and equality. But I also couldn’t help thinking of the sincere concerns of those who voted for Trump, those who feel that the US is getting worse, not better. I see Trump as one of the men behind the tables of the temple, corrupting the virtues and values of America’s highest ideals; for others, he was a stand in of one following the example of Jesus with his message of draining “the swamp” of Washington politics.

How do we know which side of history God is on? Is Trump a victory for a beleaguered Christian way of life? Or is Trump the proverbial anti-Christ? What’s more, what is a Christian response to Trump’s election? Protest? Obstruction? Seeking common ground and collaboration? Love and acceptance?

I don’t have definitive answers, but as the days after Trump’s election pass, I am trying to stick with my sadness, rage, disappointment, and my fear that the US will back out of international climate agreements that seek to keep us under 2 degrees Celsius warming. I need to process this before I can move forward. I live in Canada now, but I am ready to return to the US and fight.

As I do so, I keep flipping back and forth between anger, and centering compassion for those I disagree with.

From:

“I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Back to:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword!”

Trump’s victory has already emboldened the KKK in South Carolina to host a “Victory Parade,” and reports are trickling in of spray painted slurs and swastikas on school walls, attacks on Muslim and LGBTQ people, taunting of people of color, and intimidation or assault of women.

From:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Back to:

“I have come to turn a man against his father… a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

For me, the most Christ-like candidate in the Presidential race was a secular Jew named Bernie Sanders; yet Christians, including Mormons, overwhelmingly supported Trump.

Listening to the Other Side of America

I am not interested in being smug, in contesting the results of the election, or blaming white Christians for electing Trump. I am still processing my emotions and reactions and strategy moving forward, but soon, I will be ready to listen. Whatever we are feeling in this moment is justified, and no one should tell us how to feel, or how long we should feel it. I want to listen to the people who voted for Donald Trump, I really do, eventually, but I will not stand by while those his victory has emboldened, attack people who don’t look like me,–Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ people, women.

To the Christians who supported Trump, aside from a protest vote against Hillary, help me understand how you looked past blatantly un-Christian rhetoric and behavior. For example, many Christians and Mormons I know despised Bill Clinton for committing adultery in office. So, why would you then defend voting for a man who has been accused of, and essentially admitted to sexually assaulting women? The lesser of two evils? How? The list goes on.

I want to understand. I will likely not agree, but soon, I will be ready to listen.

Seeking Common Ground among Progressives and the Left

For many of us, after we mourn, it will be time to organize. But we need a plan. The Democratic Party has consistently failed, not only its progressive wing by sabotaging Bernie Sanders’s chances at the nomination, but also the large shares of white working class people who have, since the era of FDR, been migrating in droves to the Republican Party.

The Democratic Party is a corrupt, elitist, anti-progressive Party and has been for a long time. This is why from 2000 until 2016, I voted Green or for Nader. I was a values voter, justifying my support for symbolic votes with my highest ideals. However, despite the repeated efforts to build a strong progressive alternative to the Democratic Party, the Green Party has not gotten over 1% of the popular vote since 2000. This has been a major frustration for me.

Bernie Sanders’s campaign however, shifted my perspective. He showed us that, despite enormous opposition, the Democratic Party apparatus was not as impenetrable as it seemed, but an institution made up of people, who, with the proper momentum and organizing, could be infiltrated, influenced, changed and, with enough support defeated. The Democratic Party has showed us just how strongly they colluded with the media to ensure Clinton’s ascendency. But unlike the Tea Party which has uncompromisingly shifted the Republican Party to the right, the left has either rallied around party unity and discipline for centrist candidates, or been unwilling to sully their leftist aspirations by participating in the Democratic Party. The broad left remains fragmented, cynical and all pulling in different directions.

Michael Moore is calling on us to take over the Democratic Party. I am no political strategist, and have been very cynical about politics for a long time, but I am ready to try again. If Trump could infiltrate the Republican Party, there is no reason that the left could not take over the Democratic Party, which now, thanks to Bernie, has the most progressive platform in its history.

However, I understand that critiques against the Democratic Party are valid as well. Socialist Alternative, Democratic Socialists of America, and the Green Party are all calling for strategies outside the Democratic Party, for building a deep and wide party of the 99%.

I do not know what the right direction is, but, again, I am ready to listen.

Toward a Christian Democratic Socialism

This puts me in an awkward position. I am a Christian, and I want to honor and listen sincerely to those who voted for Trump. However, as a Christian with social-democratic politics, I want to invest my energy into a broad left of center agenda that speaks to my belief in the American values of freedom, equality and opportunity for all, and my Christian values of caring for the poor, the sick, the needy and the downtrodden, regardless of their color, creed or sexual orientation.

Many on the left see religion as a kind of opiate to the masses. And, especially now that Christians have helped elect someone who is anathema to our broad progressive aspirations for the US, many are even less willing to look favorably on Christianity as a whole. However, part of the reason the Democratic Party has been abandoned by white working people, is because the Democratic Party, is very uncomfortable talking about religion. For me personally, I would like to have more conversations with those who are both Christian and progressive, with those who supported Bernie’s platform, but who also want to build bridges between that platform and those who feel alienated by the Democratic Party, and in particular Christians.

I thought Tim Kaine’s approach in the Vice-Presidential debates was a great starting place. He was willing to talk about his religion, and did not relativize his ideals, but was willing to live in a pluralistic society where we don’t all hold the same moral, scriptural, or ethical axioms. Pluralism is not about anything goes, or even that religion is a only a private affair, but it is a willingness to live in a society where others have legitimate moral arguments to make on issues that affect people’s’ lives. The interpretation of Transubstantiation is a matter of theological debate, not the public arena. The accessibility, legality, and moral implications of abortion are of course quite different. Christians are welcome to make strong moral arguments against abortion; but unless they want to live in a Biblical theocracy, they should also be willing to listen to those who make similarly strong moral arguments on the other side.

For many Christians who endured the cold war, socialism tends to mean anti-Christian. But for those of us who are both Christian and lean left, socialism as a political philosophy speaks to many of the underlying axioms of a Christian ethics. It is important for conservatives to know that many of us who identify as center-left, socialist, or Christian socialists, don’t often get bogged down in questions over a revolutionary proletariat, or state ownership of the means of production, or even big versus small government. Democratic Socialism is not Stalinism Light, it is a coming together, an application of Progressive American values with Christian values. Personally, my socialism is closer to decentralized communitarianism, but I am not afraid of the federal government. In a free society, it is a partner, not an adversary, and the rhetoric of big and small government is in many ways a distraction.

Eugene Debs, a socialist who ran for President five times, received nearly six per cent of the vote in 1912, despite the fact that he ran from prison. He once said: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” This sounds remarkably like Jesus who admonishes us to mourn with those who mourn, and who said that when we care for the least among us, we care for him. When we say Democratic Socialism that is what we mean.

I want to build bridges between progressive and Christian values in a way that honors people’s experience and religious convictions and I am ready to listen to both sides.

Common Ground

If one thing is clear, Americans are fed up with politics as usual and desperately want more voices at the table of political debate. The two party system has stifled American voices on the left and the right and we need to open up American political institutions to more rather than less voices. If out of 350 million people, the only two options are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, something is seriously wrong with our political vending machine.

For this reason, I think one item of common ground among left and right is electoral reform. Only in the United States could a sentence that starts with the words, “She won the popular vote” end with “but lost the election.” Ninety million eligible voters didn’t even show up. That means that just over one quarter of eligible voters elected Trump. Changes that encourage voter turnout and voter investment in the outcome of elections can only be a good thing.

For this reason, I think we need to talk about abolishing the Electoral College, which was designed for the needs of an 18th and 19th century electorate. It is an innovative approach that seeks to amplify the voices of less populated states, but it is fiercely undemocratic, stifles voter turnout, and allows politicians to narrowly focus their energy on so-called swing states, while essentially ignoring the rest of us. There have been attempts to repeal the Electoral College such as the Every Vote Counts Amendment. Legislation like this needs a broad coalition of support, including candidates willing to introduce it into Congress. It will not be easy, but I think we can agree that this would be a strong first step in strengthening a culture of democracy.

In addition, we need to allow more voices into debates and onto ballots. This can be done by moving to proportional representation, wherein rather than electing candidates directly, parties receive a proportion of the representation in the Legislative branch based on the votes they get within a particular riding or district. In addition, a system of instant runoff voting, wherein voters rank their choices in order would allow more voices to in the debates, and in the public arena.

Lastly, we need to stop equating money with speech, as the folks over at Move to Amend have been working so hard to do for several years now. Repealing Citizens United through a Constitutional Amendment that says Corporations are not people and money is not speech is a lofty goal and there may be other ways to get there, but this is a crucial part of the discussion.

This is of course just a starting place, and a lot of our work moving forward will be defensive, trying to stop Trump from rolling back Obama’s legacy, etc. But for me I want to start by listening to Trump’s supporters, building a broad progressive resistance to any policy Trump might propose that goes against democracy, freedom of the press, and common human decency. I want to start building bridges between my socialism and Christianity, and finding allies in working toward broad electoral reforms so that more voices can be heard in American politics.

I am ready to listen, and I am ready to organize.

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