Trump: An Eruption of Secularism
Donald Trump has exposed us all.
Although it is particularly trying at this moment, I am still trying to identify as an evangelical. So I am very saddened (though far from shocked) that so many evangelicals are rallying around Donald Trump. For years, evangelicalism has become far too comfortable with American imperialism, racism, and fundamentalism, and in Trump the chickens are coming home to roost. I lament it. It sickens me. I will campaign against him. But this side of the story has been well documented so I won’t spend any further time on it here. Because there is another, equally fascinating, side to this story.
While Trump has exposed the cultural captivity of evangelicalism, he has also exposed the impoverished moral resources of secular progressivism. As one watches progressive after progressive shake their head in disbelief, stammer over words and explanations, utterly befuddled as to how someone like Donald Trump could say the things that he says, and do the things that he does, and still be on the verge of the American presidency, it’s hard not to find the whole show a bit humorous. Secular progressives are appalled at his crass xenophobia, subtle (or not so subtle) racism, and defiant duplicity. Surely our politics has evolved past this primal barbarism. But instead of evolving past Trump, we’ve devolved into Trump.
Modern society’s movement toward secular progressivism is and will continue to feel the inevitable thorn in its side; namely, it lacks the moral resources to achieve many of its laudable aims. Or more directly—secular progressivism seeks to achieve many good, Christian aims but without Christian resources, and this is doomed to failure, especially as the spring of Christian morality continues to dry up in a post-Christian culture.
Despite all the ethical and philosophical gymnastics trying to avoid the unavoidable, secular progressivism entails moral relativism. It lacks any transcendental grounding for ethics. And so when secular progressives criticize Trump, all they can really do is be appalled at his manners. Their criticism cannot go any deeper. They can opine and wax sanctimoniously about racism and xenophobia and the intrinsic dignity of human beings but their belief system lacks the moral capital to give those concepts any weight, and the only weight they do have is smuggled from the moral resources of Christianity and is felt because secularism still has the luxury of trading on it.
It was Christianity, not “reason”, that endowed all of humanity (prince and pauper alike) with an infinite dignity that must not be violated. Secularism can climb the ladder of Christianity up to many of its humanistic ideals and then kick the ladder away, but that ladder was there for a reason and without it our ideals will eventually plummet back down to earth (or lower). Trump is a harbinger and he’s showing us how low we can go.
Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a bigot. Donald Trump is a liar. Well, yes, but what if being a racist, bigoted liar works for me and I like it? That appalls you? It’s not rational? Forgive me if I find neither your being appalled nor your appeals to a universal, intuitive rationality and morality that simply does not exist a compelling reason to change my mind. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. Trump 2016! So goes the thinking for many, and this is why Trump has made a killing mocking “political correctness.” He’s saying that the emperor of secularism isn’t wearing any clothes; that there are no rules; that he doesn’t have to play the game. And in a secular politic, Trump is right.
And so, in a strange way, maybe Donald Trump is precisely what we need. We need both the blatant unfaithfulness of evangelicalism’s cultural captivity and the barren moral resources of secular progressivism exposed. Trump is Nietzsche’s Übermensch, stepping into the void created by the “death of God”, even while pledging hollow allegiance to God. Or to borrow from David Fitch, Donald Trump is an eruption of the real, forcing us to confront the empty soul of evangelical fundamentalist and secular progressive ideologies. Trump has co-opted evangelicalism, but he is an eruption of secularism. And if he’s not the candidate we need, he’s certainly the candidate we deserve.