What If Trump Supporters & Women’s Marchers Are All Missing the Boat?

missing the boat.001“All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault.” That’s a quote from an article by David Brooks in today’s NYTimes explaining why he believes the women’s march this past weekend will ultimately fail to be an effective opposition to Donald Trump’s administration. The reason, Brooks says, is that marches have been focused on narrow sub-issues, while ignoring the mother of all issues for the entire world today: Ethnic Populism.

“The crucial problems today,” Brooks says, “concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.”

Trumps reaction to these changes (Make America Great Again) is what animates his supporters. His American First agenda means that “all the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault,” Brooks says. “Globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.”

Where did this ethnic populism come from?

In Thomas Friedman’s new book, Thank You for Being Late, he tells a story relayed to him by Lawrence Summers. Summers had flown into Chicago for an event in 1988. The car that picked him up from the airport had a telephone in it. A carphone was such a novel idea back then that Summers picked it up and called his wife and every friend he could think of to brag about it. Fast forward nine years later Summers was headed to a remote village in the Ivory Coast as part of his duties as Deputy Treasury Secretary. As he was stepping into the back of a dugout canoe an Ivory Coast official handed him a cellphone and said, “Washington has a question for you.”

In just nine years Summers had gone from being blown away by the presence of a car phone, to nonchalantly using a cellphone from the back of a dugout canoe in rural Abidjan.

The point is this: the rate of change is not only incredibly fast, it’s global. In previous eras societies could go several centuries without having to deal with the rate of change we now experience. In a span of 5 to 7 years entire technological platforms are invented, packaged, sold until they reach global saturation, and become obsolete. That’s how long you get. About 5 to 7 years and then you have to re-imagine your job and your place in a world who’s pace has hit unprecedented speeds.

The hard reality is this: the pace of change is far outpacing the ability of many of our citizens to adapt, especially white, straight, educated men and women. This group is simply not equipped to having to make these kinds of wholesale adaptations to a quickly changing environment. We want the old environment back again.

That’s why the crucial word in President Trump’s winning campaign slogan was not America or even Great. The key to the slogan’s appeal was the word: again. Again is an appeal to the old environment, a promise to turn back the clock and reembody a bygone era in which middle class, white, educated, straight, married, men (mostly) could control the rates of change, and make sure those changes would benefit their own group.

However, the promise of “again” is unrealistic. The factors driving the speed of cultural change are the toothpaste that can’t be put back in the tube.

The most incredible wall on the planet won’t stop globalization. You’d have to dismantle the internet to make that happen. Manufacturing jobs are not coming back unless that whole sector rejects technology and automation. Global warming is real. Whether or not one believes human carbon emissions are causing it, we are still going to have to adapt to the frightening changes in the earth’s climate.

There is no again, there is only today, and a future that will either be better or worse depending upon our ability to work together in good faith.

The reality is that everyone—left, right, or center—is going to have to embrace words that have so much more power than the word again. Words like: Reimagine. Invent. Adapt. Change. Learn. These are the words that will lead the way forward. Community. Friendship. Forgiveness. Grace. Mercy. The future will belong to those who learn to live by words such as these, those who can work together and live together as one funky and diverse community. Nature loves diversity and it’s incredibly adaptive and resilient. We could take a page from nature’s book.

The truth is, there will be no making America great again. There will only be making America anew… again, and again–reimagining a future in which we are not building walls, but rather building communities of cooperation, friendship, forgiveness, and justice. “The definition of America is up for grabs,” Brooks says. It will not be determined by identity politics. It’s going to take a global agenda. That’s the America we have to make. There is no again. There is only anew.

Christian theology is incredibly suited for this endeavor. Jesus was all about new life, new creation, and new beginnings. The promise of Christianity is that we believe there will be a future day in which there is no more brokenness, no more death and decay, and Peace will rule every corner of existence. We believe that this future day has come crashing back into the present world in and through Christ. God’s peace is exploding into the world anywhere people allow themselves to be part of the body of Christ, the church. There are no limits to this peace, and anyone who wants can be a part of it.

That’s not a a story of “again.” That’s a story of anew, the brand-new, the future of God, breaking into the present day. That’s the Christian story. That’s the story I want to live in.

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  • J. Mark Tebben

    “The hard reality is this: the pace of change is far outpacing the ability of many of our citizens to adapt, especially white, straight, educated men and women. This group is simply not equipped to having to make these kinds of wholesale adaptations to a quickly changing environment.”

    Not sure where you’re getting this from. We white, straight, educated types have the easiest time of it in terms of not just adapting, but thriving. If we’re the ‘especially’, where’s everyone else?

    Also, I think that if you (and Brooks) want to build “a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality” (from Brooks), then you’re going to have to seriously rework the definitions of both capitalism and biblical morality, because historically they’ve been some of the biggest tools of oppression and division in our country, and our world.

    I love how you emphasize the need for community, friendship, grace, etc. I want to add ‘openness’ to your list, to remind you, and me, and everyone, that we are not necessarily correct, even about our most fundamental assumptions. If Brooks is right, and “All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault,” let’s not use that assault as a reason to stand up for those things, but as an opportunity to re-examine them.

    • jekylldoc

      “Not sure where you’re getting this from. We white, straight, educated
      types have the easiest time of it in terms of not just adapting, but
      thriving. If we’re the ‘especially’, where’s everyone else?”

      It may be that Tim meant “less-educated.” But I want to make a case for his original text. Your second question, “where’s everyone else” is exactly the part that we, the privileged, are clueless about. We think we have it all under control, because “I’ve got mine, Jack.” But the reality is that we are allowing social solidarity and social peace to be undermined by heedlessness of the effects on the others.

      Piketty documented that a major share of the inequality which erupted in the last 40 years was caused by . . . real estate prices. The demand for space to live in the dominant metropolises, from whence new technology emerges and where its consequences are managed by government, has driven up the wealth of those who owned that land to start with. Meanwhile, those in flyover country have seen their wealth undermined by the opposite movement.

      On the income side, a surprisingly large share of the shift toward inequality has come with the advancement of two-career couples. Households with two Master’s Degrees, meaning two incomes over 60,000 per year, have a much easier life than the ones with one income, or two under 35,000 per year. Remember those urban land prices? Who can afford housing in the Bay Area, or New York City, or Washington DC, or Seattle or San Diego these days? Not families with just the single income of a teacher or firefighter.

      My point is not those particular issues. My point is that those who think things are going just fine because they are keeping their own heads above water may be the least well-equipped to understand the disruption all around them and imagine a world in which something is being done about it. To borrow an image from another “inconvenient truth”, we are the ostriches with our head in the sand.

  • Larry

    Did you mean that among those having difficulty adapting to our changing culture included “. . . [un]educated men and women”? Such a changing reality evokes both fear and anger— both of which Trump manipulated with his bombastic claims and promises. On the other hand, the Dems lacked the moral imagination to envision a preferred future based upon a common moral vision that enabled people to dream again. Since, for the most part churches reflect more the values of the culture than the Kingdom they lacked both the theological and ethical sophistication to articulate and embody an alternative way. What might resistance look like within an ecclesial expression to the Trump agenda?

  • Arlene Adamo

    I thought the Women’s March was about women’s rights and not about making David Brooks happy.

  • RustbeltRick

    David Brooks, and a thousand other conservative scolds, have tripped over themselves in vain attempts to minimize/dismiss the largest (and stunningly incident-free) mass demonstration in US history. One out of every hundred Americans was there, taking part in an event meant to express resistance to the new president’s agenda and to support progressive approaches to our problems. I would bet that the women’s marchers will have more success than the Trump supporters in adapting to the future realities.

  • jekylldoc

    I’m really glad to hear from Progressive Christians taking on the big issues at this level. I’m also really glad to hear the affirmation that the Kingdom coming to earth can make institutions anew, a much better response than trying to roll back the clock. I am concerned that even Bernie Sanders, who takes an inclusive and supportive approach, still saw things in terms of undoing the inclusion of people outside the rich countries.

    Re-imagining the world created by galloping technology will not be easy. Anyone proposing facile answers should be asked to sit down and listen for a while.

    One small part of re-making the future is happening in education. While the rest of the world goes obliviously on as if it was irrelevant, education is shifting toward a no-excuses approach which literally saves lives in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and toward a problem-centered, cooperative approach liberating the natural curiosity of students to turn them into learning natives. Even Betsy Devos, who is clearly focused on the past, can help bring this re-making into practice.

    The twin approach, no-excuse dedication with incentive-free engagement, maps the two “covenants” of Christianity incredibly well. Law and gospel. First, you focus on meeting your obligations and doing what needs to be done. And when you can manage that, you discover that the incentives that helped you focus are really just scaffolding, to be taken down when the building is built and we are ready to live in it. We call that grace.

  • Guthrum

    Women’s March: This was very peaceful: I heard of no rock throwing, injuries, or burning police cars. Most looked like white women in their forties and older. Some of the signs had inappropriate language, with young children there. The message or goals were not real clear. It was mainly “equal pay”, and “abortion without limits”.
    Most people out and about here were unaware of it.

  • Deborah Kukal

    Good article, and I agree and support your premise and the answer you give. The attribution of inability to adapt to “white-ness, straight-ness and educated-ness” did derail thought processes a bit, I think. I believe you intended to underscore that it’s more difficult for those who have been in the power seat to make changes, than it is for those who were never getting as much from the system anyway. This distinction is lost quite a lot, and a lot of unhelpful rock throwing ensues.
    I hope that was it, anyway.

  • Rose

    man, are we really that evil for wanting to have work to pay the bills again? don’t want $300 electrical bills that don the pockets of the elite with false gimmicks like “global warming” meant to give excuse for impoverishing nations?