“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.