Seriously. Thank-you Donald Trump and your ‘realityshowesque’ and ‘plainspoken’ Presidential campaign. Let me quickly explain myself. My recently found gratitude for the GOP front runner is not some form of liberal campaign rubbernecking — my slowing down the car just so I can gawk at the aftermath of an inevitable accident in the other lane.
Trump’s campaign has regularly inspired glee among liberals and pundits (cf. John Stewart a year ago when confronted with a potential Trump run impishly begging “please, please, please, please” or Rachel Maddow’s recent dissection of Trump on Jimmy Fallon). Alternatively, he has provoked disdain, fear, and outright disgust from some on the right. Last week, Rick Wilson, an experienced Republican operative referred to Trump as a “‘cancer,’ an ‘epic douche canoe, a ‘statist’ with ‘a little delicious hint of fascism in the mix’ whose presidential nomination will spell apocalypse for the Republican Party” (retrieved from cnn.com). These angles have been well covered, and rightly so. Certainly, those who are neutral on Trump are seemingly hard to find.
Like so many, I have recoiled at his ego, simplistic perspective on complex issues, misogyny, xenophobia, and racism. Like some, I am certainly aware of how Trump’s campaign could bolster the success of candidates I prefer. Nonetheless, I am thankful for Mr. Trump because he constantly makes visible, overt, and explicit that which has far greater power when remaining invisible, covert, and implicit. Racism is made more dangerous when it is made invisible by the protestations that we live in a post-racial society — homophobia becomes more cruel behind the seemingly virtuous claims of personal conscience exercised in public and diverse spaces — patriarchy remains more durable behind uncritical assertions of equal opportunity and the adoration of women. Thankfully many popular and scholarly writers have well documented the move in our society from overt subjugation to covert domination in the realm of race (cf. Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s excellent text, Racial Formation in the United States).
The ‘invisibility game’ is not just the purview of conservatives. It can be equally insidious when played by liberals. In liberal communities, the declaration of inequities are often silenced and meaningful activism blunted by the oppressive regimes of niceness, tolerance, shock, and abstract (non-practiced) convictions of equity. I strongly recommend that you read Rev. Alex Gee’s December 18, 2013, op-ed to the liberal bastion of Madison, WI, <http://host.madison.com/news/local/city-life/justified-anger-rev-alex-gee-says-madison-is-failing-its/article_14f6126c-fc1c-55aa-a6a3-6c3d00a4424c.html> that gave birth to the “Justified Anger” movement in his community and state. After speaking to the downtown rotary on the mass incarceration of black men, he was thanked for not being “some angry black man.” He realized that his determined anger at an epidemic of racial practices in his nice liberal community was lost in his skills of presentation, his status as a community leader, and his strong educational background. In other words, despite being stopped and searched by the police many times even in the parking lot of the church with his name on the marquis, he seemed to abide by the dominant culture demand of niceness in Madison.
But for the community of Christian faith, I think more is required than simply connecting the dots of policy and prejudice made easier by the bombastic claims of the likes of Donald Trump. Ironically, Mr. Trump is unwittingly winning at the invisibility game with his unmistakable biblical illiteracy (Though he claims the Bible is his favorite book, he seems unable to name a single verse and is hardly able to name a single character — surely you saw some of the meme’s that saturated the web a couple of weeks ago!)
His theological ignorance, which is not an offense to me, enhances the ability of many devout Christians of every ilk to distance a Christian theological logic from the contemporary enactments of race, homophobia, and patriarchy in our society. Embedded inside the invisibility game is often an accompanying invisible hermeneutic. This hermeneutic sometimes reads the biblical text with a plainspoken literalism that would make Mr. Trump proud. Sadly, the grounding of this literalism is not in the simplicity of a gospel of love. At other times, this is a more sophisticated reading sourced in the ascent of the modern individual, the divine hegemony of markets, and the rationales of rights and accumulation that are truly alien to inexhaustible richness of hospitality described in the gospel. I believe we must not only be activists rooted in a gospel of love, we must also to take on the invisible hermeneutic that drives the contradictory consciousness of many in our society.
Our own assault against the invisibility game is admittedly quite difficult. But there’s hope often found within the bonds of safe and reflective community. I took a call last week by an extremely thoughtful friend from within our community about a current issue where our stances differed significantly. In our discussion, which was not a jousting energized by the hopes of persuasion, we were able to quickly move to the (often) invisible hermeneutic that both of us applied to this issue. The conversation was delightful, fruitful, and will yield many others. Now several years ago, my friend Dan Rhodes and I wrote a passionate plea toward community hermeneutics in a book entitled Free for All. I remain deeply convinced that communitarian, embodied hermeneutic remains the path forward in an age of rhetorical assault.