For a long time, I believed the great divide in our nation was between political conservatives and political progressives. Over the last four years, as we have watched the division grow wider, it has actually become clear that those are not the lines that divide us at all. If it were about conservative vs. progressive approaches to problems then we should be able to reasonably negotiate compromises for the good of our nation and her people. But we seem to have lost the ability to compromise. No, a battle between conservative and progressive is not what is ailing our nation.
What separates us is our values. What ails our nation is greed and the thirst for power. President Trump and his followers have embraced anti-democratic authoritarianism and have done so with fascist tendencies. Their actions over the last four years clearly demonstrate 9 of the 11 characteristics of fascism listed in a 2016 Washington Post article:1 hyper-nationalism, glorification of violence, fetishization of masculinity, leader cult, lost golden age syndrome, self-definition by opposition, mass mobilization and mass party, hierarchical party structure and tendency to purge the disloyal, and theatricality. The only two that don’t fit are militarism and the fetishization of youth – and militarism is debatable. His major character flaws, i.e. constant lying, a penchant for school-yard insults and mocking, and a need for constant ego-stroking, have become the modus operandi of his followers. We must also not forget the failure to uphold our constitution, despite vows made to the contrary. Trump’s frequent attacks undermining our free press are attacks on the first amendment. He and his family’s use of the their government positions to promote their business interests are unethical and a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the constitution. His policy of separating asylum-seeking families amounts to a crime against humanity as well as a violation of their right to due process as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. The dismantling of environmental regulations meant to protect our natural resources and financial regulations meant to protect the people from greed-fueled corruption also do our country a great disservice. Trump has also routinely criticized long time U.S. allies while kowtowing to violent dictators and at the same time undermining U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA and Justice Department by casting aspersions upon their honesty and integrity. His head-in-the-sand bungling of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths. Denials of climate change will cause more unnecessary deaths in the not very distant future. And now Trump is working overtime to undermine the 2020 presidential election. The long term erosion of confidence in our electoral processes that he is creating is a threat to democracy and will damage our nation for decades to come.
This summary of why Trump is bad for our nation should not be necessary. It is self-evident. None of this is about conservative vs. progressive, however. It is about our morality as a people. It’s about right vs. wrong. When the Republican Party gave its allegiance to Donald Trump, it abandoned any pretense that it was a movement that stood for law and order or morality, claims that it has pushed since at least the 1980’s. The Republican Party is no longer a political party of conservatism but a party of Trumpism. It now seeks only to maintain power in order to accumulate wealth for those who are already rich. And it stands on the back of Christian evangelicals and white supremacy to do so.
That almost half of our nation has fallen prey to the lies and propaganda of Trumpism is mind boggling. When historians look back on this period of American history it’s not difficult to think they might call it the Great Gaslighting. Sadly, because so many people have been deluded, Trumpism will survive Trump. It actually began before Trump. It began and will continue with hypocritical obstructionists like Senator Mitch McConnell taking every opportunity to prevent the work of the government and impede compromise between elected representatives. Trumpism has, for now, failed to solidify its hold on American institutions and the American people largely because of Trump’s own incompetence. The rise of another charismatic but more skilled and more subtle leader with the same values could destroy our nation unless we experience not a moral resurgence but a recommitment to truth and science. In religious language, we as a nation need to repent. We need to turn from the path of Trumpism toward the values we have long upheld as our ideals – values such as democracy, free speech, justice, and the equality of all people but also simple values such as honesty and compassion for those in need.
As a white, ordained Christian minister, I find it deeply disturbing that the backbone of Trumpism seems to be white people who identify as Christians. Certainly, there are many Christians who have not fallen prey to the Great Gaslighting but so many have that it not only endangers our nation, it endangers, if it hasn’t already destroyed, the integrity of Christianity. Let us be clear: if we support Trump and the values of Trumpism then we are teaching our children that
- profit and power are the only worthwhile goals in life
- it is ok to lie anytime, anywhere, for any reason… if anyone points out you aren’t being truthful, just accuse them of spreading fake news
- it is ok to grab a woman anytime, anywhere, for any reason
- it is ok to not pay your debts
- it is ok to take advantage of other people for your own gain
- it is ok to do what you want to whomever you want whenever you want
- it is ok to ridicule and denigrate anyone who criticizes you… if you do something wrong, just blame it on the person who points it out
- it is ok to ignore the law (and due process and the constitution) if doing so is convenient or profitable
- people don’t need access to health care unless a profit can be made from it
- the environment doesn’t matter… if people complain you’re destroying the air, water, etc. then just deny it. They’ll believe it because truth doesn’t matter.
- people who aren’t like “us” (that is, white, male, and heterosexual) don’t matter
- gay people, lesbians, bisexual and trans folks don’t matter
- anyone born south of the border doesn’t matter
- corporate profits (thus making the rich richer) are, in fact, the only thing that do matter
- racism is perfectly acceptable
- violence is perfectly acceptable
- putting innocent children in jail is perfectly acceptable
- if you’re rich and powerful, no one will hold you accountable
- you shouldn’t worry about anyone but yourself – which is the only reason I can think of that poor or working people would support Trump – he gives them permission to tell the world to fuck off
If we call ourselves Christian, we can’t espouse the above values (i.e. support Trump and Trumpism) and still claim we follow Jesus, who himself said that all of his teachings, all of what God desires for us, is based on the commandment to love God and to love your neighbor as ourself. We cannot hold the values of Trumpism and claim to be loving our neighbor. And, if we’re not loving our neighbor, we’re not loving God. We cannot hold the values of Trumpism and claim to be following Jesus. One can be conservative and Christian. One can be progressive and Christian. But if you are going to support the values of Trumpism, stop calling yourself a Christian.
Our nation needs to find a unity in our diversity. We need to start working together instead of against each other. But, is unity even possible? Can we, should we, forgive the harms we’ve done to each other and to our nation? In an abusive relationship, which is what gaslighting is, it makes no sense to even consider forgiving the abuse until it has stopped. Otherwise, forgiveness serves as justification for further abuse. Unless the gaslighting stops, unless the values of Trumpism are abandoned, no reconciliation or unity or forgiveness is possible. Which is why it is time for our nation to repent. Whether we as individuals are Christian or not, it is time we stopped walking down this path of partisanship in our pursuit of power and wealth. It is time to stop being greedy and selfish and instead turn to love and compassion for our neighbor. It doesn’t matter if you believe this is a commandment of God or not. It’s simply the right thing to do. It’s the only way we all survive. It’s the only way our children and their children have a future worth looking forward to.