Possibly an exaggeration – but now the results are in from various US primaries, in what is often deemed to be the one day in recent US Presidential campaigns when the likely candidates for the November showdown between wannabe presidential contenders are revealed. It seems America will be faced with a stark choice, both declaring once again their intention to make America great again. I refer of course to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and while they each have a long way to go in order to secure their respective party’s nomination, the odds are that it will be a straight fight between Trump and Clinton when the American people come to vote.
What it takes to make America great again is a moot point, as is who is the best person to lead the way in order to achieve this. Sadly, the current campaign has, perhaps not surprisingly, been marked more by sound bites and the trading of insults than by content and mutual respect among the candidates. While I do not agree with all he has said regarding the current campaign, I do think Franklin Graham speaks sense when he writes: “I’m calling for a truce! A time out. A halt to the insults, the back-stabbing, the dirty tricks, and the name-calling that has been spewing from most of the presidential candidates. #SuperTuesday is now over, but the campaign for the highest office in our land has stooped to a new low—and it’s not something to be proud of. Seriously. I call on the candidates to drop the childish bickering and get back to the issues that can change America for the good, for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Otherwise America is ultimately the loser. It’s obvious that this country is in trouble—spiritually, morally, and politically”. It is the spiritual, moral and political malaise that exists that is what is holding back America from becoming great and why we are seeing the popular response we see.
I refer to the support being given to Donald Trump, which many / most would have predicted would have evaporated by now instead of increasing as it has, for such is his popularity that it has surged among Republican voters, despite him being vilified by a good many from across the board for his dubious character and flawed policies that seem to foster hatred and division. If it wasn’t for the Trump factor, we (in the UK) would have received nowhere near the coverage we have on proceedings thus far. My particular interest was detailed in my recent “Trump and the Evangelical vote” post, where I considered the phenomenon of Trump’s popularity among voters who would describe themselves as Evangelical Christians. In that post I considered an article by Rick Warren, a popular US Evangelical leader, castigating Evangelicals for supporting Trump.
This was later followed up by another article from someone in a similar camp to that of Warren titled: “Top evangelical Christian website lambasts Trump, calls him ‘misogynist and philanderer’”. Here the title almost says it all. Among today’s posting on my Facebook page was a link to an article simply titled “What would Jesus do”, and from what was written the author seems to argue that Jesus wouldn’t be supporting Trump and neither should those who follow Jesus. One point that did make me think though is his explanation why good people (Evangelicals) support bad (Trump), which clearly is what he thinks is happening … “People filled with anger and grievances are easily exploited. As the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote, “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance”, although I reckon many are angry for reasons other than self advancement.
There has been a lot of interesting articles on Trump’s presidential aspiration in recent days, among which is one titled “The Governing Cancer of Our Time” and another posted today titled “Piers Morgan Has Defended ‘Smart’ Donald Trump As Best President To Deal With Vladimir Putin”, although having listened to the Radio 4 Today programme where Morgan was interviewed, he was not supporting Trump but rather, despite his misgivings, he still considers Trump to be a credible candidate. Another article, pointed out today by my 17 year old son, is titled “The rise of American authoritarianism” and no doubt many more can be added. All these articles are worth reading but analyzing them here is not the purpose of my post. Rather I want to return to reflecting on why so many Christians are supporting Trumps candidature and what might happen.
While it is true that Jerry Falwell Junior and Pat Robertson, who are both supporting Trump, have a large following among Evangelicals, and many who claim to be Evangelicals don’t get it when it comes to a balanced understanding of the Christian gospel, I have also argued that many do support Trump for valid reasons even if none of us have the complete big picture. I found myself in hot water for trying to explain a point that Trump’s Christian detractors fail to get, that somehow Trump is seen as the only candidate that stands for the things they care about, with the ability to deliver. While mindful of the appeal of the making America great narrative, and how some see an authoritarian figure like Trump being able to deliver in a way a political schemer like Clinton can’t, I mentioned concerns around America veering toward ungodliness and Christians being fed up feeling ridiculed, sidelined and told to shut up. Responses included what it is that godliness should cover, Trump being a poor example of godly living and when it comes to being ridiculed that (and also persecution) is the price we can expect to pay for being a Christian, besides which it is delivering social justice that really matters.
As I reflected on these matters, I quite accept the answers are not clear cut. While I am a champion of Asylum Seekers (more than most), I understand some of the reasons for tightening immigration controls on the Mexican border. While I am a friend of Muslims (more than most), I understand some of the reasons for putting a temporary halt on Muslims coming into the country because of the terrorist threat. While I realize Trump’s appeal is to some dubious groups, including bigots and racists, evidenced by the endorsement he received by a Klu Klux Klan leader, I also recognize there are decent, right thinking Christian folk who are worried at America further drift away from the Judaeo-Christian consensus that has been held ever since the Founding Fathers until recent years.
I suspect there are many examples, except we don’t get to hear them. One is the recent dismantling of a monument to the Ten Commandments for reasons it might upset some. One recent story in the UK is of a social worker being kicked off a college course for expressing traditional views on marriage. My point for both the US and the UK is that good people are being marginalized, along with the values and views they hold, and when it is those same people that have so much to give to society.Just reading an article titled “Shock Poll: Growing Number Of Americans View Christianity As Extremist” makes me realise some Christians feel their backs are against the wall as they cry out for a deliverer. It is a perverse trend that an insidious doctrine of political correctness has taken over led by a self-serving and liberal leaning elite that holds the power and, rightly or wrongly, some Christians believe Trump is the man to reverse it in a way the other candidates won’t. This is a significant reason for the pro-Trump sentiment and one not to be ignored.
Before going to a conclusion and for the sake of balance, I want to refer to yet another article. This one has the intriguing (as many do) title: “Trump IS Evangelical Christianity“. The article is pretty scathing on the Evangelical right and with some justification. As I reflect on what Trump is saying and why Evangelicals are flocking to him, there appears to be an absence of addressing in any meaningful way some of the important social justice concerns facing America. As far as the author is concerned that is precisely reflective of where many of the Evangelical right are at this moment. My own position is while I sympathise with many of concerns of this constituency (some may say I am part of it), I also am concerned for the rights of the poor, oppressed, vulnerable and marginalised, which without wanting to blow my own trumpet is what I spend a lot of time trying to address. For Evangelicals to have any credibility with those outside of their camp, they need to consider and deal with such matters. It is one reason, incidentally, if I were to support any of the candidates still in the race, it might well be Bernie Sanders!
Going back to the title of this posting, I have no doubt this is a critical time for America, if only because of the choice it has is between two opposites, neither of which in my view would be who I would choose or give America the leadership it needs at this time. Sadly, I don’t know who I could endorse from among the other candidates. While not wanting to opt out of the democratic process as some of my spiritual forefathers have in the past, I take comfort that it is God who raises up and puts down leaders to do His bidding and if there is a time for Americans to go back to its official motto – “In God We Trust” this is it. Just maybe, in divine providence, what is happening in the US is meant to be leading its people back to God. It is important that in their desperation for someone who will address their concerns, and more specifically for a deliverer to remove the shackles of oppression, they don’t take the wrong option and opt for alternative oppressors, as did Israel in Bible times. I sign off with a comment by one American friend: “This election has led to a revival of prayers for many!! Many of us want to wake up and find out that this has all been a dream/ nightmare”.