Trump as a Religious Phenomenon
By Gene Wilburn
“We are going to have an unbelievable, perhaps record-setting turnout for the inauguration” ~ Donald Trump
The world’s free press have analyzed the actions of Donald Trump as president of the U.S. and found him wanting. Most of the Canadians I know are still in disbelief that the Americans would vote such an inadequate man into high office, much less applaud his actions. The Dan Rathers of the world, bless them, do their best to report on a phenomenon that doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t even acknowledge the difference between fact and fiction. How do you deal logically with something so illogical?
Logic, and for the most part reason itself, are casualties of this election. To understand what happened, and is still happening, it’s useful to dispense with the logic of reason and examine the phenomenon from a different angle, to see it as a fundamentally religious event.
Let’s back up a bit. A lot of people in the United States were in psychic turmoil prior to the election. Although the usual indicators showed that the economy was doing not badly, unemployment was down a bit, and the U.S. dollar was strong, there was a deep unrest among the people and a sense that life was changing, and not for the better. Millennials were having a tough time finding meaningful work. Blue-collar workers could see, first-hand, that their incomes were shrinking and that the future of their children looked shaky. University education had become too costly. Retirement got harder. Many of the manufacturing businesses had packed up and gone offshore. Yet everywhere they looked, they could see conspicuous consumption on the part of the very rich. The American Dream that anyone, through hard work and dedication, could achieve wealth enough to buy a house and raise a family, and finance their kids’ further education looked tarnished.
There are two ways this could be addressed. One way, championed by Bernie Sanders, was through economic logic. America is a country of enormous wealth, but the majority of the wealth belongs to the few, not to the many. The economic system created by giant corporations siphons most of the profits upward, to the 1%, as they’re called. So greedy are the corporations and the people profiting from them that they even oppose raising the minimum wage for its lowest-end workers. So, says the logic, what should happen is that corporations, who live off the workers of the country, should give back more to country’s upkeep and care. In other words, they should pay a fairer share of their taxes.
The other way to address the situation is not through logic, but through fear, repression, and scapegoats. The first scapegoats are the progressives, who with their support for civil rights, women’s rights (including the right to abortions), LGBQT rights, and concerns for the environment, represent, to some, “everything that is wrong with America.” How so? you ask, especially if you’re Canadian and take these issues as “normal,” rather than radical. By linking them to religion. Condemning these things because they’re abominations warned about in the Christian Bible, despite the fact that many progressives are also Christians, and that seeking morality from the Christian Bible amounts to little more than cherry picking passages that support what you want to believe, despite being contradicted by other passages in the Bible.
For conservatives, progressives have been tacitly tagged as “enemies of the state.” Add to that the fear of ISIS and Islamic terrorism, and the patently false idea that America was just destroyed by a black president, and you begin to see a channel though which ferment can flow.
What was obvious was that the populace was fed up with the status quo. Unfortunately, the Democratic party leadership turned a deaf ear to this and simply dropped Bernie Sanders, accepting none of his ideas or finding a way to appeal to his millions of followers. Instead they ran the most status-quo candidate possible, the uncharismatic and, frankly, uninspiring Hillary Clinton. The election was theirs to win, but they lost, if only by a whisker. The disappointed Sanders followers who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Clinton likely tipped the scale for Trump, yet it’s difficult to blame them. She was certainly not the witch portrayed in the alt-press, but it’s doubtful she would have been more than adequate. Looking back, I think many of us would now be satisfied with adequate.
You lose the context of the election if you don’t realize that the religious right, fanned by Fox Media — the very people Barry Goldwater warned the Republicans about decades ago — have developed into a powerful political force. As Christianity dwindles as a force in most first-world countries and nearly all cities, it has flared up in the US, particularly in the South and in other rural areas. Not only has it flared up, but it has brought with it a kind of Messianic fervour replete with “end of days” thinking and a “God on their side” mentality. At base it has shown itself to be a White movement, racist, misogynistic, and puffed up with a sense of moral outrage. And the God of Islam, Allah? Not our God. Separation of Religion and State? Not on our watch. Mexicans? Deport them.
Trump read the landscape perfectly. He plugged himself into a seeming Christianity (anyone else remember him quoting from “Two Corinthians”?) and gave the movement its leader. It’s a conservative jihad. Destroy anything the enemy left behind, like the Affordable Care Act. ISIS? Don’t allow any Muslims into the country. Bomb them back into the stone age if necessary. Rip up international agreements. Alienate historical allies. “Make America Great Again.” And never, ever tell the truth. Just call the lies “alternative facts.”
And so, in the end, you look at a phenomenon that is inherently illogical, but fired with emotional intensity. Again, it’s difficult for Canadians to understand why the people, after seeing Trump in office, can idly stand by and allow him to try to defy the US Constitution itself. In fact, if you visit conservative websites and social media, you’ll find they’re actually cheering him on.
This isn’t politics folks. It’s religion. Even more, it’s the swan song of the American White majority starting to realize they’re not going to be the majority for much longer. These are people who are culturally and intellectually unequipped for life in a pluralistic society. Such people are dangerous.
It’s possible some good could come of this. As the majority of Americans watch this train wreck happen, and their resistance to it picks up momentum, I wouldn’t be surprised if their chant in the next election will be “Never Again!”