For a while now, I have been preparing a series of essays on the subject of what the church can do in the age of trumpismo. But given the response to yesterday’s piece, an expansion in the scope of the project may be appropriate. Many people, Christians and otherwise, feel helpless these days.
So here we go: I am starting a column, once a week. Let’s talk about what anyone—religious or not—can do to hold their shit together and maybe even make some good while a short-fingered vulgarian extremist and his various dead-eyed cronies run the show.
There’s a lot of advice floating around on this and related subjects, most of which falls into two camps. The first is straightforward politics: how to be an effective advocate, how to organize and run for political office, how to spot creeping fascism and fight back against it, and so on. The second is more or less self-care for people overwhelmed by the new reality.
Both those poles are valuable, and we’ll touch on them as we go. But in this column, I mostly want to do something in between them. My governing assumptions run like this:
- Ordinary citizens hold more power than they realize.
- Some of that power is the ability to influence political outcomes. Much of it, however, is the ability to influence social outcomes. In the long run, that power might be the most effective and transformative.
- Citizens using the power they possess to act upon their values reduces feelings of anxiety and helplessness.
Those are the touchstones we’ll keep coming back to.
Yesterday’s thread covered the first of these points, and we will return to the subject. American democracy may not be at its healthiest these days, but it is far from dead.
As for the second: I firmly believe that the power of community members to influence one another is far stronger than the formal levers of government. I also believe that power of social capital is seriously underrated—and seriously important in facing down authoritarianism. You will hear me say this time and again: stay together, and find new ways of making connections. The future of the republic depends on it.
The last assumption is not to be overlooked, either. In fact, it may be the most important of them all. The most effective barrier to restoring peace and something like sanity in this nation has nothing to with laws or police. It’s the dread, fear, and despair that authoritarians seek to instill in their opponents. The extremists running the show at the moment would like nothing better than for you to conclude that there is no point in fighting back. I mean to deny them that victory. And hey, it’s good for your mental health, if nothing else.
I am often accused of being an optimist for talking this way, which is a laugh. I am a bit anxious by nature, and broody. But pastoral ministry is nothing if not an exercise in hopemongering, and I mean to monger it, because hope—not optimism—is the key here.
Hope, as the theologians say, is an eschatological business. That is to say, it is focused on ultimate destinations, our purposes and ends. Hope wants to move us down the line, and it is very, very impatient with things that get in the way as we move along. My ultimate hope, as a committed Christian, is for a reconciled world in which all divisions are overcome and all creation can live in peace with God. You certainly don’t have to believe in that same vision, however, to share my belief and Pres. Obama’s belief that trumpismo is a comma, not a period, at the end of American history.
I have hope, in other words, that the American destination lies on the far side of the paranoia, meanness, and corruption that seem to have taken over our national politics. God, I hope that’s true. Maybe, if you read along, you will too.
You will or you won’t. As for me, I find myself increasingly disinterested in reasons why nothing can be done. These arguments aren’t actually very politically astute, for one thing. Cynicism isn’t always the best explanation, and it sucks as a practical agenda. It also misses the real stakes. Trumpismo is a threat to American politics, certainly, but it’s an even greater threat to our social bonds and our humanity.
So don’t bother trying to relitigate the Democratic primary with me. I honestly don’t give a shit. Don’t tell me Americans are too divided. I don’t believe you for a minute. Don’t tell me that Democrats are too ineffectual or Republicans are too extreme. I don’t think it’s about them at all. It’s about specific, ordinary people like you and me.
Because we do have more power than we realize. The shallow, broken man currently occupying the White House Monday through Friday may yet remake America in his tacky, grifting image. But damned if we let him change us without a fight—literally. The content of that damnation will be the hopeless feeling of our souls pecked away a piece at a time without raising a finger to resist.
You’ll forgive me if I’m not particularly interested in that vision of hell. You shouldn’t be, either. Let’s talk about we can avoid it, one step at a time. See you in a week.+ + +