I had assumed my own conservative friends would spot a charlatan and choose a candidate with their own supposed values.
Trump’s rise came as a surprise to many on the left. However, the bigger surprise was probably for conservatives who are principled, conscientious and consistently liberty-minded.
Trump is everything conservatives have complained about in liberals. He’s divisive like Barack Obama, a serial womanizer like Bill Clinton, arrogant like Al Gore and a waffler like John Kerry. Yet somehow it is all okay when Trump does it?
Well, I suppose it is because Trump is one of ‘us’ and is ‘our’ guy…?
Which, in translation, is tribalism or identity politics and the same thing conservatives have claimed to loath in liberals. This loathsome behavior has now become acceptable to some self-described conservatives because it suits their political agenda.
When you can’t beat them join them?
Conservatives, in fear of being marginalized and feeling unheard by the political establishment, have abandoned traditional conservativism en-masse to follow their own audacious Pied Piper who promises to give them a voice again.
Conservatives can no longer blame liberals for dividing the nation with a man as divisive as Trump as their choice for leader. They can no longer point a finger at Hollywood for promoting evil when they themselves pick an obscene and angry man to represent them.
No matter what the outcome of the election (Trump, Clinton, or other) it is safe to say that irrationality has won, tribalism has won, and we all together will lose. Something once anathema to American greatness has now come to define us both right and left.
Trump’s ascendency as a ‘conservative’ is a watershed moment. Now no side can claim moral high ground. Conservatives are now as guilty of rank partisanship and hypocrisy as their rivals. They fall for fear-mongering propaganda as quickly as anyone else.
So where do we go from here?
First we must identify the problem in us, not them. Jesus said that before we judge others we must judge ourselves, because how we judge others is how we will be judged (Matt. 7:1-5) and this is something that should sober up any honest person conservative or liberal.
Both sides identify the same problems.
Both see the divisiveness, bullying and irrationality of the other side.
But, can we see it in ourselves? Have we actually heeded the warning of Jesus, seen our own hypocrisy and repented?
Or do we hold onto our imagined right to a sanctimonious judgmental and entitled attitude? Do we think it is okay for our side to be divisive because they are? Is it fine to be a bully when it suits our own agenda? Can we abandon a rationality of self-sacrificial love and somehow save ourselves?
#1) Simple labels lead to more division and greater irrationality.
Trump wins using what Scott Adams (who makes a case why the billionaire celebrity will win) has explained as the “linguistic kill shot” or taking an opponent’s most notable attribute and redefining it in a memorable and negative way.
The presidential characteristics of diplomacy and reasonableness embodied by Jeb Bush were turned into “weak” and “low energy” by Trump. Ben Carson’s political outsider status, unique life story and calm demeanor were turned into comparison to a child molester and a cause for mistrust. Ted Cruz, a skilled debater and political strategist, he demolished by calling into question his credibility.
Of course, this is not anything new, political partisans and activists have long tried to define their opponents in a negative way. The language in the abortion debate, for example: Those in favor self-identify as “pro-choice” while those against call themselves “pro-life” and both imply the other side as against life or choice. It presents an intentional oversimplification of a complex topic. It is often language representative of a false dichotomy and strawman argument.
This was also the most frustrating part of the healthcare debate early in President Obama’s first term. You were either for a massive new government intrusion into the healthcare industry or you were pigeonholed as a cold hearted and angry racist.
It was not conducive of a constructive dialogue. It marked the end of any chance for bipartisan cooperation and in many ways forced otherwise reasonable people to choose a side. Many conservatives have apparently decided to embrace the labels rather than rise above them.
Perhaps it is because there is enough truth to the accusations against conservatives? It does seem, in retrospect, that some of the opposition to Obama’s policies may have been partially rooted in bigotry and prejudice. This could be in need of correction.
Political correctness came to be for a reason. Unfortunately, the purveyors of political correctness have not overcome the same tendencies that they identify in others. They, like those whom they deride as racists and sexists, have resorted to their own forms of the same ugliness.
Trump has mastered this art of oversimplification of opponents. He uses language that creates a negative image and the more the identifier is resisted the more it is reinforced at a subconscious level.
Trump relies on irrational human tendency to judge ‘outsiders’ collectively. This leads to more mistrust, creates deeper division and leads to more tribalism.
#2) More tribalism (or identity politics) will never make America great.
Trump promises to make America great again. But in reality he represents a more advanced stage of the cancer destroying our strength as a nation. Namely the problem is tribalism (or identity politics) and this is not helped more angry partisan rhetoric.
Just the other day I was told (by a left-leaning friend) it was “politically toxic” to get lunch at Chick-fil-A. And on the other side we have Joshua (coffee cup controversy) Feuerstein and a less than meek spirited woman marching through Target (submissive man and family in tow) demanding people leave or be in league with the devil.
Tribalism blinds us to the sins of those with whom we identify with and leads to a vengeful self-perpetuating tit for tat cycle. Both sides have convinced themselves the other side is getting what they deserve when the government encroaches on their freedom. It might be described as revenge for what their tribe did to ours, but it is really just hatred and hypocrisy.
Democrats described conservatives of being unpatriotic for opposition to tax hikes and other liberal policies. Now Trump supporters have turned tables and claim you aren’t a patriot unless you support their vile mouthed candidate. This is utter nonsense, nevertheless it is believed by many on both sides—it keeps us divided, easily manipulated, and weak.
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25)
Abraham Lincoln paraphrased that bit of Scripture in his House Divided speech to point out the double-mindedness of those seeking to be on both sides of the slavery issue. Lincoln lost that round, nevertheless his point was well made and our own prideful hypocrisy today (on both sides) must be addressed or we will fall.
The tendency to demonize or marginalize those who disagree is expression of identity politics. Rather than respect each other we are driven to mistrust. Rather than build a common unity around our shared values, we are encouraged to divide into competing tribes of race, gender or religious affiliation. The result is a predictable never-ending conflict where nobody ever wins and everyone comes out as loser.
We cannot promote divisiveness, demagoguery and disunity then claim to love a nation that values freedom. We cannot expect tolerance for ourselves or our tribe while demanding others share our opinions and being completely intolerant of those who do not.
#3) The answer to abuse and bullying is not more abuse and bullying.
Every abuser feels justified. Men, child molesters or rapists, will often blame immodesty of women and the innocent for their own sinful lusts. Likewise looters and rioters feel their own violent outbursts against are excused because of police brutality or other historic injustices.
People bully and abuse others because it works. It may even get Trump elected according to some. It is easier to manipulate others into compliance with fear of violence than it is to convince them with a rational argument. The civil conversation is over when the mob arrives shouting demands with torch and pitchfork in hand.
Trump has encouraged mob spirit in his political rallies. His supporters gleefully cheer on rough treatment that they feel is justified and it is dangerous.
For years conservatives have put up with the disruptions and disrespect for those expressing their perspective, so perhaps some of us think this makes it right for us to act out?
It might be cathartic to see some elbows thrown on behalf of our own perspective. However, repaying evil with evil is a path to greater evil. It is a positive feedback loop that produces greater evil with each cycle. It is a march towards civil war and a path to our mutually assured destruction.
We can’t overcome evil with evil. We must overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21) and forgive. Real moral leadership leads by example rather than use of reciprocal violence and political force.
Jesus trumps partisan politics.
Politics is about power. Political leaders often use fear to motivate and threat of violence to manipulate those who stand against them, they feed discontentment rather than promote peace, but this is not the way of Jesus.
I’ve heard some exclaim: “We’re electing a president not a pastor!”
This is double mindedness. Those who believe a thuggish leader is necessary to control their neighbors should not be surprised when the same rationale is used by their adversaries to subjugate them. It is not reconcilable with Christian love.
Jesus is the answer or our profession of faith is a lie. Jesus is the right example of leadership, is the only appropriate basis for measurement, or he’s not our Lord and Savior.
And, furthermore, if the standard for leadership established by His example can’t be reconciled with politics, then I recommend those who claim to be Christian choose their master and remove themselves from the process entirely or admit their unbelief in Jesus.
A President is indeed like a pastor (read more if interested) to a nation. His morality and ethics will is the example for the nation (or so that was the claim of conservatives in response to Clinton’s infidelity) and cannot be ignored. We cannot separate the character of a person from their politics nor can we seperate our own personal morality from those whom we choose to represent us.
Politics, or at very least the politics of division, violence and tribalism, is antithetical to sincere profession of faith in Jesus. Politics that leads by force rather than example is a direct contradiction to what Jesus taught.
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)
That quote is the final answer given by Jesus to a legal expert (perhaps the equivalent of a Constitutional conservative today) who asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus first ask what the law says, the man responds with a summary of the law—love God and love your neighbor.
But the expert, evidently unsatisfied, wanting to be justified, pushes for further definition and asks Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?”
It is at this point that Jesus tells a story of the ‘good Samaritan’ who treated an enemy (his political and ethnic or social rival) with loving care and respect. Jesus does not answer the question of who is our neighbor, instead he answers how to be a good neighbor.
That is the way of Jesus. We are to love our enemies, to lead others by showing them by example how we wish for them to treat us and through this overcome evil with good. This brings unity and love rather than more fear and divisions.
If there is no candidate attempting to lead with Christian love? Stay home election day and pray. When given a choice between two corrupt and unrepentant people? Choose neither!
We should choose to transcend the tribal political warfare. We can love our neighbors as faith requires without casting a ballot.
So, when in doubt, choose Jesus and love your neighbor.