Reflections from a “NeverTrump”

I’ve been “NeverTrump” from the beginning, even when he ran for president back in 2012. Denny Burk does a fair job summing up my thoughts on Trump, from both a Christian perspective and as a US citizen. But now that he’s been elected, I’ve been reflecting on where I go, and watching and listening to what others are saying and doing.

Overall, post-election behavior in this country is largely the same as the pre-election behavior, which is to say that people aren’t listening to each other. Here are my reflections in the aftermath.

  1. Trump wasn’t elected because Republicans are racist.
    I know this is a common talking point by those on the left, but it doesn’t hold. Talking to people who voted for Trump, and looking at the overall numbers, it’s evident that the working class in the majority of this country feel abandoned and marginalized. The manufacturing and other high-quality jobs that used to pepper the rural areas of the country have been moved elsewhere, resulting in the middle class and working poor having grave economic concerns. Trump was able to speak to those concerns, and build a movement around it. He has been an outspoken opponent of NAFTA, of shipping jobs overseas, and of the TPP, each of which are considered to take jobs from working-class Americans. Those who voted for Trump aren’t some sort of secret racists just biding their time to take over the country. They are people who have felt their concerns have been ignored, and were willing to overlook Trumps racist, misogynist, and immoral tendencies in order to be heard.Similarly, these same middle-class workers – you know, those who are being economically overlooked – are being further drown by the mandates of the Affordable Care Act. There are things about the ACA that I like, and I think were necessary, but the resulting spike in mandatory healthcare premiums threaten to bankrupt many families, even with federal assistance. The fact that open enrollment started on November 1st, and families saw a 50-100% increase in their premiums certainly affected the election.

    These working class families also tend to be more traditionally religious than the working class in urban areas, and they were afraid for their religious freedoms. They were afraid their churches would be forced to perform homosexual marriages, or that their businesses would be shut down because they didn’t provide abortion coverage. And they believed that their deeply felt religious convictions were being ignored in Washington. Once again, Trump supporters were willing to overlook Trump’s inconsistency on topics of religious freedom because he spoke to those concerns in a way that connected with people.

    As I read about those who voted for Trump, and as I talk with those who voted for him, most cringe at his inconsistencies and racism, but basically say that they had no other choice. To accuse the majority of his supporters of being racist just doesn’t bear out.

    That being said…

  2. The Republican party tends to attract racists.
    There has been a spike in hate-related crimes since the election, many of which bear the name of “Trump”, though most of them seem to be perpetrated by children, and no official numbers have yet been published. Nevertheless, this indicates what the Democrats have long asserted – that the Republican party tends to attract the racist fringe. Donald Trump was endorsed by the KKK, David Duke is a Republican, and it’s fair to say that those with similar leanings tend to vote republican. These events reinforce in the minds of Democrats that the entire Republican party is racist.The irony is that liberals have tended to come to the defense of Muslims, stating that just because the radical fringe of Islam is violent doesn’t mean that all Muslims are violent, while the far right has argued otherwise. In this post-election season, it seems that those same liberals paint the Republican party with the same “racist” brush, while Republicans argue that a few isolated cases shouldn’t apply to everyone.

    Since many who voted for Trump did so for reasons of economic and religious conviction, there has been a call for Trump supporters to denounce Trump’s racist, sexist, violent statements. With only some exceptions, I’ve found most Republicans either baffled by this call, or unsure how to do it. I’m pretty convinced that’s where the safety-pin movement has come from. But in the meantime, those opposed to Trump’s invective are taking to the streets, using social media, and shouting as loud as they can muster.

  3. The protesting democrats aren’t “spoiled brats”.
    I see this thrown around a lot these days – that the protests are ineffective, that only those who have no jobs can find the time to protest, etc. The first time I remember hearing of this was during the Occupy Wall Street protests, and later during the Black Lives Matter protests. Then, doing some research, I found that it’s an accusation almost as old as protest itself in the US. I’ve encountered a lot of people who just want to chalk up the protest to being a tantrum by people who are unemployed and sponging off others.The protesters, though, are a mixed bag. Let’s all agree that destruction of private property is wrong, just as wrong as the vandalism and intimidation that appears to be emerging from the Republican fringe. The real issues at stake with the protesters are solidarity with those who fear the policies of the new president, policies that may tear families apart due to immigration reform, or force Muslims register with the government in order to live in the US. They’ve taken to the street to show that they won’t be silent about such things if they become reality.

    But they’ve also taken to the streets to show solidarity with each other over shared economic concerns. Millennials graduate college with an average of $35,000 unforgivable of student loan debt, will likely be underemployed through their first several years out of college, and unlikely to find a job in their field. The economics of healthcare in this country make it out of reach for most Millennials, and the widening wage gap threatens the existence of the middle class – not only for Millennials, but for everyone. Yes, they are in the streets because they are underemployed and don’t see how the system is set up to help them. Trump seems like a step in the wrong direction, and they want to see change that matters to their future. People can argue about whether or not it’s effective, but diminishing the struggle is equally as ineffective.

    Most conservatives, especially of the Boomer-era, have mostly forgotten these sorts of concerns, and have also forgotten how to peer into protest to humanize the protester. Far from being a tantrum thrown by spoiled brats (though there are probably a few), the protests are a way to show solidarity around a shared set of values and concerns. I wish both parties would listen to this more closely. If they had, maybe Trump would have faced a better democratic opponent.

Of course there’s more that could be said on these topics and a number of others, but one thing is an important takeaway. Let’s not let an elected official, regardless of whether or not you voted for him, get away with things that go against our values. If we really are a country that wants equality for women, equal treatment for all religions, and a healing of the racial divide, and I think we are, then we ALL need to stand against anything that threatens those values. Let’s figure out how to redirect anger at our personal values being violated to action, and not mere acceptance. Let’s find and back those people who effect change in ways that are meaningful to us. And let’s never forget the power of our voice to divide or raise up, to pray or to curse, and to change reality.

Inside the Fire

Notes from the archive:

fire_spinI’m a mystic mudblood. I come from a family, a faith tradition, and a career that, at best, frowns upon mystical talk. Yet, I remain convinced that there lays a way of knowing beyond what is apparent to the senses or the intellect.

Some time ago, I was thinking about Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. This bush burned, but was not consumed. Moses found this strange, and ventured over to this thing to see what was going on. In the process, he experienced something life-shifting.

As I thought more about this story, the idea of the “holy ground” around the bush began to intrigue me. Pretty much every day of the week, this ground around the bush was normal earth – nothing special. But in the Moses story, the presence of the bush and the ground were superseded by the presence of God in that place, making the land Holy Ground. And, as Moses approached this Holy Ground, he encountered God in a way that put his checkered past into perspective, and defined his trajectory into the future. Being in the very presence of the fire changed Moses.

Yet despite the fire, the bush was not consumed. Even though the fire and the presence of God superseded the presence of the bush, the bush still remained. The union of the bush and God left the bush still bush-like, and God still divine.

It might not seem like much, but this was a bit of a breakthrough for me. Let me explain.

Very often I struggle with how to describe the way in which God, through the Holy Spirit, changes those who encounter him. The tradition in which I was raised seemed to focus on a more demanding or crushing action. God demands submission, and if he doesn’t get submission, he punishes and crushes the resistance by sending the Holy Spirit to “convict” people. This action on the part of God drives those fearful of Him into behaviors that purge whatever they feel is evil, not worthy, or unholy. This purging takes many forms – from throwing away “secular” music, to prohibiting kids from reading or watching “magical” material, to general withdrawal from culture. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is legalism, in which the way we avoid God’s crushing activity is by doing things tied directly to the Bible. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is self-loathing that stems from never being able to be “right” before a Holy God.

But the image of the burning bush seems to shift this view of God. Instead of crushing us, as He could have done with that bush, God woos us- He calls us and encounters us. Normal as we are -normal as the bush was – His presence on us in the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, changes our normalness, our unworthiness, and our unholiness into Holy Ground. In the process, it shifts us – it ignites us, just as it seems to have ignited something in Moses.

So, God’s presence brings me fire, yet does not consume and crush me. Yet for those who find their center in the One Who Is True, the presence and thoughts of God fill their every breath. In this manner (here comes the mystical part) “I” am consumed, but I am not consumed. My thoughts and anxieties shift from selfishness and self-preservation – the “I” – to something outside of myself. As the reality of being found in God – of being a brother of Christ, of realizing that true power gives itself away – begins to sink in, “I” is no longer the focal point of my interaction in the world. Instead, I become consumed with the work of God, which gives itself sacrificially in love towards others. My thoughts are still my own, but no longer focused on me.

This way of thinking has led Paul to make a lot more sense to me:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul, it seems, speaks of himself as not living, yet living. It seems these are the peculiar thoughts of those who find themselves inside the fire of God’s work, but not consumed. In a mystical way, we become the burning bush.

Being consumed with the work of God in the world leads to what appears to be some strange behaviors. But just as the bizarre behavior of the bush attracted attention, and led to an encounter with God that changed the trajectory of those who approached, I find myself wondering if the bizarre consummation of Christians should accomplish the same thing.

I also wonder how often we, as Christians, choose to find ourselves outside the fire, looking from a great distance at those bushes that burn, but are not consumed.