I am grateful to my Facebook friend John Barber for posting his blog "Why is Trump so divisive". John and I come from very different political perspectives but we do share a Christian faith and commitment, we have both been involved in community activism working with the homeless and interfaith relationships and we both believe in the importance of honest but gracious dialogue and the practice of good disagreement. So here goes with my view of Donald Trump and what he represents why I think that he is not only divisive but dangerous for his own country and the world at large.
Let me say first of all that I understand some of the frustration of his supporters which led to such a maverick outsider being elected as president of the United States in November 2016, albeit without securing a majority of the popular vote. On the one hand there is a general frustration with political elites which has led to the rise of various forms of populism across the world. And in post-industrial where there is a reality of economic decline and a sense of being left behind culturally, it is not surprising that straight talking politicians who capture this mood can gather support. It is particularly easy when the filters and restraints on political discourse been dissolved by the new technologies of social media and the cult of personality which focuses on political leaders rather than ideologies and political programmes. See this piece for a good analysis of the dangerous point we have come to https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jacob-rees-mogg-home-vandals-brexit-trump-socialist-bookshop-a8479596.html . Undoubtedly Trump with his Twitter splurges and ritualistic chant of "Fake News" is a skilful manipulator in the information wars.
However there are many reasons why I think that the election of Donald Trump is a disaster for the USA and for the world at large. I'd like to deal first with the man himself and then more seriously with the underlying crisis which has brought him into power.
Trump the Man
Many people have analysed Donald Trump's personality, his personal history and the business dealings which have made his fortune, that was a necessary prerequisite two mounting a campaign for the presidency. John's blog quotes one summary of a common view which is typical:
"Trump makes fun of everyone who criticizes him, like a 5 year old would. He demeans our friends and sucks up to our enemies. He lies more than 70% of the time. He has no understanding of any of the issues. He rules by fear and hate. He can't read and has the attention span of a 6 year old".
To be honest this is not far from my own perception of the man, though I have to admit this is derived from media coverage and from my own social media networks which tend to be left leaning. John himself admits "Trump's faults are glaring. He does bend the truth. He is a narcissist. He can be spiteful and scathing to those who oppose him."
Personally I think there is a fundamental question about whether Donald Trump can be trusted. He certainly doesn't seem to be trusted his own political allies and the Republican party, by many of his own appointees who have resigned or have been dismissed from their posts after a short tenure, by the FBI, or even by his own family who have from time to time publicly disagreed with him on significant issues. He certainly can't be trusted by any woman, given his history of philandering. He is clearly not trusted by the political leaders of Europe, Canada or Latin America. It it remarkable that the people who seem to trust him most are the presidents of Russia and North Korea. One is reminded of the old Music Hall song "You can tell a man who boozes by the company he chooses...And the pig got up and slowly walked away". It's not surprising then I cannot trust him as the leader of the "free world".
More important than the man are the policies he advocates. Clearly Trump, with his slogan of "make America great again" and the vast majority of his supporters are nationalist to the core, or as they might turn it patriotic. Personally I see great dangers in nationalism. The results of it in the great wars of the 20th century, and in the Balkans in the 1990s were horrendous. It seems to me impossible to separate nationalism from some degree of racism. Nationalism can so easily transmute into genocide and an attempt to exterminate the "other". Trump may not yet have reached that point, but some of his statements, with their hostility to immigrants and refugees, to Muslims, to anti racist protesters and even to his democratic opponents seem to be heading that way, or at the very least creating a permissive atmosphere where violent racists are emboldened. To say the least vigilance is needed at the present time. My understanding of Christian teaching and the biblical gospel is that it is fundamentally internationalist, as an offer to all the nations of the world. And international organisations such as the United Nations and European union, which in its Foundation was firmly grounded on Catholic social teaching and the concept of the common good, are at least a partial attempt to reflect those Christian values in practical politics. I believe it can be argued that on balance globalisation has brought significant economic and cultural benefits to the world including a peace dividend and a reduction of extreme poverty, morbidity and mortality across the globe. Trump's America first policy puts much of this at risk.
Climate change scepticism, and the renunciation of the Paris agreement and the president's environmental policies put at risk the integrity of God's good creation. Just at the time when the world had reached a consensus, when national and state governments the business community are beginning to make and significant impact on carbon emissions, destructive policies have been put back on the agenda. Here again Trump is proving divisive and dangerous to the world.
John Barber is enthusiastic about Trumps pro-life credentials. While I agree that the vast number of abortions throughout the world is a tragedy and a sin, I believe the toll can only be reduced by a change in culture. Controversial restrictive legislation will have limited effect and could prove counter-productive. In the USA the Coalition between conservative churches and the Republican party on this particular issue has had negative consequences for the churches and the gospel. At the same time Trump and his conservative supporters can hardly claim to be pro-life with their support for the death penalty, the right to bear guns despite numerous mass shootings, and their emphasis building up the destructive power of the military. If we take seriously the Lord's words "blessed are the peacemakers", I don't think we can say that this is what Jesus would do.
Trump and the culture wars
Finally we cannot understand the Trump phenomenon without looking at the entrenched culture wars in the USA and the divisive and dangerous positioning of the majority of white evangelical Christians, 81% of whom voted for Trump in the 2016 election. For many of us in the UK, Christian, Muslim or secular it seems incredible and crazy that anyone could think of Trump as a Cyrus figure, indeed as God's anointed. One can understand the idea that political authority is given by God and that the office and institutions should be respected and within the limits of conscience obeyed. One can also understand has Jesus said there will always be a fundamental division between believers and unbelievers. However it seems that for many American Christians the fundamental division is between American Patriots and the rest of the world. Part of this comes from misplaced sense of of being a peculiar covenant people, with a manifest destiny, probably a result of the merging of scriptural themes with the foundation myth of the Pilgrim Fathers. But this seems to be a deep theme in American politics, a Manichean divide between Good and Evil, for example Ronald Reagan's evil Soviet Empire, and Bushes evil rogue States, but now transferred to "Muslim Obama" and "crooked Hillary". Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics appears strangely prescient, if not indeed prophetic.
The central feature of the paranoid style is the concern about an all encompassing conspiracy that threatens to take control of America and change its most foundational values. For Hofstadter (1964: republished 2012), the prominence and persistence of the paranoid style in American politics is at least partially "a product of the rootlessness and heterogeneity of American life and, above all, its peculiar search for secure identity."
The biggest danger as I see it are the naïve acceptance of conspiracy theories, the idolatry of the nation state and the heresy that because Jesus is coming back soon this world and all his enemies can be rapidly and carelessly consigned to hellfire and destruction. The danger in short is not Donald Trump the man but the values and beliefs that he claims to represent.
Hofstadter, R., 2012. The paranoid style in American politics. Vintage. (first published 1964)