Support the Café

Search our Site

Opinion: Denying the Imago Dei: The triumph of Donald Trump

Opinion: Denying the Imago Dei: The triumph of Donald Trump

by Ian Markham


The conventional hypothesis is that Mr. Trump’s success is due to the anger of the Republican base. In response, every candidate has tried to relate to the “anger” of the base. Their messaging has been “we understand your anger, just don’t vote for Donald Trump”. But perhaps we are being too kind: perhaps we have an uglier and more disturbing phenomenon here.


Others (such as Warren Buffett) have made the point that there isn’t any reason for the Republican base to be so angry. When we look at the facts, unemployment is at 4.9%; gas prices have fallen dramatically; inflation is virtually invisible; and we are outperforming by far the other major economies in the world. Add to this picture other recent recessions. George Bush had two recessions on his watch and only added 1.3 million jobs, while Barack Obama has added 9.2 million jobs. If the base wanted to be angry, then 2008 or 2012 would have made more sense.


So if the economic data is OK, then why? Four main theories have emerged. First, there is the slow recovery hypothesis. This is the line of the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. This recovery has been frustrating slow, they argue. Although it is true that the recovery has been patchy, it is important to remember that compared to the rest of the world this has been the strongest recovery out there   And compared to the Bush years, this has been an OK recovery.


In the pages of The Economist, we find the second theory. The inflamed base hypothesis argues that Republican political leaders in response to the Tea Party allowed their rhetoric to become excessive. An angry base found a mirror in the Republican leadership which created an ever more angry base. However, this hypothesis does not explain Donald Trump. Donald Trump does not reflect back the prejudices of the base. He flirts with higher taxes for the rich; he supports the mandate; and he is only recently become pro-life. He isn’t an angry inflamed base writ large.


A more historical line comes from those defenders of the ultra partisan division – theory three. So Algernon Austin, writing in the Huffington Post, takes this line. We have two Americas, with two electorates who see the world in completely different ways. Democrats worry about healthcare, but not deficits; Republicans worry about the deficit, but not healthcare. For those taking this line, the emergence of Trump is just the logical outcome of decades of growing partisanship and the disappearance of moderates and independents. Again, this hypothesis does not explain Trump. He is utterly maverick on his political positions. And some Democrats are supporting Trump.


Theory four is from Ross Douthat. He suggested the decadent hypothesis. He concedes that the data shows an OK America. The state of the Union might not be fabulous, but “it could clearly be a whole lot of worse”. For Douthat, Americans don’t want “it could be worse”, they want to be able “to advance in the way that its citizens once took for granted”. He believes that Americans are rebelling against the steady decline of this excessively successful nation (hence the decadent hypothesis).


Douthat might be on to something. Trump is pure rhetoric; and Republicans like the tone. They don’t want a realpolitik to shape foreign policy, they hanker for an age when “America just bombs its enemies out of existence”. Trump promises a great America; one where people are all speaking English “again”. The lack of clarity around policy implementation is fine: the tone is what they love.


But there is more going on. There is a revolt against ‘political correctness’. Let me be clear: when attacking political correctness is an excuse to flirt with David Duke, attack Latinos and Muslims, and denigrate women, then that is wrong. The delightful phenomenon marked by the election of Barak Obama in 2008 was the reversal of the ‘Bradley effect’. Obama won by a bigger margin than anticipated because people wanted to be part of the election of the first African American President. This spirit has completely dissipated. For Trump, being “anti-political correctness” is code for the freedom to be ugly. “Muslims should be banned from America”; “Latinos should be sent home”. “This reporter has a disability”. “She is a slut”. This is the language of Trump. Trump is providing license for people to utter what was beyond the bounds of civility.


Trump is wrong because intemperate language against women, immigrants, the disabled, and Muslims is an act of sin. Our civic discourse should always be elevated. In the privacy of our home, late at night, after a drink or two, our discourse might be less than precise and virtuous (not that it makes it right, but it happens), but our civic discourse is public and words have an impact. We should always recognize that when we talk about human lives we are talking about men and women who are made in the image of God. People are of infinite value. This debased and coarse language is totally inappropriate; in fact, it is wrong; it is sinful; indeed it is evil.


The Episcopal Church has a role to play. What is needed is for commentators who are responsible for protecting the Public Square from the language of oppression to be a little less understanding with the anger that Americans are feeling. Much like teenage children, there might be legitimate triggers for angst, but the enthusiasm for Donald Trump is wrong. America is “acting out”. America can live with pluralism; it has done it well in the past and can do it well in the future. The Episcopal Church should start saying, loud and clearly, “stop this tantrum and grow up America”.


Ian S. Markham is the Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Frank Brown

When Trump wins, TEC will be cut off from the millions of dollars it receives from the federal government to import Muslims into the United States, because that program will itself be ended.


(Deleting this comment proves my point, as censorship is a tool of the weak.)

Annie Hall

Trump is that rare “political” phenomenon that allows a preacher to condemn unethical rhetoric without ever actually naming candidate or party… everyone knows who is being called out without such names.

He can easily be identified as a person broadcasting hate speech. In ways akin to yelling fire in a crowded theater, he is blithely throwing public fear onto the backs of “the other” as scapegoat, using crass language that so distracts the hearers that everyone quickly shifts their attention from deciphering his policy agenda or methods for achieving it to condemning or defending his behavior.

And because Trump’s extreme disregard for the imago dei in all persons identifies him handily (without a person of conscience ever having to utter a 501 (c) (3) politically worrisome anything), the question shifts to whether or not religious leaders are called to take up a role in civic discourse about ethical behavior in the public square.

Does the log in one’s own eye prohibit talking about the speck in another’s eye, when hateful things are spoken?

And what happens when whole groups of people are vilified and targeted for potential policy actions down the road?

Scale and context/power matter–not only when constitutionally protected freedoms are in the cross-hairs (as is the case with our citizens under fire)–but also when non-citizens are under fire.

A question that arises is, at what point does the person of conscience find that he or she is at odds with the status quo?

And, along the same line, do religious leaders have an obligation speak out or teach about the treatment of “the other” as made in the image of God, or should they restrict themselves to other activities supporting people of faith?

Do the log and the speck have anything to say in a climate of reactionary extremism, and if so, what?

Cynthia Katsarelis

Good Lord! The author outlines potential reasons for the anger and fear. Then what he says is that we need a polite discourse that recognizes *all people as created in the Image of God.* That is all he says.

Can anyone really argue against the need for a discourse that recognizes the Imago Dei, in all people?

Imago Dei is unavoidably political, but it doesn’t have to be partisan. Gay people are created in the Image of God. Black people are created in the Image of God. Refugees are created in the Image of God. As are immigrants, poor people, and horror of horrors, so are women.

This is controversial precisely because the implications are personal, sacrificial, costly. We lack faith in our Savior who told us to recognize the Imago Dei and love all our neighbors despite our anger and fears.

We know what faith demands and we (collectively) won’t do it. All this article asks for is discourse about the Imago Dei.

This article is incredibly tame. Suppose it asked us to actually follow through. We would crucify him, as we did.

Jim Bimbi

Thank you, Ian Markham, for speaking the truth in the face of evil. Slogging my way through the resulting comments only confirms the insidious nature of evil as so many of the positions and opinions are deflections away from the central issue of Christian morals and ethics. How can we “preach the Gospel” (words are cheap) to people we are demonizing and escorting to the border? What values are we proclaiming to the rest of the world when we, the richest nation on earth, whines that our quality of life, our amassed possessions, are just not enough? Why is it that power has somehow come to be equated with righteousness?

Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

My reference to public schools being a scam is in relation to the politics surrounding public education. Bond issues are out of control, public unions disruption of class schedules by striking (where is the concern for the kids here), the political administration of public schools is wasteful. If our schools are so effective, why is this country ranked in the 30 ranks internationally. Teachers are ignored by political leaders and cohersed into following directives that are not related to teaching kids what they need . Private education is superior to public education because the priorities are balanced.

Wayne Helmly

I find it best to eschew obfuscation by not making gross generalities about complex issues.

For every school district that has staged a strike, there are tens of thousands that have not. This teacher agrees that it would not be best for students, and I have never stood on a picket line. For that matter, not all school systems are unionized.

Because the syntax of your sentence appears to be flawed (perhaps from a public school education?), I could not quite follow what you meant by the United States ranking 30th. At least in the Pearson ranking of 2015, the United States ranked 14th internationally in education. Not as good as we would like, to be sure. But not 30th, either.

Like Mr. Trump, whom this thread is supposed to be about, I was both private and public school educated. My experience is that both have their strengths and weaknesses. To make a unilateral statement that one is always better than the other is simply not true, in my experience. In any case, by his own admission, Mr. Trump’s unruly behavior got him ousted from the private Kew-Forest School and sent to a military academy.

It is very easy to criticize. Anyone with letters after their name might perhaps consider public school teaching. I am sure you could make us better.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café