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

by

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

Dislike (1)
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD
Guest
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

I have preached to Presidents and Supreme Court Justices and have never strayed from the Gospel message of God's love and forgiveness for all God's children. I do not think human politics has any place in the Church's pulpits. My calling was to proclaim the Gospel of God unto all creatures throughout the world.

Even in my post here I have no advocated for any political position. I share the pain that people are feeling and why they react the way they are in this election. Who am I to judge their motives.

I do admire political leaders whose faith shines through their words and deeds. I know several and they are very good and honest people.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Jan Nunley
Guest
Jan Nunley

I'm the priest at one of those congregations struggling to pay me half a salary while trying to keep the pride of our small downtown, a late-19th century historic building funded by hard-working capitalists and factory workers, from falling down around our ears. The Americans I know aren't "being beaten out of their jobs by immigrants." THOSE jobs are mowing grass and staffing fast food joints for minimum wage and no benefits, and God bless 'em for doing them. THEIR jobs were in offices or factories, and they were good jobs, at union wages and with benefits. THOSE jobs have been downsized or sent overseas, and the unions busted, by men EXACTLY like Donald Trump: overpaid, underworked scions of guys who got lucky gambling (legally or illegally) or running hedge funds, whose only loyalty is to Mammon Almighty, and who would say or do anything, no matter how heinous, to raise their personal bottom line, which will never be enough for them anyway. My Bible has a lot to say about that kind of person, none of it good. And people are hoovering it up because they are so blinded by anger and resentment at what's been done to them BY MEN LIKE HIM--and dazzled by his "fame" and "success," not realizing even THAT was Made In China(tm). But oh, Heaven forbid I should preach from the pulpit about "politics"... even when politics "as usual" is killing their jobs, their town, their kids' education, their retirement...

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Kurt Hill
Guest
Kurt Hill

Right on, Jan!

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Anne Monahan
Guest

The Church is called to seek justice. In today's society Christians must be involved in politics if we are to achieve our mission. Jesus was very political. Just ask Herod and Pilate.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Deborah Truscott
Guest
Deborah Truscott

Yes, yes and yes, Reverend Nunley. You made an important point when you wrote: "The Americans I know aren’t 'being beaten out of their jobs by immigrants.' THOSE jobs are mowing grass and staffing fast food joints for minimum wage and no benefits, and God bless ’em for doing them. THEIR jobs were in offices or factories, and they were good jobs, at union wages and with benefits. THOSE jobs have been downsized or sent overseas, and the unions busted, by men EXACTLY like Donald Trump."

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD
Guest
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

Let us just say we agree to disagree and leave it at that.

I will say if my partner and I sat through a sermon that was blatantly political in an election year, we would get up and walk out. We love our parish, but no more political sermons. I will not be beaten down by MoveOn.Org.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Pete Ackerman
Guest
Pete Ackerman

I have to agree. I have been an Episcopal Priest in the DC 'Beltway" for almost ten years and through my sponsoring parish across the coast, my internships, and the two churches where I have been an ordained leader, we had congregations that were full of members who subscribe to both political parties. Thus we preach the actual Gospel and people who are called to feed the other, visit the prisoner, clothe the naked, etc. can do so as Republicans and as Democrats. I should mention that in the time where people are wringing hands about the decline of Episcopal parishes....each one of those mentioned here, that did not preach the gospel of "Rachel Maddow" or "Rush Limbaugh" on Sundays, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ...are and./or were all thriving and growing parishes...going against the shrinking demographics of others.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
JC Fisher
Guest
JC Fisher

As I was watching a young African-American woman being grabbed and violently shoved out of a Trump rally, I have to wonder: what does it mean, William, when you say "I will not be beaten down by MoveOn.Org."? [Full-disclosure: I'm less than united w/ MoveOn currently, thanks to their endorsement of BSanders]

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Jennifer Crumley
Guest
Jennifer Crumley

Amen!

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Pete Ackerman
Guest
Pete Ackerman

Ironically the parishes that preach "MSNBC" or "Fox News" instead of the Gospel of J.C. are the parishes that seem to be failing. Sometimes the reason for the shrinking demographics in our parishes is easily discovered; staring right back at us in the morning mirror.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Chris Harwood
Guest
Chris Harwood

Jan, who was it that Goldman Sachs paid gobs to speak? Some lady named Clinton? And wasn't some guy named Bill involved in NAFTA? Real life is messy and neither side is immune to greed/money/sin. Here in Montana most of the union jobs are in natural resources-mining, gas, timber...all industries Obama has promised to practically destroy to appease the party environmentalists. So, if a union miner knows all the good jobs and schools in the county are going to disappear if Obama's environmental laws are enacted, does he vote for his own destruction? Is he an evil Republican for voting to save his community/heritage? Or, if it's just the rich you hate, our Episcopal church is the local country club church, mostly Democrat, but rich bankers and lawyers and unwelcoming to poor people. Are snobby Democrats any better than Republicans? I know people from both sides who hate church because of "political priests". A priest who spends every Sunday railing against others isn't spreading love or peace or getting their own side to look at their sins/weaknesses. What was that old story about taking logs and splinters from our eyes? Whose eye was first?

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Paula
Guest
Paula

Thank you Jan for bringing the discussion to include the most probable causes of the anger a demagogue like Trump can exploit. We do indeed need to have a rational discussion about these issues while we formulate some solutions that don't involve "burning down the country" with the likes of Donald Trump as President.

please use your full first and last name when commenting - editor

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Shirley O'Shea
Guest
Shirley O'Shea

Amen!!! From impoverished upstate NY.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD
Guest
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

It always amazes me that when looking through the stained glass how much better the world appears than when in the trenches of real life.

On paper everything looks great, but at the kitchen table decisions are having to be made that are painful for families to handle. The decline is household income by about 5,800.00+ a year has caused adjustments to be made as to what the priorities are for families. The increased cost of health care is causing great concern. The cost of groceries like milk, eggs & bread are increasing monthly. The fear that retirement savings and pension plans will disappear before they are needed. The list goes on and on.

Many parishes and local congregations may well find themselves struggling with paying the utilities, the rector's salary, the building upkeep and that list goes on and on as well.

When our elected representatives seem isolated from our plight then we do trend to get disturbed. That leads to anger. In this election cycle that anger has lead to a political revolution in both political parties.

The People want their government back. The times, as they say, are a changing. I could write volumes of all the reasons for this revolution, but I'll let others share their observations.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD
Guest
Dr. William A. Flint, MDiv, PhD

I would add: advise to the Church is to stay out of politics. The pews are already sparsely filled. What go is a seminary if you have no students?

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Chris Harwood
Guest
Chris Harwood

I agree, at least if TEC intends to actually be a church that welcomes all. Let's admit that depending on where you live, your job/ livelihood depends on opposite sides of the aisle and a church that actually welcomes all will be willing to admit that there are good and bad on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, just like the pictures above, I don't think TEC does think people who disagree with them are deserving of dignity.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Jennifer Crumley
Guest
Jennifer Crumley

I am an Episcopalian and very unhappy with this article. I agree....the church needs to stay out of politics.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Rev. Henry Galganowicz
Guest
Rev. Henry Galganowicz

You do understand that Jesus was crucified by the state for political reasons?

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Jeffrey Cox
Guest
Jeffrey Cox

I am not a fan of this article. It is pretty easy to state that "all is well" when you are sitting on the endowment that Virginia Theological Seminary has. It can easily fix problems in their institutional life whether building or new chapel or having tuition-free costs.

The Americans I know are being beaten out of jobs by immigrants who accept lower wages. This race to the bottom has affected many working class jobs. There is a general feeling of crime in places where large poor people gather with little hope. Look at Flint, Michigan and the lack of government to find any solution. There is a lot of rhetoric, not policy.

We have ISIS fighting and killing ethnic groups including Christians. ISIS's War on Women include rape, torture, and execution. They promote child rape. What has Virginia Seminary said about this? Yes, ISIS has been rebuffed by lower oil prices, but when the price of oil rises.... Oh, I am a combat veteran, so I know first hand the true costs of war.

I don't know if Donald Trump is the answer. I know that he is asking a lot of questions that I hear from a lot of people. Many of them Episcopalians in parishes in dying communities with less than 50 people on Sunday hanging on. We need less sensational picture of Donald Trump and more meaningful analysis of what he is saying and why he is saying. A lot of people are stuck, feel mad, and frankly can care less about what the NEW YORK TIMES or other university elites that are doing fine and have a pension.

I hope future pictures of Mr. Trump on this website can show the dignity of a Presidential candidate like you would with an Episcopal Seminary President.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Pete Ackerman
Guest
Pete Ackerman

I am not sure if my original comment was posted (first timer...neglected the last name)...but I respectfully am on the other side of you and loved this article, but what took me aback and where I agree with is that on such a fine essay posted by a group with "episcopal" in its name, that has clergy (including the clergy editor who posted this article) choose a picture of Trump which is unflattering to say the least. In a church who is going to invite their congregations to "renew their Baptismal Covenant" at the Easter Vigil - is it truly respecting the dignity of EVERY human being, by posting that purposely horrible photo of Mr. Trump? Dean Markham eloquently talks about elevating discourse, and I personally think episcopalcafe failed in living up to the fine ideal lifted up for us to consider by the author.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
David Streever
Member
David Streever

Mr. Ackerman,
Donald Trump chose this photo. It is in use on posters for his campaign.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
David Streever
Member
David Streever

Mr. Cox:
This photo appears on Trump's campaign materials.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Marie Honeycutt
Guest
Marie Honeycutt

so that makes it ok? Donald Trump has done and said a lot of things in his campaign. I thought the point of the article was to dispute those tactics. The picture posted of him - whether in his campaign materials or not - does not excuse it's usage in an article to raise the standard of public discourse. A picture speaks louder than the words. Practice what you are preaching and show respect.

Like (1)
Dislike (0)
David Streever
Member
David Streever

Why is it wrong to use the image?
The complaint was that the image distorts him or paints him unfairly.

The image does not distort him; he himself uses it to represent himself.

What, precisely, is your complaint? That the image isn't flattering?

Media isn't supposed to 'flatter' candidates. Media is supposed to report. This is a real, in context, image of Donald Trump which Donald Trump uses to represent himself. There is no reason not to use it.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Coricia Payton
Guest
Coricia Payton

Jeffery. As a combat veteran myself, I understand your views of war and the real cost. As an immigrant however, I was very taken back by your comment. Immigrants aren't stealing jobs by accepting lower pay. Immigrants do jobs that will offer pay for their hard work. Cleaning houses, working in fields, menial labor, etc.These are jobs that are more likely to be filled by native born rather than immigrants. They still pay taxes and they do what they can to survive. Unlike you and I (I was naturalized in 2009), immigrants are less likely to have healthcare, jobs with benefits, proper housing and they are more likely to be conned, short payed or suffer abuse from employers with no options for recourse. Except for the very rich, many of us wait over 10 years just to get a green card/work permit after submitting the necessary paperwork to the government.They deserve our empathy, not our hatred. I urge you to read up on the struggles of immigrants and what it is we go through to become citizens of this country. Immigrants also serve in every branch of the military!

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Pete
Guest
Pete

A very good article marred only by the picture of the article's subject which appears not to respect the dignity of EVERY human being. I am dissapointed that this "episcopal"cafe would so blatantly refute our baptismal call with a disrespectful photo (such as pols post about their political enemies) especially in an article where the author of the very same takes great care to remain respectful of all.

we ask that commenters use their full first and last names

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Pete Ackerman
Guest
Pete Ackerman

Hi David,

Please do not let my response prejudice you to thinking I am someone other than who I actually am. I am not a Trump supporter and though you make a typical legalistic point a la' "PerryMason," about using photos, I'll be you there are probably 1000 pictures easily available of the candidate and not one of those "between shutter click ones" that people ONLY use for negativity. When a Democrat puts a picture of their opponent...this is the kind that they use. When Republican does the same this is the kind that they use. I would think, especially in light of Mr. Markham's fine essay which does everything to remain above the fray and respectful of the dignity of all, that episcopalcafe would show the same reflection of kindness and let Mr. Markham's words speak for themselves, and not add their own commentary by such an "ugly" photo.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Robert Howe
Guest
Robert Howe

Since the article is about Trump speaking and behaving immaturely, and people irresponsibly reinforcing him in doing this, I think the picture represents the attitude of Trump and those who are cheapening public discourse, and is appropriate to the thrust of the article. You might as well criticize Jesus' treatment of the money-changers in the temple.

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
1 2 3 8