The 2016 presidential campaign as an example of “American democracy” is ludicrous . . . and alarming. We were urged to fulfil our civic duty of voting. As the election approached, even CBS TV anchor Scott Pelley, on the air, quoted his own wife as saying, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” (Evening News, Nov. 1, 2016) As if voting is a panacea and the be-all-and-end-all of a citizen’s democratic responsibility. Never mind that the two, widely disdained, presidential “choices” for voters were already made by the Democratic and Republican parties, themselves controlled by moneyed interests and the guardian media. That qualifies as a “rigged” election. Now we are confronted with the so-called “greater of two evils” – a delusional, disingenuous, macho, sexiopathic, impulse-driven authoritarian, narcissist-in-chief.
The greatest danger of an unstable President Donald Trump is his distortions of reality – distortions rooted in his compulsive need to be right, to dominate, and to diminish non-conforming persons. The violence he does to reality reveals that nothing he says can be believed, which is frightening. The office of the presidency will not change his capricious, developmentally arrested, life-long, authoritarian personality pattern. On the contrary, the presidency will afford him vast power to bend reality to his whim and will, at the expense of those individuals, groups and nations he now demeans – and those who refuse to submit to his rule in the future. The Trump Tower is symbolic: the president-elect is driven to lord it over other people, and those who resist will continue to be the object of his aggression.
Donald Trump gave us plenty of warning. During the presidential campaign, without a teleprompter, he exposed his naked narcissistic authoritarian tendencies for all to hear and see. To Trump, “Make America Great Again” depends on identifying and targeting enemies of the real Americans left behind by an illegitimate black president. American greatness is not about spreading empathy, but sewing enmity in the service of white nationalism. White persons especially were attracted to and energized by Trump’s divisive rhetoric. His branding of Mexican immigrants as rife with rapists, drug dealers and other criminals. His repeated promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to build a “beautiful” giant wall to keep others out. His calls for banning Muslims from entering the country, “extreme vetting” of refugees, and for monitoring American Muslim communities and mosques. His pledge to be a “law and order” president, assuring white voters that a wall of police protection will be erected to keep black people in their place. His related racist demonizing of black inner city communities as crime-infested and worse than “war zones,” and his white-directed, disingenuous appeal for black people’s votes with, “What the hell do you have to lose?” His personal and political objectification and control of women: the compulsive sexual violation of their bodies, and the political violation seen in him promising to repeal Roe v. Wade to prevent them from obtaining an abortion.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Donald Trump cloaked his misogynist, racist and xenophobic appeals in denial. “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” he declared. Also, “I have a great relationship with blacks.” And, “I love Muslims. I think they are great people.” Even, “I love the Mexican people . . . [and] had a great relationship with Mexico and the Mexican people.” Disbelief in whatever President-elect Trump’s says hit a high note upon his recent meeting with President Obama at The White House. He called Obama ”a very good man” in whom he promised to confer often – after trying, for years, to prove that Obama was not born in America and therefore an illegitimate president, and maybe the worst president in American history. (“12 times Donald Trump declared his ‘respect’ for women,” By Gregory King, www.cnn.com, Oct. 7, 2016; “Trump: ‘I have a great relationship with the blacks“ firstread.nbcnews.com, Apr. 14, 2011; “Trump on CNN: ‘I love Muslims,’” By MJ Lee and Noah Gray, CNNPolitics.com, Sept. 20, 2015;“Trump: ‘I love the Mexican people,’” By Melanie Eversley, www.usatoday.com, July 2, 2015; Donald Trump Calls President Obama ‘a Very Good Man’ at White House Meeting, By Breanna Edwards, www.theroot.com, Nov. 10, 2016)
The above are coded statements of denial that legitimize Trump’s hatred of The Other – and also gave legitimacy and air to the fear and hatred of many white supporters who voted for Trump.
President-elect Trump’s campaign trail was paved with delusions of grandeur. He called himself “the most militaristic person there is,” said “nobody’s bigger or better at the military than I am,” asserted, “I will be so good at the military, your head will spin,” and bragged, “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” (“Donald Trump says he’s ‘the most militaristic person there is,’ proves it by demanding ‘we bomb the hell out of’ Iraq, Iran, and ISIS,” By Scott Eric Kaufman, www.salon.com, Aug. 11, 2015; “Donald Trump’s breathtaking self-admiration,” By Eric Black, www.minnpost.com, June 20, 2016; “Trump: ’I will be so good at the military, your head will spin,’” www.france24.com, Sept. 4, 2015; “Trump—who knows more than the generals—will ask them for an ISIS plan,” By Laura Clawson, www.dailykos.co, Sept. 7, 2016)
The deluded commander-in-chief in-waiting promised voters that he would make America’s military the most powerful in the world [it already is, big time!], so that nobody would dare to challenge America. He would “bomb the shit out of ISIS,” kill their family members, “bring back waterboarding and a hell of a lot worse.” He said that his “number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous [nuclear] deal with Iran.” To loudly cheering supporters, he promised, as president, to blow up the small Iranian boats circling and making “gestures” at American destroyers patrolling in Iranian waters. (“Donald Trump: ‘I would bomb the s— out of’ ISIS ,” By Pamela Engel, Business Insider, Nov. 13, 2015; “Trump: We have to take our ISIL members’ families,” By Nick Gass, POLITICO, Dec. 2, 2015; “Trump calls for a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” By Jonathan Swan, The Hill, Feb. 6, 2016; ” ‘Dismantle the disastrous deal’: Trump tells AIPAC Iran deal is ‘number one priority,’ “ By Joshua Roberts / Reuters, www.rt.com, Mar. 22, 2016; “Trump: I would shoot confrontational Iranian ships,” By Ben Kamisar, The Hill, Sept. 9, 2016)
On the home front: Republican presidential candidate Trump touted himself as “the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” claimed he knows “the system better than anyone . . . how it is rigged . . . which is why I alone can fix it.” He pledged to ask himself – not the young Americans in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit and Ferguson – what “makes life better for them.” He declared, “I will restore law and order in our country. Believe me. Believe me.” He promised to add millions of new jobs and billions in wealth . . . to rebuild America,” for “the forgotten men and women of our country, who work hard and have no voice,” adding, “I am your voice,” to sustained applause. (“Donald Trump’s dark speech to the Republican National Convention, annotated,” By Philip Bump and Aaron Blake, The Washington Post, July 21, 2016) He repeatedly told rally-goers, “America doesn’t win anymore,” and promised them so much winning that they would become bored with it and beg him to stop. (“Trump: ‘We Will Have So Much Winning If I Get Elected That You May Get Bored With Winning,” By Ian Schwartz, www.realclearpolitics.com, Sept. 9, 2015)
White working-class voters especially were attracted to Donald Trump’s repeated promise to bring back jobs to their hard-hit Rust Belt states. Promises from a billionaire, whose history is that of cheating workers who provided services for his business enterprises. (See “USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills,” By Steve Reilly, www.usatoday.com, June 9, 2016)
Quoted as calling himself “a good Christian,” Donald Trump pledged to evangelical voters that, if he won the election, “We’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas at every store . . . You can leave happy holidays at the corner.” (“Donald Trump’s pledge: ‘We’re gonna be saying Merry Christmas,’” By MJ Lee, CNNPolitics.com, Oct. 22, 2015) Many white evangelical Christians especially were delighted and showed it at the voting booth. “Happy holidays” failed to recognize the so-called real “reason for the season,” i.e. the birth of Jesus, their imperialistic savior of the world. So, “Merry Christmas” is now in. “Good will and peace on earth” is another story.
In his acceptance speech, a disingenuous president-elect Trump turned reality upside down with, “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division . . . time for us to come together as one united people.” He pledged “to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and that is so important to me.” Thus, “I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.” (“Transcript: Donald Trump’s Victory Speech,” The New York Times, Nov. 9, 2016)
Two days later, president-elect Trump reverted to his real self. Sizable numbers of persons in numerous cities, exercising their First Amendment right of free speech, protested his election. In response, he tweeted, “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” Evidently, a politically savvy advisor got to him: a few hours later he tweeted, “Love the fact that the small groups of protesters last night have passion for our great country. We will all come together and be proud!” (“Trump shows flashes of his old self,” By Louis Nelson, www.politico.com, Nov. 11, 2016)
“We will all come together and be proud?” A number of president-elect Trump’s supporters are proudly coming together to act out his, “I would like to punch him in the face” presidential campaign message. A hate watch group has reported Trump supporters’ growing violence: “Between Wednesday, November 9, the day after the presidential election, and the morning of Monday, November 14, the Southern Poverty Law Center collected 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment.” Examples include: a group of Oregon teenagers, riding on public transportation, “yelling” at and calling a Muslim woman passenger a “terrorist,” saying “our new president was going to deport her,” and becoming “increasingly menacing.” A white male in North Carolina calling a gay male couple, “Fucking faggots.” A Latino woman in Texas walking her baby, with a truck driving by and “the female passenger” yelling “white power!” The “venues of harassment: K-12 schools (99), businesses (76) and universities (67).” Also, ”most of the reports involved anti-immigrant incidents (136), followed by anti-black (89) and anti-LGBT (43).” And, “common also was vandalism and leafleting on private property (40) and epithets and slurs hurled from moving vehicles (38).” (“Update: More Than 400 Incidents of Hateful Harassment and Intimidation Since the Election,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Nov. 15, 2016)
President-elect Trump’s response to the growing violence committed in his name? When Lesly Stahl asked him about the violence in a CBS News “60 Minutes” interview, Trump replied, “I am very surprised to hear that . . . I hate to hear that . . . I think it’s a very small amount.” When asked if he wanted to “say anything to those perpetrators,” Trump said, “I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, ‘cause I’m gonna bring this country together.” When informed that they were harassing Latinos and Muslims, he added. “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it – if it helps.” Then, he looked up and said, “I will say this, and I will say it right to the camera: Stop it.” (“Amid reports of some supporters’ violence, Donald Trump says, ‘Stop it,’” CBS NEWS, Nov. 13, 2016) His “Stop it” had all the impact of a small child saying “Stop it” to an annoying playmate.
“I would say, ‘Don’t do it’ . . . ‘cause I’m gonna bring this country together.” President-elect Trump then proceeded to select Cabinet members known for their divisiveness. He appointed reputed “racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist” and sexist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist in the White House. (See “Quotes from Steve Bannon, Trump’s new White House chief strategist,” By Emily Schul Theis and Julia Boccagno, CBS News, Nov,. 16, 2016)
“I’m gonna bring this country together.” President-elect Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is reported to be condemned by “civil rights groups,” who point to “Sessions’ history of racist comments and hard-line anti-immigration stance.” (“Civil Rights Groups Condemn Nomination of Jeff Sessions As Attorney General,” By Daniel Marans, www.huffingtonpost.com, Nov. 18, 2016) Nor will Trump “bring this country together” by picking Rep. Mike Pompeo, a reported “major backer of an increased surveillance state,” as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. (“What You Should Know About Trump’s Anti-Snowden CIA Director Pick, Mike Pompeo,” By Jeremy Stahl, www.slate.com, Nov, 18, 2016)
“I’m gonna bring this country together.” The Black Commentator’s Executive Editor David A Love warns of the landmines that will be laid by Donald Trump’s Cabinet. Love concludes his descriptive article on Trump’s “Cabinet of Deplorables” with:
Behold the deplorables. We knew Trump wasn’t right, and the list of crazy and corrupt folks he wants to fill his cabinet confirm that. But for the fact that this is some serious business – and these extreme, dangerous individuals will run the government and implement painful policies – all of this sounds like a practical joke. But now, with the characters about to populate the Trump White House, we might have to laugh just to keep from crying. (“Brace Yourself for Donald Trump’s ‘Cabinet of Deplorables,’” The Black Commentator, Nov. 17, 2016)
“I’m gonna bring this country together.” Not with Mike Pence as his vice-president. As governor of Indiana, he signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed anti-homosexual -Bible-believing Christians to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Business owners, for example, could refuse to provide services for LGBTQ persons based on their biased Biblical beliefs. Pence finally relented and signed an LGBTQ-protecting version of the law, after companies, sports organizations and entertainers threatened boycotts, facing Indiana with the loss of considerable revenue.
In an Intercept article on “Mike Pence Will Be the Most Powerful Christian Supremacist in U.S. History,” Jeremy Scahill writes that “there is every reason to regard him as, if anything, even more terrifying than the president-elect.” Scahill states, “Trump is a Trojan horse for a cabal of vicious zealots who have long craved an extremist Christian theocracy, and Pence is one of its most prized warriors.” He adds, “Pence has been a reliable stalwart throughout his public life in the cause of Christian jihad – never wavering in his commitment to America-First militarism, the criminalizing of abortion and utter hatred for gay people (unless they go into conversion therapy ‘to change their sexual behavior’).” A self-professed, born-again, evangelical Christian, “Pence now describes himself as ‘a Christian, a Conservative, and a Republican, in that order.’” (theintercept.com, Nov. 15, 2016) Little wonder that large majorities of white evangelical Protestants, Catholics and Mormons voted for the Trump/Pence ticket. (See “How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis,” By Gregory A. Smith, Pew Research Center, Nov. 9, 2016)
There are alarming similarities between President-elect Trump and Adolf Hitler. Hitler promised to restore Germany’s former military and economic greatness after its defeat in World War I. Trump promised to “Make America Great Again,” and proceeded to portray America as borderless, weak and vulnerable, to justify the need of a messiah, himself, to re-establish the country’s incomparable military power and economic prosperity. Both gained power by identifying enemies to be purged from their countries. Hitler targeted the Jews, gypsies, black persons and disabled people. The Jews especially were condemned as infecting Germany’s pure Aryan “Master Race.” (See “Hitler Comes to Power,” www.ushmm.org; and “Why Hitler was such a successful orator,” By Amanda Macias, Business Insider, May 13, 2015) Trump has targeted Mexican immigrants, Muslims and black persons, portraying them as threatening America’s nationalistic white identity.
President-elect Trump is a Hitler-lite at this point. With presidential power, he may become most dangerous. At this point, he is proposing to deport up to three million “unauthorized-immigrant criminals.” A New York Times editorial warns that his proposal “makes no sense under scrutiny and is frightening to think about. Start with the simple fact that the target is made up.” The editorial states that about 820,000 of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants have criminal records and that only “about 300,000 of those have felony convictions.” Such a “terroriz[ing]” purge “would mean a surge in home and workplace raids, investigations and traffic stops . . . against people who pose no threat.” Affirming some 39 sanctuary cities which include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, the editorial urges far more resistance: “If Mr. Trump begins a senseless purge, all segments of society – religious congregations, factories, farms, colleges and universities, private individuals – will need to speak out and defend the vulnerable.” (“Mr. Trump’s Plan to Purge the Nation,” nytimes.com, Nov. 18, 2016)
Sadly, what motivates too many Christian leaders is not faith in the grace of God, but fear of falling out of the good graces of those in power. Thus in the face of president-elect Trump’s blatant distortions of reality and the obvious un-believability of whatever he says, numerous faith leaders are closing their eyes and praying for him. In Trump’s case, their safely offered prayers are actually a form of denial and signal a cowardly acquiescence and accommodation to his presidential power.
What Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald has written about the dominant press is true of many faith leaders: “The supreme religion of the U.S. press corps is reverence for power: the more Trump exhibits, the more submissive they will get.” (“Media Stars Agree to Off-the-Record Meeting With Trump, Break Agreement, Whine About Mistreatment,” theintercept.com, Nov. 22, 2016) For numerous faith leaders, submission to power trumps the moral demands of Providence.
Typical of this betrayal of prophetic Christian tradition is the “congratulatory letter” to president-elect Trump sent by The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops’ president Bishop Bruce R. Ough, on behalf of the Council. Alluding to reality, Ough wrote, “We are a deeply divided nation in a world marred by division, war and unprecedented forced migration.” He followed that perfunctory statement with another: “This is the time for all Americans, particularly our political leaders, to put aside any rancor and come together for the common good of this nation and the world.” He then brushed reality aside with: “Thus, we pray for the healing of the nations and for God to grant you wisdom, compassion, moral conviction, courage and protection in your presidential leadership.” Ough ended, “And so, I pray for you and our nation: Holy God, creator of us all, Send your Spirit of peace, justice and freedom upon us . . .” In the letter, Ough stated that the Council of Bishops has a “225-plus-years tradition of giving a Bible signed by the bishops to each subsequent president.” He told Trump, “I look forward, following your inauguration, to present a Bible to you.” (“Council president offers post-election congratulations and prayers,” United Methodist Communications, www.umc.org, Nov. 9, 2016) Bishop Ough’s letter is the kind of accommodating prayerful response that authoritarian tyrants – and tyrants-in-waiting — love.
The American Civil Liberties Union on the other hand, provides a powerful example for faith leaders and their congregations. In a full-page New York Times ad, The ACLU confronted America’s soon-to-be president with specific realities:
Dear President-elect Trump,
As you assume the nation’s highest office, we must ask you now as president-elect to reconsider and change course on certain campaign promises you have made.
Specifically, you promised to:
–amass a deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants
–ban the entry of Muslims and institute aggressive surveillance programs targeting them
–restrict a woman’s right to abortion services
–reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture
–change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.
The ACLU told president-elect Trump that his proposals are unconstitutional:
These proposes are not simply un-American and wrong-headed. They are unlawful and unconstitutional, and would violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, as well as other statues and international treaties.
The ACLU then issued this threat:
We have worked with and battled American presidents of both parties to ensure that our country makes good on the founding premise as the land of the free. . . .If you do not reverse course and endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at your every step. Our staff of litigators and activists in every state, thousands of volunteers, and millions of supporters stand ready to fight against any encroachment of our cherished freedoms and rights. (Nov. 11, 2016)
Like the ACLU, The United Methodist Church and other faith groups must publicly confront America’s delusional president-elect and his growing authoritarian Cabinet with reality and moral truth. A full-page ad, stating specific authoritarian proposals and opposing moral imperatives, in The New York Times and other newspapers would be a good starting place. Christian and other faith groups can also link up with existing—and forming – community organizations committed to defending vulnerable citizens and immigrants from the violent forces being organized to rule in Trumpland.
Far more sanctuary churches and synagogues need to re-emerge, providing sanctuary again for undocumented immigrants now threated with deportation. Colleges and Universities and schools of theology across the country can also provide safe places, cooperating with sanctuary cities already sheltering those targeted by un-just immigration policies, now threatening to become even more punitive.
At issue here is the soul of people of faith – and of this country. As Jesus, said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was a thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25: 35) And, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5: 9) Also, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7: 12) Regarding the Law and the Prophets: “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23: 9) “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8)
The challenge of President-elect Trump’s imminent authoritarian administration? Whether people of faith are going to be prophets of the people, or chaplains of the status quo.