Friday, March 4, 2016

Trump is Our Problem

I am not a political pundit. I rely on friends for much of my political understanding. I read theology often and politics only occasionally. I have not watched any of the debates in their entirety. This post is therefore not a foray into deep political thought. It is more like the rambling thoughts a political novice. When Trump announced his candidacy I never thought he would get as far as he has. He was like a cheap firework; all flash, no substance. But somehow the inevitable did not happen. Now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee it is worth considering why.

The Failure of "Conservatives"
I am sure other people have noted this, but Trump's rise is a backlash against conservatives.  By conservatives, I do not mean true conservatives. That is why the word is in quotes. True conservatives, the hold to the Constitution, small government, less spending, low key foreign policy conservatives, are a very small minority. By conservative, I mean those who affiliate with the Republican party and generally oppose the Democrats. For most Republicans the last couple of decades have not been that great. Our last two conservative presidents were weak and left a trail of wreckage.  Both the nominees against Obama were weak and impotent. Conservative appointees to the Supreme Court have voted liberal over and over again. When conservatives were in power in Congress they too often compromised. Conservative politicians have repeatedly failed the ones who voted them into power. Trump is not Romney or McCain or Jeb Bush. He is not a conservative establishment candidate. Is it any surprise that he is getting the traction? Why vote in another GW or nominate another Romney?

This also why I am not sure all those Republicans opposing Trump are going to make a dent in his appeal. His appeal is that he is not like those guys. Their opposition makes him look more like an outsider, which is one of the reasons he appealing.

The Disdain of the Average American
Remember Duck Dynasty? For years it was one of the highest rated shows on cable television. It was mercilessly mocked not just by the secular media, but also by many Christians, especially the more sophisticated type. They just did not understand how something so low class could be watched by millions. For years the church and the country has despised the average American. The guy who works 50 hours a week in a low paying job, mows his lawn on Saturday, goes to church on Sunday, and watches football in the afternoon. The single mom who cares for her two kids after waiting tables all day. The elderly man barely surviving as a greeter at Wal-Mart. The housewife who greets her children when they get home from school.  Maybe I am wrong here, but these are the folks Trump is appealing to. All politicians talk like they care about this very large group of Americans. But most Americans believe politicians care more about the elite ruling class than the factory worker, the farmer, or the school teacher.

It is odd that a millionaire businessman would get the ear of the American people before Cruz or Rubio. But one reason is that he has convinced conservative Americans that he cares about them. This is what people mean when they say, "He says it like it is." Trump does not listen to the elite. He is not tied to the ruling class of Harvard and Yale grads who give $25,000 a plate dinners to raise support. He does not care what the media thinks of him. He doesn't care what anyone thinks of him. He doesn't care about polls. He is not posturing for his donors. I am not sure Trump does actually care more about the average worker, but America feels like he does. And given our current climate, that is enough. He parallels Obama's candidacy on this point. One reason people voted for Obama is they felt he cared for them.

The Loss of True Masculinity
I believe many conservatives think Trump is a true man. Considering the other conservative options down through the years, that would be an easy mistake to make. Establishment conservatives has folded over and over again. They talk tough, but collapse when the pressure is on. When they are trying to win the nomination they tell us all the things they are going to do.  But they get in office they compromise and bend over just like all the rest.

Trump has convinced America that he will not do that. You get the impression that when Trump says he will bomb ISIS that is exactly what intends to do. You don't get the impression that he is playing to his base to win the election. Many Americans fear Trump because they think he will do what he promises. That is what a man does. He stands up and fights for what he believes is right and defends his people. Trump supporters see him as doing that. Of course this is a false masculinity. His parade of women, support of abortion, failure to be gracious in certain situations, willingness to kill children in war, etc. all show that he is not truly masculine. But it is hard to blame a people so bereft of true men when they latch on to a man like Trump. After all, the easiest people to fool with a fake are those who rarely see the real thing.

For so long in America, true masculinity has been obscured by fearful conservative Christians who don't want to look too backwards and sentimental, sugary, feminist garbage that passes for Christianity. Until masculinity is recovered in the churches and homes we will continue to confuse blustering, bravado with what it means to be a true man.

Entertainment & Education
Our country's true elites are not in Washington or teaching at Harvard ,Yale, or Stanford. The true elites are celebrities in the movies, sports, and music. They are the ruling class. They are the one's who push the mind of the public. Donald Trump's rise is a natural extension of our love of celebrities and entertainment. We love Lebron, Cam Newton, Beyonce, Brad Pitt, the Walking Dead, Scandal, Taylor Swift, Star Wars, and Avengers. For heaven's sake, The Bachelor has been on TV for 20 seasons. 20 Seasons!!! Why not elect a celebrity to office? Do we really think a country that is so immersed in this culture cares about policy? Do we think conservatives who watch Game of Thrones on TV are going to care about Trump's strip clubs or his mention of his "manhood" in a debate? Do we think a culture that watches torture on TV and in the movies is going to care about Trump's promise to kill  the children of terrorists? Why not elect a celebrity businessman? In many ways, Obama won the first time because he was a celebrity endorsed by other celebrities. He did not win because he had better policies. He won because of a slogan "Hope and Change," because he was unique, a celebrity of sorts, and because his predecessor was so bad. Trump is doing the same.

This ties in directly with the terrible education people receive in this country. We are a people who think with our feelings. We cannot follow an argument or spot a contradiction. Logical conclusion? What's that? We do not know history.  We don't understand the basics of economics and law. We don't know what our founding documents say or how government is supposed to work. We don't even know how to define a man or woman anymore. Therefore we are easily manipulated by emotional appeals. To be fair this is not a recent phenomenon. But now it has all come to a head in Trump's candidacy. He is all appeal, no substance. He moves back and forth from positions with no logical consistency. He does not answer questions. He makes fun of other candidates instead of addressing the issues. He is exactly what you would expect a country to nominate that was poorly educated and hooked on entertainment.
Trump can win the Republican nomination. He can win the general election. Anyone who believes otherwise is naive. Clinton is polling higher right now versus Trump. But Hillary is awful in a debate and about as exciting as watching grass grow. More than that she is the embodiment of the political establishment, which is exactly what Trump is running against.

The glow of Trump might be dimming. There is some hope that he will not the nominee. His policies are terrible or non-existent. He is not a good man. The more he talks the more foolish he sounds. He is still too rough and crude for many Americans. Trump is dangerous. He is not a social conservative. He is not a fiscal conservative. He is not foreign policy conservative. And he is winning state after state, picking up delegate after delegate and winning in the eye of the voter.

Trump may not win this year. But someone like him will eventually win if the cultural climate doesn't change. Trump is not an oddity or aberration. He is the face, albeit an ugly one, of American conservatives. If he were a bit smoother, a little more politically savvy, and less crass he would win going away, no matter what his policies were. Conservative Christians, politicians, leaders, and teachers have given us Trump. It might be time to stop blaming the supporters of Trump and start looking in the mirror.

Here is my appeal to pastors, conservative Christians, and Christian politicians: Take responsibility for Trump. He is here because we have failed to preach and teach as we ought to. Conservative politicians have failed to play the man. Their leadership on key issues has been weak and tepid. Conservative leadership in this country is a farce. I am not sure there is any hope for conservatives in America. Trump might be a blessing in disguise because he has pulled away the mask and exposed just how weak conservatives are. Those of us who are true conservatives might be heard in 2020 because of the Trump debacle.

Christian seminaries have failed to send their students out to preach a gospel that reaches the public sphere in any meaningful way. Decrying abortion is not enough. We need pastors who have been trained to preach the Word effectively, in such a way that it helps Christians think through thorny political issues. Professors at key seminaries need to be doing the same. Christian leaders need to stop saying, "Trump supporters are fools" and start asking, " What have we taught or not taught our seminary students that have helped create this political climate? Are our pastors prepared to lead people through this maze? What part have we played in this farce?"

Pastors, any conservative nominee to the presidency will have the vote of many evangelicals. What have we taught our people that a man who owns strip clubs, has been divorced twice, supports Planned Parenthood, flip flops on major issues with no explanation, loves to kill people, and is a power hungry jerk is somehow the presumptive conservative nominee in this country? Where have we gone wrong? Why are people in our churches voting for his man?

One of the keys to lasting change is to own the problem. Trump is our problem. The only way forward is to own him and work to the alter the course. Conservatives, including conservative Christians, have created him. We should try to keep him from getting elected. We should fight him tooth and nail. His election as president would be a curse. But unless we change other things that will only put off the inevitable.

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8