Maybe 15 years ago I worked at the Chapters bookstore on Rideau Street in Ottawa. I was interested in politics, and one day I had the distinct pleasure of informing Joe Clark, the politician, that he needed his own Chapters discount card, the policy said he couldn’t use the one in his wife’s name. I thought it was funny to throw policies at a politician. The point is, I grew up living and breathing politics of a particular sort, namely democratic, where people have a say, where politicians are just people too, they do regular things like try to use their wives discount cards to save money on books. I suspect Justin Trudeau (or his team) are aware of the pull that version of politics still has for those of us inculcated in them, so he photobombs a wedding and many cheer.
Many people I speak with are concerned about what they see happening at our neighbors’ place, you know, the whole Donald Trump’s presidency thing. Rarely does a meeting of any length or with any number of people come to completion without at least a minor discussion of Trump. I can see the entertainment value in this, Trump is always good for a laugh and his name is guaranteed to set a conversation ablaze if it’s lulling (be honest did you click on this post because of his name?). I can’t help but think it is deeper than that, there is an anxiety in the culture and it is bigger than any individual tweet or issue that bubbles to the top for a day.
I am currently reading Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, and I stumbled on a long quote from Lesslie Newbigin detailing how over time the state has replaced the church. He argued that a Marxist would kill a Marxist, a protestant a protestant, a Roman Catholic a Roman Catholic, in the name of the nation state or political system they trusted. This is such an obvious statement, it’s an argument I have made many times for a variety of reasons, I cannot see any serious challenge to it. What I found so jarring is that I realize that many people have fought for many types of governments and in North America we believe that our particular brand of democracy’s victory is total, a fait accomplis and we like it that way.
In a situation where people have learned to trust the state above all other bodies (especially the family or the church) then much is a stake in the running of the state. Historically the entity providing healing, security etc. was either the religious organization or the tyrant, both were said to be gods. In a situation where it is the state that both gives one rights and protects said rights, where the state recognizes marriages and relationships and genders, where it is the state who will educate, feed, house, clothe, protect, heal…where the state is god and it is right and good that the state is god, any disruption of that perception is extremely threatening.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say we all assume democracy is best, few of us have ever questioned that, at least outside our teenage years. Contained in that is the assumption (at least in our day) that every person has a right to vote. With the election of The Donald, these assumptions are under attack in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. How many times have we heard disparaging remarks about the voters who elected Trump? How many questions about the electoral college system? How many of us have heard or shared the joke that his election is proof the education system, for all its wealth, is profoundly broken? What each of these issues do is chip away at our communally accepted, deeply rooted, belief system, democracy. Not that we cannot hold to democracy, but we might have to hold to it differently than we thought. This is destabilizing to say the least.
I am not entirely sure what to do with this realization other than to offer more support and sympathy for those showing signs of despair and worry. Perhaps, this view will help me consoling some who are particularly angry, maybe it will help identify part of where the anger comes from (feeling betrayed by god, democracy).
As a Christian, my hope is in Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. That truth doesn’t make me apathetic though because as a human, I cannot but worry that such a man is in control of weapons capable of such violence, of economic ties capable of such loss, of machinery capable of wreaking evermore environmental havoc. I cannot but worry, hysterical though it may be, that he will cost women dearly in both America and abroad. A man such as this with a twitter account is a surprisingly dangerous figure. I can’t control much, I can’t even vote down there, but I can think and talk and pray and sing praises in good times and bad.
One other thought about this. I wonder if some people are mad because they think themselves open and progressive and “good” and now they are waking up to the reality they are only open and progressive with those who agree with them? Did their reaction to Trump pull the rug out from under them and they are trying to get their footing back and finding the ground awful slippery?
What about you? Is there a sense in which a deeply trusted truth is being challenged by our current situation? What do you make of all of this?