There has been a lot of internet ink spilled over the current US Presidential race. I’m one of the many who avoids writing about political matters, but this election has bested that impulse, finally. Tonight it seems the majority of the Republican nominations are going to Donald Trump. The Democrats are choosing Hilary Clinton, which is really no surprise at all – the surprise has been that Bernie Sanders has lasted this long. America, even liberal America, simply isn’t interested in socialism.
What really amazes me is Trump’s popularity. Trump is the classic class clown. I’m not sure even he took his candidacy seriously in the beginning. He certainly hasn’t demonstrated even a basic grasp of political issues, plain geography, foreign policy, or even managed to make sense from what I read of him! The internet is rife with “stupid Trump comments” and he must talk a lot to make that many dumb ones…or he doesn’t say much of anything that makes sense. And some times, he’s obviously just plain pretending to make sense!
Imagine that Trump was the class clown running for Class President. Let’s say that the Class President is responsible for organizing Prom. What would Trump do? Would all the students who voted for him show up on Prom night to find the most spectacular party, the one promised them for so long, ever thrown? Well, I suspect in our imaginary scenario that they would show up to a few balloons and a hand written sign saying “Have a good night, suckers!” while C.P. Trump and his closest cronies took all the Prom money and went on a cruise. And that, in short, is why you don’t elect a class clown to class President. At least, not if you want a nice Prom.
So what does it say about America that the demagogue, the man who changes his mind about everything, who only says what people want to hear – in short, the unprincipled class clown – is winning?
As Nathan pointed out, the class clown is always entertaining. And apparently entertaining people can get you elected in some places, where people are utterly sick of the current crop of politicians – take the Ukraine where Emperor Palpatine won a voted seat (not even joking, see here). Has the US Presidential election turned into a giant reality show?
Many seem shocked by the support for Trump among evangelical Christians. To me, that must be qualified, because apparently half of America is “Christian” and yet only about 20% actually attend church…while double that number claim to attend a church service regularly. This article on the phenomenon of pretense religiousity is quite interesting. I also found this article interesting: “When all is said and done, about 30 percent of all Americans have evangelical beliefs as described by the four questions. Broken out by ethnicity, 29 percent of whites, 44 percent of African Americans, 30 percent of Hispanics, and 17 percent of people from other ethnicities have evangelical beliefs.” (see here for the 4 questions) Thus, in their definition, evangelical means someone who holds to classic evangelical theological commitments. That seems a fair definition to me.
So statistically, even if Trump won the vote of every single “evangelical” he would still be losing every state. He apparently appeals to a much broader audience. And there is good evidence that actually, Trump offends a large number of pew-warmers. Pastors and Christian leaders are coming out of the woodwork (politically speaking) in droves to urge Christians to avoid Trump! The Christian Post broke down and even wrote a warning article that Trump is a scam, in which they list a number of other leader’s articles nixing Trump. Max Lucado, probably one of the “nicest” evangelicals out there, even wrote an article bemoaning Trump’s lack of decency and said he wouldn’t let his daughter date Trump, let alone vote for him for President. So clearly the “evangelical Christian support” for Trump is checkered at best. In fact, going by my facebook feed (ha, take that for a demographic), only one of the several hundred Christian friends I have has posted anything pro-Trump, while many others have felt compelled to comment or post about Trump negatively.
I’ve lived outside of America as a child and an adult, both in Canada and Asia. I’ve also travelled in Central America and Europe. I can tell you that outside of America, there is a certain stereotype. It’s called the (pardon my **) “sh***y American” phenomenon. I’ve seen it unfold before my horrified eyes at times. This stereotype is based on a certain reality, because a certain number of Americans travelling or living overseas act this way. It’s why I found many Americans putting Canadians flags on their backpacks while travelling – cuz Canadians are nice, eh. This stereotype will elicit the following mental picture: a fat, lazy, demanding, rude, ignorant, rich but whiny, patronizing, domineering so-and-so only out for their own gain. This stereotype is in stark relief compared to what I have found true of many Americans – they see themselves as the nice boy next door (imagine Eagle scout) going around cleaning up the world’s messes for them. American foreign policy is hated with good cause around the world and yet most Americans are absolutely befuddled when foreigners criticize it (invade a country because it’s essential to your cheap oil? yes – but sell it to your citizenry as “saving those poor downtrodden bullied souls”…never mind about all the other downtrodden souls who don’t have oil and therefore don’t have America “getting their back” for them). To me, Trump comes across as the quintessential sh***y American. He calls all the men of an entire country (??!!!) rapists, then says he’s going to make that country build him a wall across the border. Really? Really? Not to mention his “I would date my daughter” comments or his foul mouth or his constant evidence of hatred, rudeness and lack of any moral standards (not sure if he supports the KKK or not? Really?).
To me, the fact that Trump is winning shows one thing at least. America is beginning to shed its boy-next-door self-image (or self deception). The country known for its boorishness internationally is now looking like it’s going to elect a boor, a buffoon (at least to the Republican nomination). While there is still a vocal minority in America calling for a restoration of sanity, a return to decency, an end to the madness, apparently the majority disagree. They want someone who will make them all the promises in the world, even if he has absolutely no willingness or ability to come through on any of those promises. Yes, America wants to “win” again and Trump looks like he will win this race based on that simple platform. But really, if winning looks like this, then America has lost, plain and simple.
Does this mean that the sky is falling? Is the end of the world coming? Is Trump’s popularity a sure sign of the apocalypse nearing?
Even this simple wikipedia list of apocalyptic movies shows a drastic rise over the years. Western culture, at least, seems to be increasingly contemplating the end of life as we know it. I remember, not that long ago, when there was only a faint whiff of the zombie apocalypse. Now, it’s a standard meme that I hear on an almost daily basis (ps – use a chainsaw – Mythbusters says it’s the best weapon. fyi). And stock-piling against the crap hitting the fan – it’s practically a new sub-culture of its own! Preppers! Instead of the modernist idea of culture and life just getting better and better, thanks to improvements in science and technology, we have a whole lot of evidence that humanity at least is not improving and in fact that science and technology just might let us down (did you know that given current rates of “bugs” becoming resistant to antibacterials, and the lack of much of anything taking their place, it’s likely that there are already spreading throughout the world super bugs who can be battled by….nothing?). Depressing indeed. As a Christian, I hold out little hope of things improving until we reach a kind of “heaven on earth” – no poverty, no illness, everybody “getting along” – the kind of thing Star Trek The Next Generation spent so much time envisioning. According to my book (the Bible), at least how I read it, things are going to get worse. People will flock to teachers and leaders who tell them only what they want to hear. It will come to a point where, despite tremendous hardships and suffering, even from the caves people cower in they will rail against God and follow their own evil ways. That’s hardly encouraging either.
Is Trump’s popularity a sign? Well, look at Joel Osteen. You can’t find a better example of a Christian leader who tells people only what they want to hear (leader of the “prosperity gospel” movement). Clearly, the wolves are already among the sheep. Yet, I do see a difference with Trump. He is so clearly popular with such a lot of people that it feels to me like the restraints have dropped. In the book of Romans, Paul writes that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. He follows it with a description of God’s wrath against the unrighteousness of man, and God’s judgement (notice that homosexuality is a _punishment_ here, along with a debased mind), “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:26-32)” Of course, being Paul, he immediately follows it with a “oh and you think you’re so special?” scathing rebuke on anyone who would point fingers at others in Romans 2. Trumps’ popularity seems to me a signal that indeed, the gloves are off, and God has given the US over to a debased mind (and don’t think I’m picking only on the Republicans. Hillary Clinton is claimed to be a murderer, liar, thief, and more). Will things get worse? Yes. Can it be stopped? No. And I think the world knows it.
And yet. But God. Remember what Paul said before that depressing list? Here it is: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)” Despite being surrounded by zombies, we have here a promise of life. Life everlasting, life eternal, where there will be no crying, no pain, no death, no problems (Revelations). That’s truly the gospel – the Good News. And if society is truly going to hell in a hand-basket, this truth has never been more important, and it will shine only brighter as the light becomes darker.