Monday, November 14, 2016
Brittle Fallout from Brittle Election
Political elections don't necessarily resolve conflict.
For proof, look no further than last week's presidential election here in the United States. Not only were our two major-party campaigns fraught with divisive rhetoric, but after the surprising news of Donald Trump's victory, days of post-election angst prompted marches and demonstrations across the country.
If evangelicals - who, as a political constituency, were more internally divided than the mainstream media acknowledged - thought the weariness of this election was over, we need to think again. With one of America's most overtly pugnacious president-elects planning on entering the Oval Office, there will be little time off for good behavior.
Anecdotal evidence is rife with examples of families in emotional shambles over this election. Friendships have ended, and dismay is rampant across our social media spectrum. Anger, frustration, and even - according to some - grief.
It's as if several different versions of what we've thought America is has been quietly flourishing in our minds and imaginations. Most of these versions apparently have been unrealistically optimistic about the type of progressive America the Barak Obama presidency signified for the future of our country, at least as far as racial diversity is concerned. But now that Trump has been declared the winner of last week's bitter contest, the specter of dark, unbridled bigotry plunging our society back into the nether-regions of white supremacy looms painfully large.
Although I acknowledge all of this, I'm told that whites like me don't truly understand it. Since I'm part of a "privileged" race that has been able to set the tone for our country's racial perspectives, I have never lived with the stigma of not being white. This is a deeply American problem, I'm told, but one that also extends beyond our shores to Old Europe, and the irreversible legacy of tyranny and colonization for which white Europeans will forever be shackled.
And yes, I am white. And no, I don't know what it's like to not be white. But while I don't pretend differently, I also don't believe that Trump's imminent presidency holds the dire consequences for white v. black strife that many of his detractors fear it does. For one thing, Trump's fiery bombast regarding his ethnocentrism was focused towards illegal immigrants - with "illegal" being the key element in that terminology - and Muslim refugees. If you've read my blog, you will know that I vociferously opposed Trump on those two points, even though I also believe that illegal immigration is a very real problem for the United States. So no, I don't directly see a correlation between Trump's obvious ethnocentrism and why a number of the people protesting last week's election are African Americans who claim Trump frightens them.
I don't understand why legal Hispanic immigrants are upset, either. Immigration laws benefit everybody who is in America legally. That itself is not an ethnocentric statement: Most sovereign countries have immigration laws, and even for any of us to travel to Mexico, we'd need to have the proper authorization.
Then there are the various reports of anti-black, pro-white abuse that has been directed at people across the country since Trump's win. And while it could be argued that white supremacists might feel emboldened to perpetrate hate crimes because of their myopic interpretation of Trump's victory, we don't really know who is responsible for the graffiti that has been anonymously left for others to discover. Indeed, the very same could be said for the anti-white graffiti that has been found in places as diverse as New Orleans, Louisiana, and Ann Arbor, Michigan. While some horrified onlookers have tried to draw correlations between these shameful displays of bigotry and Kristallnacht, the Nazi's "night of broken glass" against Jewish shopkeepers, the Nazis themselves boasted of their anti-Semitic thuggery and took photos of their terror-inflicting rampage for their twisted posterity. We have no such proof in last week's post-election vitriol.
For those people who are not white, but who have been the subject of personal, racially-biased jokes, innuendo, or outright bigotry by somebody they know, work with, share public transportation with, or attend school with, all I can say is that such behavior is ugly, crass, and repugnant. When I've witnessed it on social media, I've called out the perpetrator. Fortunately, I haven't witnessed any of it in person. But we evangelicals need to be vigilant against it, not just with a heightened awareness of it now that Trump won the election, but even after this moment in our collective consciousness passes.
It certainly doesn't help Trump's "optics" with the general public that he's hired a radical right-wing activist to serve in his cabinet. Steve Bannon is the publisher of alt-right website Breitbart.com, which I have frequently criticized for it's bullying attitude and demagoguery. Plenty of evidence abounds across the Internet to suggest, if not outright prove, that Bannon is at the very least eager to promote sexist and racist opinions to sell advertising on his various media platforms. It's hardly likely that Trump expects Bannon to promote the Fruit of the Spirit in his upcoming administration.
Still, I'm not convinced that this is a time for panic. Not yet, anyway. Racism isn't new, stupid behavior isn't new, and bigoted elected officials aren't new, either. It may be disheartening to see somebody with Trump's temperament get elected to dog-catcher, let alone the American presidency. But even Oprah Winfrey has said that if Trump's opposition is credible, it will at least give the man a chance to prove he's a better president than campaigner. And if it's of any comfort, the folks who feel threatened these days need to understand that while Trump won, that doesn't mean he - or his views - are incredibly popular.
It's not as though most of the people who voted for Trump actually like him, or support the hateful ideas he proposed. Most evangelicals I know, for example, simply voted the pro-life plank of the GOP platform. Indeed, there was considerable distress over Trump within much of America's evangelical community, and whether he or Hillary Clinton were "the lesser of two evils."
Frankly, I don't believe that Biblically, there is any such thing as "the lesser of two evils." In God's eyes, evil is evil, period. There may be a better option, but there's no "lesser of two evils." And while this may sound like I'm splitting hairs, we voters did have a better option, at least in terms of casting a vote that didn't suggest our capitulation to or endorsement of a wholly unqualified candidate. And that better option was voting third party, or write-in.
And, for the record, I wrote-in Scott Cubbler, an independent.
Then there were the street protests, and the school kids being coddled by teachers to work through the grieving process, and the college professors who gave students a walk so they could cope with the stress of Trump's win. Many of us looking on from the sidelines have found these displays of angst curious at best, and infuriating at worst - with the vandalism accompanying some of the marches - since free speech is actually a luxury we need to take seriously.
Indeed, for a protest to mean something, there has to be something actionable that can be done about the protest's target. Protest without legal action is, at best, crying wolf, and at worst, anarchy. Protesting during a campaign is part of the political process, in which protesters advocate for the public to support their candidate. However, protesting after a duly-held election has been decided, and advocating for the Electoral College to abdicate their commissions (which CNN claims is one of the protester's goals), represents an exceedingly dangerous notion and an exceptionally cavalier perspective of how a democratic republic operates.
How would these protesters have reacted if roving gangs of Republicans took to the streets after both times Barak Obama was elected to office, calling for the Electoral College to overturn his win? Granted, the tenor of Trump's candidacy was far more incendiary than Obama's two candidacies were, but many conservatives have been been spitting nails for years, seething under an administration they perceive to be not "unfit," but inept, heavily erring on the side of unbridled liberalism.
But I guess Republicans don't march. Maybe they're too old and overweight? Or maybe they don't like being herded on buses to pounce on a distant downtown district en mass...?
But I digress...
Let's remember the breadth of the free speech spectrum we enjoy - and often abuse - here in the United States. The awful things Trump has said weren't illegal. However, as an elected official, there are laws by which he'll have to abide in terms of the legislation he proposes. And as far as protests go, the folks who didn't vote for him would be more effective by adopting a tactic of saving their marches for when - or, hopefully, if - he actually tries to push through some of his horrible ideas. Chances are, a lot more Americans will be joining in then.
Despite all of the acrimony and discord in America today, there's one thing on which we can probably all agree: There is a lot of hate in our country. Trump realized that, and he exploited it by exacerbating it. It was an easy way to set a provocative tone that would garner him attention and probably secure many votes for disaffected conservative - and yes, white - voters. Yet what is racism, but not hatred based in large part on fear? And didn't Hillary incorporate liberal measures of hate and fear in her own campaign, surreptitiously invoking the contempt minorities may have towards whites? At any rate, she's a compulsive liar and, considering the ease with which she's solicited millions of dollars from African despots, personally ambivalent about human rights. Chances are pretty high that many of the folks who voted for her did so with as much repugnance for her, personally, as Trump's voters did for him.
Not that I'm trying to justify the reasons people voted for Trump. This is merely by way of trying to explain those reasons. I get the impression that many Trump voters chose him because they believed he will protect the highly-valued pro-life cause. And I would say that many Hillary supporters chose her because they believed she would have protected the highly-valued equality cause. Of course, I voted for neither of them because the personal actions of each candidate screamed "I'm unfit for the presidency!" But other voters felt constrained by the reality of our two-party system. So, I don't fault people who voted for Hillary. And I don't fault people who voted for Trump.
Unless, of course, they voted for either candidate with ambivalence towards all that made their candidate unfit for the office.
Actually, if you think about it, one big "reveal" from this election is that our current two-party system is inadequate. No matter how self-righteous and pious people like me could have been by voting third party or write-in, there was virtually no chance that somebody other than Trump or Hillary could have won. For years, it has seemed that whether you were Democrat or Republican, we were voting not so much for somebody, but against somebody else. This seems to have been the first time - in recent memory, at least - when lots of voters from both parties really disliked both choices.
I have heard that some big-wig evangelicals are hunting for a third party option, but I personally don't want a religious/moralist political party. America is not a theocracy, Christianity is not a political party, and Christ-followers should be able to vote their Biblical conscience without keeping a partisan scorecard. Nevertheless, it does provide a spark of intrigue to consider the possibility that this fiasco of an election could ignite some progress towards another option for more voters to consider.
Talk about freedom! Don't we need to free ourselves from the pitiful major parties that have ossified this electoral process?
Not because a third party will fix the problems into which we've gotten ourselves. After all, we'll still be voting what's in our hearts and minds, no matter how many political parties there are. But at least we now know that political parties aren't the answer to our woes.
That's a message we Christ-followers should have been spreading all along.
FYI - Perhaps crunching the numbers on evangelicals who voted for Trump would be helpful; at least it appears the mainstream media was wrong (yet again) by stating that most of us voted for Trump.