On the day I turned 18, I could hardly wait for the final school bell to ring—but not for the reason you might imagine. I couldn’t wait to get in my car, drive downtown to the courthouse, and register to vote. Women in the United States were permitted this right only 96 years ago with the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
National Public Radio just ran a pair of features on the flavors of Christianity represented by the presidential and vice presidential nominees. An editor’s note affixed to both stories summarizes the theme: “Both major presidential candidates this year are Protestants… Beyond that, their faith profiles are very different.”
Trump and the RNC platform have little to say about climate action. Yet many steps we could take are inherently conservative.
American civil religion is dead, to paraphrase Nietzsche. We have killed it.
So what’s been the most shocking thing to come out of GOP-presidential-nomination-land in the last couple days?
I had work to do the other day, but I set it aside to reread Elie Wiesel’s Night as a way to mark the great man’s death and remember his life. While I was struck by passages I anticipated, like his account of how his belief was shattered upon seeing the furnaces of Auschwitz—“Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever”—it was an unexpected line that caught me, given a current news story I’d been following.
Trump complains that tax-exempt rules require religious nonprofits to be silent on politics. He’s wrong.
We are living in a time of nativism around the globe. Britain just voted to leave the European Union based on Euroscepticism. The Alternative for Germany movement aims to do the same for the EU’s largest remaining nation, while France’s National Front Party and Italy’s Northern League have grown in power over the last decade. And in the U.S., the Republican Party has nominated a candidate whose platform includes building a giant wall on the border.
In an effort to triumph over the religious right, many progressive Christians have married their faith and politics to the Democratic Party, leaving little to no gap between their political visions and the party’s policies. Instead of celebrating this as a successful strategy for re-ascendency, I see it compromising radical Christian commitments to peace and justice.
Plato, it is said, confronted Diogenes as the great Cynic philosopher washed his greens for dinner. “If you had humored Dionysius”—the tyrant of Syracuse who had called Plato as an adviser—”you wouldn’t be rinsing greens now.” Diogenes answered him, “And if you rinsed greens, you wouldn’t have been a slave to Dionysius.”
Populism is a predictable recurring feature of any society that is unwilling or unable to be as democratic as it claims to be.
A narcissistic demagogue is different from a racist-völkisch one. But Trump's ideological unpredictability bears its own dangers.
As this campaign season reels recklessly, leaving a wake of increasing intolerance, those holding differing opinions can find little common ground. Past seasons of “come, let us reason together” have disappeared; unreasoned assertions from the chronically ignorant now dominate the increasingly purchased airwaves. Little from any side appears balanced or fair. We craft dollar-driven hegemonies of self-satisfied ignorance, cultures of the titillated and thoughtless. Where we once enshrined the ideals of freedom, we now erect a golden calf of contempt atop a tower of babble. Call it the gospel according to the uninformed. When creed gives way to screed, who speaks into our opinionated age with a staid voice of wisdom?
"Narcissists can be inspiring. Whether they are creative or destructive depends on their philosophy."