So, I had a short break to recharge the thought processes, during which time I visited the dentist in Mexico; long story! Anyway, whilst sitting in the torture room ante-chamber, I was able to hold some interesting conversations with the inmates. One particular lady was intently reading her bible but took time out to hold forth on her views regarding the US election circus. She was very quick to convince me of her qualifications in this respect. She was a doctor with 3 degrees and was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that, in her words, ‘Donald Trump is the only hope for America.’
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have already made the comment that I understand why there is such a surge of support for this unlikely candidate. For too many years now, the general public, I believe, has sensed that the career politicians supposedly representing them are generally acting in self-interest. The recent lifting of restrictions on campaign contributions have resulted in the democratic interests of the masses being subsumed by the interests of the wealthy oligarchy that supports them. Constant wrangling between the democratically elected president and a hostile congress have resulted in little political change or meaningful progress for many years. The rise of Donald Trump and the unlikely Democrat, Bernie Sanders stem from a simmering dissatisfaction with the status quo.
What is truly difficult to understand, is the weight of support, typified by the passing conversation in the dentist’s waiting room, given by so many ‘Christians’ to Mr Trump. Mr Trump recognizes this, and has sought to appeal to this substantial base, resulting in the Pope’s denouncement of his ‘Christian’ credentials. I spent quite some time over the last few days seeking an explanation for why those who profess to follow a creed that has love and acceptance as its mainstay would throw their endorsements behind a man who represents intolerance, wants to exclude people by race or religion and in many ways stands in complete contrast to the message preached by Jesus. Jesus himself showed amazing counter-cultural tolerance in his dealings with the woman at the well in John chapter 4 and disappointed his more zealous followers in his tacit support of their Roman overlords.
Unfortunately, since 9/11, it seems that alongside money, the predominant driver behind people’s political choices seems to be fear and self interest and preservation of a way of life. Mr Trump and others on the right know how to exploit this fear, and use it to drum up support for their political movements. For a long time now, the Republican right in the US have recognized the huge advantage in courting the church goers of the US with their stance on black and white moral issues that sway this subset of the electorate. Abortion and gay marriage are probably the two most prominent influencers behind the religious right’s predominant Republican base. It is remarkable that in eight years of a G W Bush presidency, clearly the religious right’s choice, there was no major change in the abortion laws, and the stage was set for gay marriage to be legalized at a federal level.
Driven by fear of terrorism, we see many on the religious right seduced by the push to exclude Mexicans and Muslims from the US. Driven by irrational fear of a military government takeover, the protection of freedoms around the ownership of firearms seems completely contrary to the message of Jesus. He urged his followers to ‘love your enemies’, ‘turn the other cheek’ and even rebuked his friend Peter when he used a sword to cut of the ear of one who had come to arrest him on false charges. Lastly, a tacit support for the neoliberal economic mores of the Right are slowly eroding the living standards of the poorest and allowing the very small percentage of the very rich to dictate the political agenda. In many ways, we should be more fearful of their agenda as those who are supposed to represent us all seem increasingly in its grip.
And so, although the famous words of the bible urge us that ‘Perfect love drives out fear’, I am beginning to think that fear does indeed determine much of the current political endorsement. Unfortunately, most of us are swayed in our political endorsements by our own self – interest. I see little evidence of a movement that seeks to put the common good above the individual, sacrifices for those who are less fortunate and is driven by a desire to embrace and welcome rather than exclude. After all, isn’t the whole point of politics to work out how we can all best live together. I think those of us who profess to follow that young radical from two thousand years ago need to do some serious thinking about where we are throwing our support.