Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

GOP: All Faith No Works

In Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament, Current events, Religion and Society, The Trump Administration on February 5, 2020 at 10:26 pm

Trump with Billy Bush

Read James 2:14-26

As a person who grew up in an Evangelical church in the Reagan/Bush years, I cannot help but be astounded by the rapid moral decline in the Republican Party these past couple of years. It used to be that the ‘moral majority’ supported the GOP because the leaders of the party appeared to hew more closely to Christian beliefs than the Democrats did. Who were you more likely to support – family men like the Bushes or Romney, or womanizers like Bill Clinton and John Edwards?

This seemed to change with the election of Barack Obama. Suddenly, a guy who attended church weekly, never cheated on his wife, was never involved in a moral scandal of any kind – this guy was somehow viewed as the devil himself by a great number of Evangelical Christians. So much so that nearly all of them supported the election of a known adulterer and liar, known blasphemer and shady businessman, and suspected rapist, whore-monger, financial fraud, and tax evader to the nation’s highest office.

In fact, Donald Trump commits, in full view of everyone, every single one of the 7 Deadly Sins on pretty much a daily basis. Pride, Wrath, Envy? This could actually be the name of his Twitter feed or the title of any one of his campaign speeches. Greed? By his own admission, it’s a defining quality. Lust? He’s an admitted adulterer and the guy who bragged about ‘grabbing ’em by the pussy’. Sloth? Leaked schedules show that he spends 60% of his work day in ‘executive time’, meaning no appointments. So he’s watching Fox News for more than half the day and doing little else. He complained that Obama golfed too often at once every 12-13 days; Trump golfs every 5.

And gluttony? You need look no further than his big fat ass. (Actually, by the looks of most American church-goers, they seem to have forgotten that over-eating is one of the go-straight-to-hell-do-not-pass-go trespasses).

Now, it’s fair to say that not all Christians have thrown away their Bibles so that they can worship a big orange peacock. Only about half of Catholics and main-line Protestants approve of Trump’s handling of the job, and non-White Catholics as well as Black Protestants overwhelmingly disapprove, the latter group giving him a consistent 12% approval rating.

But White Evangelicals – they can’t get enough of the man. Trump consistently gets support of 70-80% of this group of Christians for pretty much everything he does. And evangelical leaders such as Paula White, Jerry Falwell Jr., Rick Warren, and Franklin Graham stumble over one another to publicly excuse his many sins.

It’s easy to chalk this up to shared racism – which is what the media routinely does. White Bible-thumpers are all racists, so the story goes. Some closet racists, some blood-and-soil, white hood-wearers – but all love Trump because they all hate the yellow, brown, and black people.

While I’m sure this is true of some, I’m thinking (hoping) it constitutes a very small minority. In fact, I think the second half of James 2, and the difference in how these verses are interpreted by Evangelicals and main-stream Protestants has more to do with this than what at first meets the eye.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Traditionally, this has been interpreted by Catholic and Protestant alike to mean that there must be evidence of the working of God in a Christian’s life – evidence that shows they are changed creatures. You can’t just say you believe – your life has to show it. Given that the example given by James is feeding and clothing the poor, historically, this has been a big part of the Church’s work in the community.

However, from their origins, Pentecostal movements never followed suit. Part of this stems from practicality – small, poor, independent church bodies simply were not able to do much for their communities, even if they wanted to. And if there’s a bit of extra money, the thinking was it should go to missionaries.

But part of it is rooted in a doctrine that frames the evidence of God’s approval of an individual not in his works – but in his gifts.

Can you speak in tongues or prophesy? Can you preach or sing with anointing? This is the evidence of your faith – how much God has blessed you. Notice how many Americans refuse to say, “Well, I’m lucky to have a good job and home, etc.” Now, it’s pretty much mandatory to say, “I’m blessed to have a good home…” This comes straight out of the Evangelical churches. To be gifted a home or job by God is evidence of faith.

By the ’70s, these groups were calling themselves charismatic believers – at first referring to possessing the Gifts of the Spirit, but eventually meaning that they were recipients of all of the blessings of God, both spiritual and material. With the economic boom of the ’80s and ’90s, these Christians became wealthier and more influential in their communities. But, in the main, these churches did not contribute more to their communities as they grew richer. Instead, this was the beginning of the rise of the millionaire tele-evangelist. There are no vows of poverty taken by current leaders of the movement such as Kenneth Copeland or Joel Osteen – the possession of great wealth is evidence of great faith.

What’s known in church parlance as the prosperity gospel has completely overtaken Evangelicalism. If you don’t have material wealth, your faith is not pleasing to God. You need to figure out what you are doing wrong.  If you do have material wealth, God is pleased with you – you’re on your way to heaven.

But a more troubling extension emerges – if a person with material wealth is forced to share his blessings with the less fortunate – through taxation, for example – the will of God is circumvented. A government that requires the wealthy to contribute to society is immoral, in that it moves against the workings of God.

Donald Trump is gifted in this worldview, and thus, accepted of God. It doesn’t matter what his works are – the evidence is in his wealth, his charisma.

Now, of course this worldview runs contrary to what James writes. Abraham was accepted because of his obedience, not because of his wealth. Rahab is judged by her righteous actions, not her gifts. And, when we get to 1 Corinthians, we’ll see that Paul expressly warns believers not to be taken in by charismatic con-men – a warning unheeded by Evangelicals over and over again.

So what can we say about the GOP – and the White Evangelicals who support them?

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

They are bodies with no spirit. They put innocent kids in cages. They take food and education away from children. They labor day and night to figure out a way to take medical care and Social Security away from those who need it most – remember it’s only an immoral government that would ask you to re-distribute what God has distributed.

They have sold out their core values for 2% economic growth, tax cuts, and a bevy of conservative judges. But in doing so, they have hastened their demise.

The Church is quickly losing its relevance by worshiping a clearly flawed and immoral man. And by hitching its wagon to a party that delights in injustice.

Kaiser Trump

In American Society, Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 13, 2017 at 6:33 pm

I digressed from my three-part series on Trump’s relationship with Fascism to make a few comments about the recent US missile attack on Syria – today I finish that series. Some of the notes I had made in preparing this essay were made prior to Trump’s military actions there, and now seem unbelievably timely.

I previously interrupted a five- or six- part essay on the Protestant Work Ethic and its influence on American economic policy, in order to discuss what seemed like the more pressing issue of a new American fascism. I’m still planning to eventually complete that series. And at some point, I’ll get back to blogging the Bible. So many issues, so little time for this poor, sometimes neglected blog. If any of this ever makes it into a book, I promise to be more linear. 

I’ve stated in prior posts that Donald Trump is no Nazi. Yes, as I’m writing this, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, is busy apologizing for remarks that could be construed to be revisionist Nazi rhetoric – incorrectly stating that Hitler didn’t use chemical gas on his own people. Believe it or not, I don’t think Secretary Spicer is a Nazi sympathizer – I think he’s just actually that stupid. Notice how, when trying to defend his remarks, he stumbles at the point where he’s about to say ‘gas chambers’ – and says ‘Holocaust centers’ instead – only at that moment dawning on him that, ‘doh, gas chambers used chemical gas’. I don’t believe he was trying to deny the atrocities of the Nazis, or to insinuate that German Jews were somehow less than German, making them ‘not his own people’. It’s just that Spicer, like so many of the people Trump surrounds himself with, isn’t a very thoughtful or well-read person.

However, I think that it’s unclear thus far as to whether Trump could be called a fascist. He certainly whips up his base with a kind rhetoric that can be disturbing at times, with apparently no intention of changing his dangerous ‘tweeting’ habits. Part of the problem lies in the fact that his words and actions indicate nothing more than the President’s current whim, leaving the disturbing impression that, beyond vanity, there is no ‘core’ of convictions that might indicate who Donald Trump really is. As the acclaimed British journalist Max Hastings writes,  “As ever with this President, it is impossible to judge whether he means what he says, or even understands the significance of his words.”

Much like the Bible or the Koran, Trump’s words and actions are enigma, upon which his followers are able to superimpose any meaning they desire. Just as the prophet Ezekiel or the apostle Paul made pronouncements with little thought of what effect they might have on the world in the 21st century, so too does Donald Trump. Yet true believers receive them as gospel, full of hidden meaning that will be revealed in the fullness of time. 

To the liberal or progressive, he epitomizes everything that’s wrong with the political system, specifically as it applies to the GOP misinformation machine. To the Trumpite he is – – I don’t think we have a word in English to describe the concept. He’s like a scapegoat, except in a positive and opposite way. Instead of placing all of your admitted sins upon him, letting him suffer the consequences of your evil deeds, he instead wears all of your impure – but much-beloved – impulses without shame. His incredibly wide shoulders (but small hands) bear them all, as he is led, not down the Via Dolorosa to certain death, but down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. 

(There are, by the way, many concepts we find hard to put into words, for which there is foreign vocabulary to assist. Schadenfreude, for example, is a German word for which we have no equivalent, but it is something we experience nonetheless. My current favorite is kalsarikännit, the Finnish word for sitting around at home in your underwear getting drunk. If you know a word for a kind of positive scapegoat – in any language – drop me a line.)

Trump’s exoneration is a vindication of all the terrible ideas of his followers. There is no repentance or absolution – there is instead an ascension to political paradise with all sins intact. To the Richard Spencers of the world, he’s a führer. To David Duke, he’s a kinsman KKK. To those equate being white and owning a gun to patriotism, he’s a modern-day Andrew Jackson. 

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So, if Trump isn’t the next Adolf Hitler, who is he? The incredible thing is, if you’re American, the picture above might not even tip you off. You’d have heard little or nothing about him in history class, and have little understanding of how he helped make a bad political environment, at home and abroad, even worse. His actions helped to precipitate World War I.

British and Continental European commentators, however, sharing a more intimate experience with his bombastic incompetence, have been making comparisons for months. – Donald Trump as 21st-century Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Here are some of the other things Hastings – knighted, by the way, for his contribution to the understanding of history – has written about Trump:

(He is)…carelessly dropping matches beside a powder keg, with the same mingling of ignorance, vainglory and recklessness that the German emperor displayed in 1914. Trump needs a war to fulfill his constant quest for enemies, at home and abroad, and because he is a risk-taker, with little understanding of the cages he is rattling or the world order he threatens to undo….Trump’s record suggests a man who calls for High Noon, then suggests lunch at one of his golf courses instead.

That last sentence was actually meant to be hopeful – perhaps Trump is all bluster and no bite. I don’t think a few missiles lobbed at Syria discredit this observation.  The next statement is in quotes because it comes from Hasting’s article, and is meant to describe both the Kaiser and Trump. But it is the opinion of so many policy experts that I feel quotes are superfluous:

But the only way to make an effective foreign policy is to say what  you mean, mean what you say….Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm did not seriously want a war in 1914. But he got one anyway, because he postured once too often, drew his sword and waved it aloft. Thus, others drew their swords, too, and soon all Europe was using them.

Trump rained missiles upon a Syrian air base because he saw a video on television. He did not do extensive study into the Syrian conflict, nor did he base his decision on intelligence reports. It was – no better word for it – a whim. 

European comparisons of Donald Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm (or William II of Prussia – he was Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild) prompted me to learn a bit more about the Kaiser’s personality. I could only remember the cartoon caricature of the man from high school history classes. What I found sounds alarmingly familiar:

(He was)…gifted, with a quick understanding, sometimes brilliant, with a taste for the modern,—technology, industry, science—but at the same time superficial, hasty, restless, unable to relax, without any deeper level of seriousness, without any desire for hard work or drive to see things through to the end, without any sense of sobriety, for balance and boundaries, or even for reality and real problems, uncontrollable and scarcely capable of learning from experience, desperate for applause and success….he wanted every day to be his birthday—romantic, sentimental and theatrical, unsure and arrogant, with an immeasurably exaggerated self-confidence and desire to show off, a juvenile cadet, who never took the tone of the officers’ mess out of his voice, and brashly wanted to play the part of the supreme warlord, full of panicky fear of a monotonous life without any diversions…(Wikipedia)

Wow. Nail on the head. Bigly. Or big league. Or whatever the hell it is Trump says. 

He believed in force, and the ‘survival of the fittest’ in domestic as well as foreign politics….William was not lacking in intelligence, but he did lack stability, disguising his deep insecurities by swagger and tough talk. He frequently fell into depressions and hysterics… William’s personal instability was reflected in vacillations of policy. His actions, at home as well as abroad, lacked guidance, and therefore often bewildered or infuriated public opinion. He was not so much concerned with gaining specific objectives…as with asserting his will. This trait in the ruler of the leading Continental power was one of the main causes of the uneasiness prevailing in Europe at the turn-of-the-century. (Wikipedia)

This trait in the ruler of the leading power today is also one of the main causes of uneasiness prevailing in the world now.

The Kaiser was in power before Fascism swept Germany – but his sentiments, misadventures, and bluster allowed that disease to grow. And his erratic policies increased international tensions, creating an environment ripe for war. While history illustrates that fighting right-wing fascism in the US is an important fight, it doesn’t take a Hitler to start another world war.

A Kaiser will do as well.

 

Missiles Won’t Save Syrian Children

In Current events, The Trump Administration, Wars and Rumors of Wars on April 11, 2017 at 5:18 pm

Syrian children

I’ve been decrying the violence against children in Syria for five years now, since my heart was torn apart by a video of Rena, a four-year-old Syrian girl shot by a sniper back in 2012. I’ve posted other photos and videos of dead and dying Syrian children since then  – admittedly with few suggestions on how to make the violence against helpless children in Syria stop. I’m still struggling for answers.

By all estimates, there are certainly at least 500,000 casualties to date in the Syrian conflict, many of them children, as well as a great number of non-combatant women and men. We as Americans have their blood on our hands. The God, Guns and Glory GOP under George W Bush started a war in Iraq under dubious pretenses, and lacking any plan for the stabilization of the country afterwards, left behind the chaos that spread across the border to Syria – and gave rise to ISIS and other militant groups. These are facts – no amount of whitewashing by those who supported the war will undo their veracity. Donald Trump’s claims that Obama and Hillary created ISIS – and conservative media’s support of those statements – is frightening doublespeak revisionist history of Orwellian proportions.

And while I wouldn’t hold President Trump directly responsible for the murder of children in Syria (unlike anti-abortionist groups that called Obama a baby-killer), it is certainly possible his press secretary’s statement that toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a priority, that it was instead a “political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now”  – just a few days before the chemical attack – may have been a signal to Assad that he could deal as ruthlessly as he wanted with pockets of remaining resistance without fear of retribution from the US. In other words, Sean Spicer’s dissembling may have emboldened Assad in this latest attack. (Warning, this video is graphic and disturbing.)

The US has been complicit in the killing children in the Middle East for a long time. We’ve supported a regime in Israel that has in the last decades killed hundreds of Palestinian children in the name of ‘security’. (Yes, Palestinians kill Israelis children too, albeit in far fewer numbers and without American support). We fed and fueled the feud between Iran and Iraq for eight long years, resulting in one million dead Iranians and half that number of Iraqis. Not content to simply stoke the fire, we embarked on two major excursions into Iraq, the last of which produced an estimated 100,000 further civilian casualties. President Obama laughed ISIS off as a ‘JV team’, and did too little too late as they grew to power, sacrificing thousands more lives in the region. We’ve failed to take any effective action in Syria, while many thousands of children have died.

I think a secularist worldview, trying to find rational solutions to the world’s problems, by nature creates strong pacifist tendencies. War is almost never the correct solution to the problem, be it political, religious, economic, or otherwise. War is never clean or neat or ‘surgical’ – these terms apply only to the side that has sufficient technology to inflict much greater harm than it suffers, countries like Israel and the US. There is always ‘collateral damage’, meaning the slaughter of innocents, which in my opinion is unacceptable. But if military action is ever a solution – and I do believe it sometimes is necessary (is that because of the American side to being americansecularist? I’m not sure), then certainly protecting the most vulnerable among us would be one of those times.

I’m going to cut Mr. Trump some slack on his missile-attack response to the latest Syrian atrocity. The cynic in me says that, much like then-President Clinton’s airstrike on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, (read Christopher Hitchen’s brilliant deconstruction of that action ), Trump needed to create a distraction from the Russia scandal – and gross incompetence – his administration has been mired in. Bonus points that he had to stop holding hands with Putin to give the order. Trump and the GOP have been wildly inconsistent on military action since George W left office – or perhaps wildly Machiavellian. Their position has basically been that if Obama took action, it was a mistake; if he didn’t, he was weak.

However, I’m going to assume that Donald Trump saw these videos and was moved by them – as anyone should be – and that led to an actual change of heart. I’m going to assume the 180-degree change of opinion on Syrian action was motivated by genuine human concern and outrage when, perhaps for the first time, he came face-to-face with the realities there.

But missiles do not policy make, and if we want to see an end to the indiscriminate killing of children in the Middle East – and elsewhere – it will require intelligent, effective policies that so far no administration has been able to come up with. Airstrikes are the equivalent of taking away your teenager’s allowance after he’s murdered the neighbors, a sort of ‘well I had to do something’ kind of response. In fact, the bombed runway is already in use, and I’m sure innocents in Syria continue to be slaughtered by their own government – maybe not with gas canisters this time, but murdered nonetheless.

I refuse to join the partisan fray, to criticize each and every decision the ‘other side’ makes, simply because it’s the other side. But I can’t really applaud the decision either, as I don’t really see what it accomplishes. I understand – after I see these videos, I want to throw missiles at someone – anyone responsible – as well. However, it does absolutely nothing to dissuade Assad and company from committing further atrocities.

Real remedy in Syria requires intelligence, competence, and the guts to make unpopular decisions. I am pessimistic that our current president is any more capable – indeed is in many ways less capable – of solving Syria than his predecessors.

The photo above comes from an excellent aljazeera.com post – a must-read if you’re not clear on the causes current Syrian conflict.