My mind and heart swirl with concerns and considerations in the wake of Trump’s victory last night. Though the office of president is not the only office in the land, and perhaps it shouldn’t be considered the most important, this presidential election certainly does indicate some significant things about the present American spiritual, cultural, and social situation. And, in the midst of that, here are some things I’ve been considering:
America Didn’t Choose Trump as Much as She Rejected Clinton
This holds many important implications. The most important, from what I can tell, is this: America is no more racist and misogynist for electing Trump than she was “woke” for electing Obama. If you’re lamenting how truly and deeply racist America proved herself to be last night, I don’t think you understand what happened.
Last night proved that most anyone could have beaten Clinton. In fact, Republicans might even have been able to elect (gasp!) a half-decent candidate. They chose instead to cash in on Clinton’s vulnerability to elect the least qualified person running in this cycle and possibly the most repugnant person running in any cycle in American history (with the possible exception of Hillary Clinton herself, of course).
But most of the people who voted for Trump don’t necessarily hold racist or misogynist views. They simply believe they had effectively no other options than Clinton, and they hated Clinton more than Trump. It would be less true to say America chose Trump than that America rejected Clinton.
Let’s be level-hearted about what Trump’s victory means. About half of the ballots were cast for Clinton—it looks like she won the popular vote, in fact. Are we saying that if the electoral college had gone an only slightly different way, America would automatically not be racist or misogynist just because Clinton won? No. That’s silly. Which means saying the opposite is silly too. I understand a lot of people are hurting, but lashing out and pointing fingers doesn’t help.
We need to consider why Trump won. Based on the shock coming from all circles, it’s clear that even the pundits (maybe even especially the pundits) never saw the 2016 political season very clearly. What makes you think they see it any more clearly now? They have two options for interpretation: double-down on the narrative that “Trump won because America is even more racist and misogynist than we ever imagined.” Or humble themselves and recognize that they were wrong about the nature of Trump’s support from the start and should probably be listening now rather than talking. I’m sure you can imagine which option they’ve chosen.
Collective fear always looks malicious. That doesn’t mean it is. Collective weakness looks like willful wickedness. That doesn’t mean it is. Attributing vicious motives to an ignorant collective is about as childish as attributing a vicious personality to the rock that stubbed your toe. See Hanlon’s Razor for a helpful rule.
Clinton supporters are hurt and deeply disappointed because their team lost, and that’s understandable, but they’re continuing to perpetuate (and even magnify) the very ugliness of her campaign that proved its Achilles heel: the smug style. When Clinton and her supporters vilified the American populace, they vivified Trump’s populism. And they’re still doing it. Which indicates they, like their opponents, still aren’t willing to learn anything.
As for sexism contributing to Clinton’s loss, the number of people who voted against Clinton simply because she is a woman probably pales in comparison to the number of people who voted for Clinton simply because she is a woman. The same could be said of Barack Obama: far more people voted for him because of his race than voted against him because of his race. So, in a sense, if you want to say part of the country is racist or sexist, it would be more accurate to lay that label at the feet of the half that voted on the basis of race and sex, even if they were purportedly affirming diversity.
You can’t say a person is sexist simply because he or she votes against a woman. And in the two-party system, you can’t even say someone is sexist if he votes for a misogynist candidate (which Trump certainly was and is). All you might be able to say is that (possibly) race and gender issues were not the most important issues for Trump supporters.
And if you actually listen to Trump supporters, you’ll find out this is true in the vast majority of cases. Aside from a handful of true deplorables, most Trump supporters pulled the lever to “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington, to get jobs back, to protect religious liberties, or to create a more robust protection against terrorists/dangerous immigrants, or just simply to keep “Crooked Hillary” out of office.
I think their views on all these things are misguided at best, and even if they weren’t misguided, Trump’s capacity and/or desire to fulfill his campaign promises is dubious. But their confidence in Trump had little to do with endorsing the content of his more deplorable failings and more to do with their (perhaps faulty) perception that Clinton posed a greater threat to their interests.
Did Trump supporters put their own interests before the interests of others? Sure. Are many Trump voters white evangelicals concerned about the values and benefits of white evangelicals? Yes. Is that selfish? Yes. But that sword has two edges. Clinton supporters wanted Trump supporters to put the interests and opinions of others first (in Christ-like manner I would add), but they weren’t willing to do the same when it came down to it. Both sides served their own interests and opinions, unwilling to listen to the other side. Is this selfishness? Yes. Certainly. And it is not at all Christ-like. Is it racist or misogynist? Not primarily, though it obviously will have its social effects.
So the racism/misogyny accusations are not all that true, certainly not collectively. And even if they have some truth, they are not all that helpful at this point. These accusations alienate and demonize at least half of America. It’s that very feeling of alienation (of us vs. them) that got Trump elected in the first place. We need to drop it.
Bottom line: if you want to blame something for Trump’s victory, blame the two-party lesser of two evils bifurcation that conservatives have been buying into for decades. Recognize that it was weakness and self-interest rather than consciously wicked malice that got Trump in office.
Love Your Neighbor
So America did not vote for racism and misogyny (at least not consciously or collectively) by electing Trump. In point of fact, America did not vote for anything. Because there is no America. America doesn’t hold opinions or vote. Americans do.
If you go to your neighbors and actually talk to some Clinton supporters and some Trump supporters, you’ll find out something surprising: most of them don’t really love their candidate all that much either. They just hate your candidate more, and they frankly despise you too. Or at least, they despise the idea of you they have gathered from their respective bipartisan media.
Americans have learned about their neighbors from the television and Facebook rather than by walking next door and eating dinner together. Is it any wonder we don’t see our neighbors very clearly or explore their different opinions and values with empathy? We’ve learned to lump everyone into convenient pigeonholes and to operate according to polls and statistics. We want national fixes, so we can avoid local labor.
The irony of all this is, of course, that saying things like “See? I told you so. America is racist!” based on who half the people selected for president is not all that different from saying, “See? I told you so. Black fathers are deadbeats!” based on what more than half of them reportedly do concerning their out-of-wedlock children.
So, though I don’t believe America is intentionally racist, I believe our implicit commitment to inductive, pragmatic, scientism can’t help but spontaneously generate hasty and sweeping generalizations—including racism. In the interest of facts, we have exiled any semblance of nuance and individual dignity to the impenetrable wildernesses of demographics.
Big picture assessments of nations and cultures tend to fall prey to what I call anthropo-generalizations—the fallacious practice of assessing specific individuals on the basis of their group. It’s one thing to predict the flight path of an inanimate object based on the statistical Newtonian law of gravity. It’s quite another to judge an individual Trump supporter, or an individual Clinton supporter, or a person of any color, on the basis of demographics and statistics. We defraud individuals of their dignity when we allow stereotypes and anthropo-generalizations to guide our individual interactions.
It doesn’t matter which statistics you’re pulling or which systemic problem you’re trying to solve. We’re not called to honor and serve systems and statistics. We’re called to honor and serve our neighbors. So love your neighbor. Get to know your neighbor. Serve your neighbor. I think you might be surprised to find out that most Americans, for better or worse, aren’t all that different from one another. In fact, there is probably a greater degree of diversity within the ranks of Trump and Clinton supporters than there is between the ranks of Trump and Clinton supporters.
We’re Not that Different
This is perhaps the most important idea I have taken away from the election. Political pundits all over the nation have declared that Americans have never been more divided. I believe Americans have never been more uniform—in their values, in their culture, in their selfishness, in their ignorance, in their complacency, in their arrogance, or in their disconnection from reality. Never in history have our major party candidates been so very similar in every possible way: statists, war hawks, imperialists, socialists, power-hungry, money-hungry, shrill, smug, compromising, complicit, corrupt, self-righteous, incorrigible, law-breaking, and God-scorning.
And yet Americans have never felt more divided. And I attribute this to a simple, even obvious cause: we’re nearly all self-righteous hypocrites. We look at Trump as if we’re looking in a mirror, but we just refuse to believe it’s us. We look at Clinton as if we’re looking in a mirror, but we just refuse to believe it’s us. We refuse to accept just how much like our despised neighbor we actually are.
If you dare, listen to the rhetoric of Clinton supporters who are just coming to grips with Trump’s election. They are angry and hateful. They are vowing to leave the country or fight Trump to the bitter end. They are contesting the legitimacy of the election. They trade in question-begging epithets (“racists,” “white nationalists,” “misogynists”). They are retreating to their smug and self-righteous towers of denial (“not my fault,” “not my president,” “this is on you, white people”). The election had just barely been called when liberal wonks were already crying about the inevitable Gulags and concentration camps they and their “minority friends” would have to suffer through in a Trump presidency, or the “trains” that Muslims would be riding out of the country. In a nutshell, very many Clinton supporters are being very sore losers giving in to hysterics.
And, I’ll be honest, Trump supporters in my circles really aren’t being as ungracious in their victory as I had expected. (UPDATE as of November 10: Scratch that. They’re being very ugly now. Must have taken a day or two for things to sink in.) Perhaps because they are in shock. But, also, they can afford to be gracious. Because their team won. Clinton supporters, anticipating a victory, had prepared themselves to be gracious and love their neighbors too. And if Clinton had won, Trump supporters would be doing exactly what Clinton supporters are currently doing: contesting, decrying, insulting, complaining, second-guessing, finger-pointing, and washing their hands of the country. And Clinton supporters would have said, with patronizing relish, “There. There. We’re in this together. Clinton’s your president too.” Exactly like Trump supporters.
Why can’t people see this? America is largely homogenous in her self-righteous, close-minded finger-wagging. Very few of us are self-aware. The sooner we realize this and repent together, the sooner we can actually heal. And by heal, I mean maybe, if there is an election four (or even two) years from now, we can get together to kick out our real enemies: godless big government and Christless authoritarian church leadership.
But for now, please accept this:
- Though they exaggerate somewhat, Clinton supporters are right about Trump.
- Though they exaggerate somewhat, Trump supporters are right about Clinton.
Each side has about half the truth. Each side denies the other half of the truth because it makes its members feel ugly. But the reality is we’re all ugly. This election, more than any one in our history, has exposed that.
So what do you do? Submit yourself to the benefit of your neighbor. Go to your neighbor and ask forgiveness. Serve your neighbor in gladness. Please don’t resent anyone for this election, and don’t alienate your neighbor by blaming them for it. It’s our fault. We are all to blame for this mess.
America is in absolute crisis. Trump won’t save us. Clinton couldn’t save us. Only God can save us. Whether we were voting for Trump to reject Clinton or voting for Clinton to reject Trump, it is ultimately God we’ve rejected.
To the Evangelical Church and Especially Her Leaders
If you’re an evangelical and you’re glad Trump won, I don’t want to hear your sigh of relief or your victory congratulations. Trump’s election is a national embarrassment and a particular blemish on your witness for Christ. You have traded fresh Gospel water for a broken cistern, brothers and sisters. You have rejected God from ruling over you. You just elected Barabbas president.
And the saddest part is: you won’t even get what you sold your souls for. You have been so thoroughly duped. Do you want to know what a true anti-establishment Republican candidate looks like? Look at Ron Paul. Or even Barry Goldwater if you want to get more historical. And both of them were absolutely stonewalled by the GOP establishment. And this was back when it was actually more difficult for the GOP establishment to stonewall people. Do you really think the GOP would have let Trump through if they had really hated him? Don’t be naïve.
Trump is not an anti-establishment candidate. You have been played for the fear-filled fools you’ve allowed yourselves to become. And you’ve given the equally crooked GOP control of all three branches of government. Do you think Trump will overturn Roe v. Wade? He won’t. Will he reduce our national debt or balance our budget? No. Will he pull out of our numerous unjust wars all over the world? No. Will he protect your religious liberties? If at all, only by forcing you even further into submission under the State. Did you even notice what he said in his acceptance speech about where our new jobs are going to be coming from? He is going to give us jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure. On the taxpayer dime. Public works projects. You mean, just like FDR, the famed tyrant socialist Democrat? Wake up, people.
I might as well tell you now, though you may not be ready to believe me: Clinton, though I couldn’t conscience voting for her either, would have been a better choice to achieve gridlock if you guys were actually intent on voting pragmatically. The best hope we had for the next four years was not in what the national government could accomplish, but rather in what we could stop it from accomplishing. Our best-case scenario was a slow government. My dear brothers and sisters: You have handed a fast and loose government to an unprincipled and singularly unstable egotist whose entire platform has been built on the promise of a tyrannical consolidation of power in the executive branch. You have elected Nero. And yet somehow you’re congratulating yourselves.
But it is not too late. God will bring judgment on us. We have failed to be salt and light in this country, and God will chastise us. But if his people will repent in word and deed, he will heal this land. Let’s stop acting like other people are the problem in this country. It’s kind of hard for us to get the speck out of our “liberal” neighbor’s eye when we’ve got this spray-tan-colored log firmly lodged in our own. We need to repent. And until we do, there’s not an unbeliever in this whole country who cares to listen to our hypocritical homilies.
To my spiritual fathers, Reformed or “conservative” pastors, who lobbied for Trump as the lesser of two evils and encouraged Christians to vote for him even though he clearly did not meet the very basic requirements God gave us for choosing civil leaders in a constitutional republic (Exod. 18:21; Deut. 1:13):
You thought you needed to burn a little incense to Caesar to protect your position of power in the church and “our” place in this nation? The Pharisees thought so too in their place under Rome. But their unbelieving betrayal of their Messiah and their rejection of his humble and self-abnegating methods for Gospel conquest didn’t end up working out for them in the end, as you all know. Similarly, this rabid dog you’ve hired with the price of your virtue will turn on you in the end. You have sown the wind, my fathers.
You can’t hedge your bets on this one: You can’t serve God and Mammon. You bowed the knee to Mammon and the golden idol of Nebuchadnezzar, and you encouraged others to do so too. You justified your cowardice and compromise with appeals to grounded pragmatism and God’s sovereignty. That does not absolve you of responsibility. You should have put your trust in God and sought refuge in him instead. Like Jesus, you should have used God’s sovereignty as the foundation for your faithfulness rather than the failsafe for your folly. You have trampled on his grace and on his little ones and you have encouraged your sheep to do likewise. You are blind leaders leading the blind.
I am so deeply disappointed in you, my fathers. You have not practiced the ideals you taught me so carefully in my youth. You have rejected the wisdom I inherited from you. I beg you to find repentance and teach us again how to follow God in humility.
Conclusion: Don’t Waste this Opportunity to Repent
G. K. Chesterton was once asked to answer the question, “What is wrong with the world?” He didn’t point to unjust systems, the wickedness of others, the tyranny of evil men, or anything like that. He said, simply: “I am.” I wish we would learn such humility as a nation. If we do not, no matter who is in power, we don’t have long.
If you were a Clinton supporter, please don’t allow this opportunity for repentance to pass you by. You will have an opportunity to say “I told you so” later perhaps. But you shouldn’t take it. Your candidate would not have done any better facing the whirlwind that is surely coming. Humble yourself. If someone asks you what is wrong with the world, please learn to say, “I am.”
If you are a Trump supporter, please don’t allow this opportunity for repentance to pass you by. Don’t put your confidence in Trump. As it says in Proverbs 25:19, “Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble.” Don’t wait to repent when Trump turns out to be the bad tooth we’ve said he was all along. It will be too late to repent then. Humble yourself. If someone asks you what is wrong with the world, please learn to say, “I am.”
If you didn’t vote or voted third party, please don’t allow this opportunity for repentance to pass you by. You are not less guilty than other Americans. Blood and wickedness stains your nation as much as theirs, and you have not done enough to hold them back from the slaughter. Humble yourself. If someone asks you what is wrong with the world, please learn to say, “I am.”
I cried this morning over Trump. I would have cried over Clinton. I hate what this country has become. I hate even more what the church in America has become. I have not loved her as I should. I too have abandoned all hope for transformation in despair. I have resigned myself to judgment. I have even taken pleasure in that judgment from a safe distance. I have had a greater desire to be right than to do right. I have despised my neighbors. I know I am what’s wrong with the world. I pray God grants us a little more time for repentance.