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Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Day After Trump

     I was a junior in high school, studying one spring evening at the desk I still use, the radio playing softly in the background. The music was interrupted by a news bulletin -- the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis. I listened, then ran to tell my parents. Two months later my mother woke me for school by telling me that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated that evening in California. Between those two slayings by lone assassins, I felt something had changed in America, and in me. We had lost our innocence. Something had broken in me and in the world, and as I watched from the roof of my house as Baltimore burned after King's death, and then watched the riots in Chicago that summer during the Democratic Convention, I knew something inexplicable would never be the same.

     This morning, as I try to imagine my country led by Donald Trump, I feel as though something, again, has changed in me and in America. Instead of murder perpetrated by two individuals, now a majority of voters have done violence not just to where I thought we were heading as a nation, but to the very notions of honor, decency, justice, hospitality, and kindness that I always believed were foundations of our society. We -- and I do mean we -- have chosen a very dark path. 

     Many, no doubt, will view this as another swing of the Hegelian pendulum that will eventually swing back. Maybe so. It feels qualitatively different to me -- that something has fundamentally changed in this country. I've been trying to find a better metaphor than "putting the fox in charge of the henhouse." It's more like making the atheists our priests, or taking the car to the scrapyard for repairs, or -- closer -- hiring a demolition contractor to paint the house. Trump and the Republican Party essentially believe that government has two purposes: local and national security, and the protection of business. The other items in the Preamble to the Constitution -- to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity -- can be covered by those other two priorities. 

     For eighty years Republicans have opposed public welfare, public health care, extension of civil rights, and integrated public schools. They finally learned they couldn't openly kill any of those things because they're too popular. But they learned -- from some very dark historical examples -- that if you slowly increase the demands on an individual or system while slowly decreasing its nourishment, it will eventually collapse. That has been happening for a long time with schools, health care, Social Security, and the like. Now there's the opportunity for our newly elected government to kill those things outright.

     What's different today is that the nation has given them license for that project. In the name of "fixing what's broken," there's the very real probability that what gets undone or demolished in the next two to four years -- or more -- can never be repaired. This is more than Van Jones' excellent term "whitelash" -- it is a repudiation of the outcome of the Civil War. In many ways, I feel, the Union is being dissolved.

     Last week I said to a woman at the church I attend that if Trump were elected, those of us in the progressive wing of Christianity would learn how Christians live in the rest of the world. We would no longer be able to count on the culture or the government to do our work of Kingdom-building for us. That white evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Trump signals to me that there are now, officially, two Christianities in America: one like the state church in so many countries, allied with the existing powers; and another, counter-cultural church that makes prophetic and sacrificial witness to the God who is above and beyond all earthy powers. 

     We dare not pretend now that, with time, it will all get better. The tectonic plates have shifted.

     In 1845, James Lowell put ink to paper to protest the U.S. imperialistic war with --- Mexico. The poem, still sung in Christian churches, rings still:

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

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