How to be a Christian in the Era of Donald Trump


Trumpolini (1)I sat there a bit dumbfounded and debated on if I had actually heard what I thought I heard. Rep. Steve King had just said that no other “subgroup” of people – that is, non-white, non-Western people – had contributed as much to society as white people, or as he sadly tried to explain, “Western Civilization.” Such openly racist remarks by an elected official are thankfully surprising and shocking, indicating some level of progress in the right direction as a society, but at the same time aren’t entirely surprising. That’s what happens when we live in the era of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump as a politician is a racist and is fanning the flames of racism. I cannot say if he is such as an individual, considering it’s impossible to know what part of his campaign is farcical and which part represents his actual beliefs. People can argue all they want and attempt to present as much nuance as they want, but when the alt-right (read: White Supremacists) and even a former KKK member feel comfortable with Trump and feel emboldened by his message, nuance no longer matters.

Let me get this part out of the way: No Christian should vote for Donald Trump. I’m not saying who Christians should vote for, but as Christians we are to love our neighbors. If a candidate comes along who asks us to hate our neighbors, who asks us to cast suspicion on our neighbors, who asks us to feel superior to our neighbors, then we must reject that candidate. When Klansmen and white supremacists sing the praises of your candidate, and it’s done en masse by such people, perhaps it’s time to realize you have the wrong candidate. That the Republicans, a party that has feigned moral superiority for decades, are choosing a racist leader doesn’t mean one must bow before party unity. One’s soul matters far more than one’s political party.

The above being said, how do we live in a Donald Trump era? See, the issue isn’t whether Donald Trump believes half of what he spews or just does it because it gets him votes (I happen to think he doesn’t believe much of what he says). The issue is that a majority of people in a major US political party have bought into his rhetoric. Regardless of if he believes his own lies, many other people do. Many other people would love to see us kick out undocumented immigrants (as though that’s feasible or ethical), many other people would love to kick out all Muslims or ban them from entering our country, many other people actually believe there’s something “special” about being white. How do we maintain sanity and love in an era marked by craziness and hate?

We continue to do what Christians have done throughout similar ages, which is to ignore the rabble and go about our business. It’s okay to take political stances and have political beliefs, but we must never let those beliefs turn us towards hatred of people, especially oppressed people. It’s okay to argue against illegal immigration (I, for one, would not). There are legitimate arguments and concerns against it. But it’s not okay to argue or to take a stance against illegal immigrants. These are people, human beings, who by being human beings hold an absolute right to exist and partake in the best life possible. That our government has a failed policy on immigration doesn’t mean we should argue against the individuals who take advantage of the failed policy. If you see an undocumented immigrant who needs food or water, your job as a Christian is to give him food and water. If you see him being taken advantage of, your job as a Christian is to help him obtain justice.

The Christian message isn’t built on superiority, but on humility. Christianity is not a “western” religion and no culture can lay claim to it. When the western world was still sacrificing animals to pagan gods, Christians in the east were building cathedrals. Western Europe wasn’t completely Christianized until the 11th century, well over 1,000 years after the founding of Christianity. Christianity transcends our culture and, ideally, should function to shape our culture and our ideals. While I’m a proponent of what is mistakingly called Western Civilization (is it really western if it began in the Middle East, was improved by Greece, and only reached a “western” Rome nearly 2,400 years after it began?), I have no grand delusions to say that Western Civilization is better or encompasses Christianity. Rather, I understand that my culture, my beliefs, my everything, must fall under the domain of Christianity. If my political belief is an inconvenience to Christianity, then the political belief must change. If Christianity calls for me to love my neighbor and a politician calls for me to hate my neighbor, then I must abandon that politician.

Living as a Christian in the era of Trump requires us to accept the fact that we’ve lost all political influence. We cannot hitch our trailer to Donald Trump and say, “At least he’ll promote some Christian things.” No, he won’t. One who promotes hatred goes against the core of Christianity. As Christians, we must support the candidate that will best allow us to fulfill our duty – that is, who won’t create laws or create a culture that actively inhibits us – to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. A politician that would seek to see our neighbors imprisoned, deported, or ostracized from society isn’t a politician we can support. That doesn’t say much in the way of who we should vote for, but it says quite a bit about who we should not vote for. Living in the era of Trump means we have to forgo political gain and work harder to show love to our neighbors. Failure to do so will ensure that Christianity disappears from the United States, for no political movement can save us, no political movement can protect us, only by displaying love to our neighbors can we be saved.

Advertisements

Why Economic Justice Matters: This Machine Kills Fascism (Part 1)


JPEG image-552A266454C7-1It’s a common argument against socialism (or what is perceived as socialism): “We can’t have complete economic equality because it’d remove all incentive to work harder and be innovative.” And to a certain extent, that’s completely true. Why would I work harder to take on a position of more responsibility and risk if I didn’t make more money for it? Certainly there are some out there who’s egos alone would push for such a promotion, but at some point most people would ask why you’d want to be the CEO when you can make the same amount of money as being the janitor.

Yet, a similar argument that’s rarely brought up is that low wages have the exact same effect. After all, if people on the “fry line” or “flipping hamburgers” sees their managers, even general managers, struggle to pay bills, sees them on government support, sees them struggling paycheck to paycheck, then why work harder to take on that responsibility? If you tell someone who struggles to put food on the table that with 5-10 years of real hard work they can finally break through to the lower-middle class, what incentive is there in working harder? The more the middle class shrinks and the less meaning there is to being middle class (in that it doesn’t really provide as high a standard of living as its used to), the less incentive there is to work harder or be innovative.

Thus, it seems there’s a happy medium to be had, one where wages are staggered enough to provide enough incentive to work harder and be innovative, but pay well enough to provide enough incentive to get to that new position.

And that, kids, is why the minimum wage debate is so pointless. We’re debating over the minimum a person earns, which impacts about 3.9% of the population. Not that I’m against raising the minimum wage – we need to – but that in the best case scenario, raising it will give us one to two years of economic growth. After that, we’re back to debating on raising the wage again. And raising the minimum wage would inevitably send some jobs overseas (jobs that would have gone eventually, but an increase in minimum wage would be the tipping point). It wouldn’t be the doomsday scenario of conservative talkshow hosts, but it also wouldn’t be the economic utopia of liberal think-tanks. Raising the minimum wage, while necessary and overall good (even with some negative consequences), is focusing on the wrong problem.

See, our economic problem isn’t that our minimum wage is too low, it’s that our median wage is too low. Now, ultimately, our problem is greed, but you can’t legislate people to be virtuous and to give up their greed. You can, however, create an environment where they can’t practice their greed, or where you can limit their pursuits in the name of greed. After all, I can’t legislate someone from hating another person, but I can legislate stopping them from acting on that hate. Likewise, while I can’t prevent people having an attitude of greed, I can prevent them from acting on that greed. The reason our median wage is so low is because we’ve allowed people to act on their greed, and it’s time to stop.

When we allow economic inequality to continue, when we allow the poor to become poorer, when we allow the middle class to disappear quicker than the polar bears, we create an environment that inevitably leads to a revolution of sorts. The times we face are hardly unique to world history. Economic inequality preceded many horrible events in history, such as the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution. In both cases income inequality erupted into violence. But we often forget that income inequality and its crippling effect on a nation preceded the election of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Both Italy and Germany suffered from high income inequality prior to the rise of fascism, and Germany suffered from a national inferiority complex due to losing WWI (which radicalized their fascists into Nazis, a more extreme version of fascism). A combination of national pride, blaming of the “other,” and workers not making enough to live led to the eventual conquest of fascism.

Fast forward to the modern era and we’re on the brink of seeing a revival in fascism, both in Europe and the United States. In Europe the far-right parties such as UKIP (United Kingdom), Front National (France), Law and Justice (Poland), Danish People’s Party (Denmark), and many other nations are experiencing an increase in nationalistic movements. These movements typically focus on the struggle of the working class, but tend to blame immigrants rather than the ruling elite (though the ruling elite are still blamed, the vitriol is saved for immigrants). Within the United States we have Donald Trump on the verge of victory in the Republican Party and a legitimate shot at winning it all. Fascism is alive and well, but it doesn’t appear ex nihilo. Rational people who lead comfortable lives don’t just wake up one day and go, “You know what, I hate immigrants, the poor, and want a revolution.” Fascism can only find berth in a revolution, and a revolution only arises out of discontent. The breeding ground for fascism – lack of economic growth, stagnation in the real economy, lack of motivation to move ahead, a loss of hope – are real issues. Failing to adequately address and fix those issues will almost always lead to horrible results.

We’ve had 30 years of globalization policies that have all but destroyed our economy (as well as many other economies). There’s a popular video going around about a Disney worker losing his job and having to train foreign workers to take over his job, workers hired by Disney because they’ll work at a cheaper rate. Manufacturing jobs lost in the 80s and 90s due to recession went overseas and will never return. Wages have stagnated and fallen. We have an entire generation today that is worse off upon graduating high school and/or college than generations before them, which is a first in American history. A populist backlash – and make no mistake, fascism is populist, as is socialism – was inevitable. That backlash has taken on the form of Trump in the United States, but resembles different leaders and candidates in other nations.

The above are all very real problems. It’s a problem that a job can be sent overseas to near-slave labor (which doesn’t benefit the worker in that country or the worker in the US). The wage gap in America is a massive problem, allowing the super-rich undue influence in politics, which secures their position while lessening the position of the average voter. By ignoring economic justice, by removing our economic policies away from doing what is right, we’ve created a very dangerous situation, a breeding ground for one of the worst political ideologies to come out of the Enlightenment.

What, then, are we to do?

So About the 2014 Midterm Election: A Few Lessons We Ought to Learn


DSC02079The morning after the day of an election can either lead to much celebratory moods, or to the rending of garments followed by the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Or, in some cases, it leads to an frustrated apathy towards the entire system, believing that regardless of the win, nothing truly changed. Voting is a privilege and a civic duty so long as the vote is truly free and contributes to the political process; I leave it up to others to debate whether or not modern voting in America actually matters considering the massive quantities of corporate money flooding into the elections.

Aside from celebration, mourning, or apathy, there are a few lessons that we ought to learn from the midterm of 2014, something that no one is really covering.

  1. Voters don’t support Republicans – yes, Republicans won in a landslide, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they accept the Republican ideals, especially of the far right. The election was more about the frustration towards an ineffective Congress and an ineffective government. Were it the American people crying out to end “Obamacare” then the Republicans could have had this landslide back in 2012, yet they didn’t. For the past 20 years, Congress has fluctuated back and forth between Republican and Democrats, showing that the populace doesn’t necessarily agree with either side, but merely that they can only tolerate one side for so long before having to take a break. It shows voter frustration with the political process and the [lack of] progress of Congress. The midterm had far more to do with people tired of suffering in an economy that isn’t progressing; yes, the GDP is higher as is the stock market, and we’ve added jobs (though the quality of jobs is never addressed), but wages have remained stagnate and low while cost of living has increased. People are frustrated and changing parties doesn’t reflect a change in values or ideology, but a growing frustration that neither party is willing to admit exists. By ignoring it, voters become more and more angry, which at some point will reach a boiling point.
  2. Nothing actually changed – for all the supposed differences between Republicans and Democrats, nothing really changed. We still have a President who can veto bills, we have a Congress that is still pro-intervention in anything and everything overseas, we still have a pro-corporate/big business Congress, and we still have a Congress that will vote to cut taxes. Everyone forgets that Obama inherited a majority in the House and Senate in 2008 and subsequently did very little with it. Why? Because there aren’t a ton of differences between Democrats and Republicans; while differences exist, it’s like pointing to the differences between Baptists and Presbyterians, not Baptists and Atheists; it’s still one party cut from the same clothe.
  3. Our problems are cultural, not political – while these problems manifest themselves within political debates, they aren’t political to begin with. Until we address our cultural problems, it doesn’t matter who has the majority or what happens the midterm election, we’re voting in an ineffective congress. As a culture, or many cultures contradictory and competing cultures within one nation, we’re failing to understand each other and allow for disagreement. We want to enforce our point of view on everyone, to make them legally culpable to live the way we desire. And it doesn’t matter if we’re on the left or the right, we see our cause as just and believe no one ought to have a right to be wrong. Likewise, we have one culture that sees the plight of the poor and thinks it’s fixed through better government assistance (though such a thing doesn’t hurt, it’s ultimately ineffective if wages don’t increase) while another culture thinks the poor are poor by choice. They think private charity – something which simply isn’t big enough – ought to be used, but then they in turn rebuke the poor for being poor, calling them lazy and leeches. We have white people who don’t believe they’re privileged and we have black people who think if you’re white you’re automatically racist, by fact of being white (which is, ironically, racist). Culturally we’ve moved away from the progress made by the Civil Rights movement and instead moved towards self-imposed segregation. We’re not longer a people who value education, but rather value results; we want the test scores up, never stopping to question if pushing for increased test scores is actually our problem. And in the end, education isn’t truly valued as we come down on teachers and not the system.
  4. Our problems are even bigger than cultural, they’re spiritual – as a people, we don’t value the family. We still allow and promote abortion under the guise of “reproductive rights,” as though anyone has the right to terminate a human life. Yet, we also tell the poor to get two jobs, for both mom and dad to work and to work as much as possible, never thinking that such an economic system destroys the family. The left destroys the family through abortion and lax views of sexuality. But the right destroys the family through its economic policies requiring more work for less money, low-quality healthcare for pregnant women (which causes us to have a higher infant mortality rate than most other nations), and doing all we can to punish women for getting pregnant, leading many to see abortion as their only option. We’ve lost all sight of the sanctity of human life on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Both champion the individual above the ethical obligation to his neighbor. Both promote individualism, a heresy that places the individual above his community; for the left, this takes place in their social policies, and for the right it takes place in their view of why the rich ought to pay more. The left has abandoned God, only to bring him up when convenient. Yet, their version of Jesus is not too different from them, not indicating that they’ve conformed to Christ, but rather they’ve created a Christ who is conformed to them. On the right, however, the idea of America has supplanted God to the point they are one in the same. In the middle of it all, the idea of a God independent of nations, politics, or us is abandoned instead for a God crafted in the image of a Democrat or Republican. Spiritually, as a people, we’ve lost our way.
  5. We’ve lost our view of the common good – the midterm has shown one hard fact about us as a nation, and that’s that we’ve lost a view of the common good. The left has collapsed to the earth, pouring dust over their heads while crying out about how the end is near. The right is celebrating and gloating in their victory. Republicans are saying, “Finally, our views can reign supreme,” never thinking that perhaps their views aren’t absolute. Perhaps their views do not encompass what is best for everyone involved, but just for some. The same stands true of the left, having passed many laws that protect one class, but not all classes and even harming some classes. We no longer care for what is good for us all, merely what is good for me and my political party.

The midterm of 2014 won’t really change anything, but it does show something; our nation is dying. No one knows how long she has, but it should be clear to even the casual observer that she is mortally sick, that hospice should be put on notice, and that her end is sooner rather than later. To those who think that we’re immune to such a collapse or destruction, I merely ask you to look at history and observe that no great empire is immune to collapse or destruction. All Republics who move toward empire, who become as divided as we currently are, ultimately collapse. With our divides and ineffective political machine, choked by unqualified politicians and money from oligarchs, the United States is crumbling and dying, but not quite yet dead.

If we wish to revive our nation, if we wish to fix our broken political machine, then we must first become a better people. Our culture must change before our political system changes. Our recovery must occur from the inside, it must happen within homes, communities, cities, and states. As a people we must become better, we must become virtuous, otherwise we’ll continue to elect ineffective politicians after ineffective politicians. We must never forget that we are the solution to the problems in Congress, for the problems in Congress reflect one ultimately problem; us.

The Republicans Won…and?


Yesterday was a historic moment in America, with the Republicans gaining more seats in the election than has happened in 70 years. It was an extremely lopsided victory for the Republican political machine. Even though they did not win the senate, they did gain seats and won back a few Democratic strongholds in the senate.

To the Republicans I ask a simple question; so what? The Democrats lost because they were obviously out of touch with voters. While America wanted reforms, they didn’t want the drastic reforms that a Democratic Congress brought about. Thus, as a response, they elected Republicans. This should weigh heavily on the Republicans’ minds – voters didn’t elect Republicans because the Republicans had an excellent plan, Republicans were elected because they weren’t Democrats.

As anyone who survived high school will tell you, if a girl dates you for the simple fact that it’ll make her ex-boyfriend mad (or because she’s mad at him), your relationship isn’t going to be the thing of romance novels.

Republicans must never forget that they too were ousted in 2006 because they had lost touch with the voters. Back then, voters wanted reform, not politicians who simply sat there and did nothing. The Republicans chose to do nothing and they paid for it. The Democrats brought in too much reform.

Ultimately, this is the problem I have with democracy. At some point the representatives fail to be truly representative. At some point they begin to represent their own special interests. It’s no secret that the person with the best name recognition usually wins. Of course, the best way to gain name recognition is to have lots of money, and generally where there’s lots of money there’s lots of corruption (not always, but generally).  Lobbyists, businesses, and backroom deals are the general composition of any successful political bid.

With the above in mind, where does that leave the average American? What civic purpose do I have to vote when my vote won’t ultimately count? I’ll vote for a politician who said one thing and ultimately ended up accomplishing another. I’ll vote for someone who comes across as a moderate, but ends up being an extremist (either to the left or to the right). Continue reading