A friend of mine posted a thoughtful column from the Chicago Tribune on her Facebook page Friday. Entitled “Donald Trump’s Behavior is Not Normal,” it is one of many such commentaries lamenting the tsunami of adolescent behaviors that swept out of the capital and across the land this past week. Like the columnist, even I was shocked at some of the antics we endured.
But it was this line in the columnist’s analysis that stopped me in my tracks:
“[I]t's weird to hear a president using that kind of language. It's not normal.”
Actually it’s not weird at all. This is part and parcel of the Trumpland that enough American voters chose to allow the popular loser to become an electoral president. These are the values the head of Trumpland evidenced consistently throughout the campaign.
They are the values about which white voters - and white evangelicals in particular - lied to themselves as they held their noses and voted for a moral monster reassuring themselves “He really doesn’t mean that.”
But he did. And he does. And now he is showing us exactly what he meant. Ironically, while the CEO of Trumpland is a pathological liar, patently untrustworthy and willing to instantly turn on his closest allies when he perceives it benefits him, he has never made any pretenses about who he was and what he was about.
On that score, he was perhaps the only honest one who showed up on election day.
Normal in Trumpland
Contrary to the protestations of this columnist and many like him, the behaviors we have witnessed this past week are quite normal for this new reality called Trumpland. While it bears passing resemblance to the America which died on Nov. 7, 2016, its values - and thus its acceptable behaviors - are very different.
Many of us living in Trumpland are desperately trying to convince ourselves that this is still our country. We tell ourselves that we’re going to take it back in the mid-term election and, if not, certainly in the 2020 presidential election.
Cue the confetti and “Don’t Stop Thinkin’ About Tomorrow.”
But the reality is this is a stacked system. It’s a system of Koch Brothers gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts. Its elections have devolved into a Citizens United auction to the highest bidder for campaign funding. And between the strong possibility of Russian election tampering procured by the reigning political party of Trumpland and the persistent efforts to suppress voting at the state and federal levels, the results of its elections lack legitimacy.
We may be appalled by this love child we spawned through our willingness to let corporate and vested moneyed interests have their way with us over the last 40 years of neoliberalism, and we should be. But the truth is we acquiesced to this stacking of our system every step of the way. Now like the frog who relaxed in the gradually heating pan of water on the stove, the water is beginning to boil and we are far too relaxed to jump out.
A Context to Call Forth Our Better Angels
Though I have always been highly critical of socially constructed realities and ideological patterns of thinking all my life, I am hardly a pessimist by nature. For me, critique is always a tool in service to the calling to live into our better angels. I am a hopeful human being and, truth be told, I work very hard at seeing the image of G-d on every human face including those I find most disagreeable.
Especially those I find most disagreeable.
But over the years any optimism I might have clung to has become highly attenuated by the avoidable suffering I have observed in places all over the world from the bloody fields of Central America to the shuttered houses of Flint, MI to the sprawling outdoor prison that is the West Bank. Even in light of those atrocities, I have never found the dark determinist caricatures of human nature articulated by men of privilege from Augustine to Calvin to Machiavelli to be particularly compelling.
But like della Mirandola, Locke and Mencius, whose positive humanist visions I tend to share, I recognize that without providing the proper social context for virtue to be cultivated, the vices of greed, privilege and power lust will sprout like weeds and overcome any garden plot. Our best and highest angels simply cannot come to the fore in an adolescent consumerist culture whose Prime Directive is “What’s in it for me?”
Building a New Beloved Country
“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that's the
inheritor of our fear…” – Alan Patton, Cry the Beloved Country
In the end, I believe it is inevitable that Trumpland will ultimately implode upon itself. Regimes built of fear and loathing always do but often with great harm to life and destructiveness in the process.
Let me emphasize, I absolutely do NOT wish to be proven right here. Like the Hebrew prophets, I take no pleasure in articulating the visions I see even as I feel compelled to proclaim them. And I continue to hope disaster can be averted, that it will be cultural evolution which prevails in my once beloved country and not the angry devolution – if not armed revolution - that increasingly appears more and more likely.
But it’s columns like this one – plaintive calls to simply return to a normal which no longer exists - that alarm me more than the content of the daily offerings from Trumpland’s Twitter-in-Chief. There is a sense in this column that if we simply insist that this moral monster and all his immoral minions will just behave themselves, everything will be OK.
But it won’t. And it is this avoidant approach, rooted in denial of the reality we face, that suggests to me that the trainwreck that is Trumpland will continue to barrel toward that cliff with no signs of slowing down.
In the wake of failed states, it is always incumbent upon those who survive to build a new land. That will be the task of the New America that will be forced to raise itself from the ashes of Trumpland. This is where hope comes into the picture without which the current reality would drive anyone to despair.
But there will be no quick fixes. There will be no room for instant gratification. If this process shall prove successful, it will require at least the patient, deliberate consideration that the original America required. And it will require the angry, fearful denizens of Trumpland to learn how to once again listen to, care for and ultimately trust one another.
I pray every day for the coming of that New America. And I hope that if I survive, I can play my own role in the building of a new beloved country.
“The great valley of Umzimkulu is still in darkness, but the light will come there. Ndotsheni is still in darkness, bu the light will come there also. For it is the dawn that has come, as it has come for a thousand centuries, never failing.”
– Alan Patton, Cry the Beloved Country
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)
© Harry Coverston 2017