The result of the US election will have ramifications reverberating around the world for decades to come. As the global ethics network has already articulated: “11/9 will probably turn out to be more significant even than 9/11”.
Should the result surprise us – probably not? Its manifestations have recently been on blatant display in the Philippines, terrifyingly in Turkey and more subtly in the UK. Clearly a significant proportion of the global population feels it has been left behind by global trade, by the political elite who have become blatantly self-serving, by multinational companies and by institutional life generally.
While this trend deserves investigation and understanding on multiple fronts, in this piece I want to ask why the Christian right put its support behind Trump, including the Australian political right through voices such as Cori Bernardi. How is it possible for Christians to support a person who clearly lies about almost everything, who insults minorities, who pays no tax, who makes use of hatred as a political tool, who has mistreated those who have helped build his wealth, who wants to deny universal healthcare, who admires leaders like Putin: how is it possible that the Christian right would find this attractive?
The answer to this question sadly tells me that popular Christianity in the 21st century is part of the problem, not part of the solution, that it does not reflect the Biblical narrative, nor does it reflect the transformative life of Jesus.
How can I say such a confronting thing? The biblical narrative speaks of the incarnate Son of God as the Lord of Life – all of life. The prologue of the Gospel of John draws us immediately into Jesus the Word of God as being wisdom at the heart of creation itself. The biblical narrative makes it abundantly clear that a choice for Jesus has implications for the whole of life: that the individual needs to be understood within the context of the relationships and communities of which he or she is part.
The Christian right appears to have reduced this down to a teaching that Jesus is all about, only about, personal salvation and the hope of eternal life. The Christian right has made it clear that abandoning the public space is the acceptable Christian way, for apparently the only thing that matters is private morality (sex and gender) and personal piety. (This has long appeared to be reflected in Australia through the Australian Christian Lobby). Donald Trump can easily accommodate this corralled version of Christianity, indeed he can be its champion. If he is ‘born again’ as the Christian right trumpets, the penny has dropped for him that he can protect personal piety from all comers, especially rival piety –Islam, and he can easily legislate even more strongly about abortion and gay rights. Having fulfilled this ‘Christian obligation’ he is then free to do as he pleases in the maelstrom of public life – or not.
This is where the irony lies. He appears to have no sense of what is genuinely ‘public’. Everything to him appears to be about the individual. The individual’s rights to carry guns must be protected. The individual’s right to pay as little tax as possible has to be protected. America’s right as an individual nation to pursue its interests regardless of the rest of the world has to be protected. The environmental needs of the planet are to be totally ignored because they unnecessarily impinge upon the rights of the individual to make money.
It is in the obsession that he has, and the Christian right has, with the individual that is perhaps the genesis of the happy marriage between the two. It is a view that gains absolutely no comfort from scripture. The Biblical view is that the individual is always part of a community in which we are all as strong as the weakest and all as rich as the poorest. The biblical view is that no individual has rights that trump (sorry about the pun) the needs and rights of the community as a whole.
This is of course where Trump has played a confidence trick. Those who feel most aggrieved (with very good reason) about the behaviour of the privileged elite are the ones who most need the blessings that flow from belonging to the community as a whole. They will not find this help under Trump, or those who hold to his view of life. Under Trump if you fail to prosper, in the end it will be your fault, in his view he will have been the greatest president of all time, he will have “made America great again” and those who continue to miss out will have only themselves to blame.