Wake Up, America!

Not the time for sentimental politics

Let’s tell the truth about these times!  On the bright side, the recent Black Lives Matter movement continues to build and will hopefully carry us to long-overdue progress in race relations.  On the darker side, however, we live in the grip of one of the worst pandemics in the recent history of our planet.  Added to this, our nation is saddled with the what is arguably most incompetent and corrupt presidency in our 244 years as a democratic republic (witness Donald Trump’s recent attack on the United States Postal Service).  With a little over two months until the 2020 presidential election, we don’t have much time to sort ourselves out and come up with a concrete plan and vision for these times.

Having said this, we have to WAKE UP, America, and do everything we can to win in November.  Gradually, what many see as the corrupt world of Donald Trump is caving in–the endless lies and falsehoods, the acts of cruelty and inhumanity, the utterly demeaning discarding of blacks and browns, of LGBTQs, and of foreigners and women.

Facing the moment.  Perhaps the most telling observation about Trump has been noted by Tony Schwartz, the author of Trump’s book, The Art of the Deal: “He is absolutely incapable of empathy.”  Think for a minute about what that suggests!

The implications of a lack of empathy–of not caring–go deep and lead to tragic consequences:

  • The thousands of precious children separated from their families on our border with Mexico (thousands of whom have still not been reunited with their families).
  • The 175,000 Americans who have died due to Trump’s notorious mismanagement of the coronavirus epidemic.  Trump’s focus continues to be on his own reelection, not the staggering number of deaths.  He can’t seem to work out the math on how they are connected.

In contrast, we note what the President does seem to care about:

  • He cares about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and the adulation he receives at his rallies.
  • In an effort to stoke a “cultures war”, he cares about Confederate statues and monuments, along with making sweeping false allegations about the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the days ahead, as millions of Americans continue to note the ugliness and darkness of Trump’s lies and distortions about virtually everything–added to his relentless attacks on the very foundations of our democracy (i.e., fair elections)–we will continue to fill in the gaps in our understanding of the man in the oval office.  It is not a pretty picture.

It is a picture of a man who tends to view everything as transactional–as, what’s in it for him?  How does it enable him to win?  With the election on the horizon, Trump is obsessed with getting re-elected, whatever the cost, whatever the morality of the election process.  For Trump–always–there is no higher principle than his own self-interest.

Wisdom from a parable.  For some perspective on this, let’s look at Jesus’ Parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-8), perhaps the most difficult to interpret of all Jesus’ parables.

In the parable, a rich property owner has a manager who is mismanaging his property.  So the owner asks the manager for a final accounting of his debtors while telling him he can no longer be his manager.

So, wanting to endear himself to his master’s debtors for his possible future benefit now that he’s about to lose his job, the dishonest manager summons each of them and tells them to pay less than what they actually owe.  Learning of this, to our surprise, the master praises the dishonest manager for being so shrewd, saying: “… the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light (Luke 16:8).” While this parable has puzzled both ancient and modern interpreters forever, let’s look at a possible interpretation.

In the story, we have the juxtaposition of “the children of this age” (the children of darkness) over against “the children of light.”  This juxtaposition has some notable implications.

In his classic book, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, the great American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, defines the “children of darkness” as those who see no higher law than their own self-interest and self will.  In contrast, the “children of light” are those who believe self-interest should be brought under the discipline of a higher, universal law that seeks to balance their interests with the interests of the whole.

We are reminded that evil, according to Niebuhr, is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard for the whole.  The “doers” of this evil are the moral cynics of the world.  They understand the power of their own self-interest.  In contrast, “the good” understand the need for self-interest to be subordinated to a higher law or universal principle.

The problem with “the good,” says Niebuhr, is they are naive.  Because of their inherent goodness, they underestimate the power of self-interest in “the children of darkness.”  “The good” are too sentimental.  There is a place for sentimentality.  But when “darkness” keeps staring us in the face, we have to recognize evil for what it is and have the will and the courage to tell the truth about its destructive power.

Not the time for sentimental politics.  So, moving forward, what can we do?  To begin with, we have to WAKE UP America and see the seriousness of these corrupt times for what they are.  We can win this moment.  The November election will be the most important election in U.S. history.  We have to do everything we can, therefore, to get out the vote and to fight for a fair election.

It seems clear that Trump and his party will go to great ends–as they are already doing–to suppress the vote.  They will try to limit voter registration and make existent registration more difficult.  They will seek to curtail early voting and reduce the number of voting sites, along with voting hours.  They will welcome the interference of Russia and any other country that can assist them.  Worse yet, Trump is now doing everything he can to limit the ability of the United States Postal Service to provide reliable and timely service in support of mail-in voting.  As we are already seeing in the campaign advertising, this election will be dirty and ugly beyond anything we have ever seen.

We have to toughen up, brace for challenge ahead, and fight back as best we can.  This is not a time for sentimental politics.  At stake is the future of our democracy.  As others  have noted, the Trump presidency has been the greatest threat to our democracy since the Civil War and the greatest threat to our Constitution ever.  As experts on authoritarianism tell us, many of the strategies employed by Trump are right out of the dictator’s playbook.

WAKE UP, America!  As the election day nears, we have to stay focused, determined, and not allow the early polling to make us complacent in any way.  And as a nation, up to the election and beyond, we have to aim for the moral high ground–the high ground of core values derived from our Christian faith.  We have to do everything we can to defend these values and never give up the dream of our Founders to achieve a more perfect union.

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired church pastor who began his ministry in the Baptist tradition before becoming a minister in the United Church of Christ. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In and his just published book: The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Boynton Beach, Florida.

** ProgressiveChristianity.org Editor’s Note: The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the official policy of ProgressiveChristianity.org. Any content provided by authors to our website are of their own opinion; we are not becoming a political organization, but we feel unusual times like these times call for a theological response.

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