As with so many things in my life, I’ve long known what is good for me, what would be best for me, but have long failed to muster the will to act on this knowledge. This is true when it comes to eating right and running every day just as it is for how I entertain myself. This can go on no more. For example, whether I believe that the “mainstream media” has a “liberal” bias or not, I know that it is biased, by the dollar. It’s a capitalist endeavor. It responds to market forces. Especially in the age of media consolidation, it’s literally owned by large corporate interests. This is no less true for media that caters to those who lean “left” in the sphere of secular politics (MSNBC viewers) than it is for those who consume Fox News. In both cases, they (the corporate interests that own the media) crave eyeballs. They’ll gin up whatever controversy they can to get viewers. Once their audience is captivated by the spectacle they’re broadcasting, they can sell it something, which is their most important agenda. I don’t doubt that there are some heartfelt pundits out there and even some legitimate journalists who serve in the field of broadcast media, but if they work for any of the big media companies- in other words, if you can find them on TV- they have corporate masters they must serve, and those masters value the dollar over anything else. These capitalists made Trump a household name as a TV personality and endlessly covered him “for free” once he ran. Trump is a product to be sold as much as he is anything else. Once he ran, the corporate overlords he serves repackaged him to gin up support for his candidacy on Fox News, and on the other side they repackaged him to gin up opposition on MSNBC, and most of us tuned in, whichever story about him we preferred to hear. We’re still tuning in.
Pick a metaphor. If Trump is a bully, he craves our attention, good or bad. While we must vigilantly inform ourselves of his actions that harm or oppress others, again he wants our attention, and we do ourselves and those he would harm or oppress, not to mention the world, a great service when, as much as we can, we ignore him. Here’s another metaphor that paints the same picture. If Trump is a fire, he needs oxygen. When we again pay attention to his bombast- his ignorant, racist, sexist, and hurtful comments, we give it to him.
Let’s stop doing that.
We can start by turning off our TV. We can inform ourselves in other ways. Subscribe to your local paper. Take the time to read it. Many of them are owned by big corporations too, but that consolidation is driven by market forces like everything else; so let’s create a market for local, independent media. Of course in the internet age, at least so long as freedom of speech and of the press persist in the U.S., we can find many, many sources online that can help to keep us informed about what truly matters while limiting the chances that we’ll be reduced to mere consumers in the process.
As I write this my phone alerted me that the Dow Jones closed at a record high today. Markets plunged as Trump’s election became ever more a possibility and then a reality, but now that the reality has begun to set in, they seem to be doing just fine, at least for now. Why? Because the market isn’t interested in the betterment of humanity. Capitalism doesn’t care if people of color suffer and refugees die while trying to get to a country where the rigged economic system is rigged for (some of) its inhabitants rather than against them. The love of money is indeed the root of all evil, and now that the uncertainty about the election is over, capitalism will churn on just like it always has, serving those who know how to “game the system” like Trump literally at the expense of many, many others.
Let’s act to change that. The old axiom is true. We vote every day, in no small part with our dollars. Do you know where yours go? Do you know what kind of future you’re buying with them? If you don’t, find out! Learn something about the corporations that make the products you most consume every day. Whether or not you believe “corporations are people too,” our government and economic system seems to. So find out what kind of (global, usually) citizen they are. If their supply chain involves child labor on the other side of the globe, or the woman who sowed your sweatshirt worked long hours for minimal pay in unsafe conditions with no healthcare, this makes not calling such workers “slaves” a distinction without a difference. So stop buying that brand from that store. Act! Demand better. Support your local MCC Thrift store, for example.
I mentioned turning off your TV above in the context of not letting big corporations be the primary way we get our information, and thereby letting them be the primary shaper of our opinions. There’s another reason to turn it off, though. It’s just too easy after a stressful day at work and a long commute for some of us to plop in front of the TV to let ourselves be entertained, even if “thoughtfully” or “artfully.” Look, there’s some good entertainment out there. I know. There’s even some that makes me think and challenges my worldview. There may be some good to this. But let’s not be deceived. Even the thought-provoking entertainment is a product we’re being sold, and to the extent that we go along with this we again reduce ourselves to mere consumers. Whether we’re consuming the next heartwarming drama or cable news, it’s our self-interest that is being catered to and commodified, whether “enlightened” or not. So I’m challenging myself as much as I may be challenging you to cut the cord, whether Comcast delivers your Netflix via your cable box or cable modem. Let’s turn our TV’s off for a while. Let’s read a book or go for a run. Let’s meet a neighbor and get to know them, especially if they had a yard sign for the candidate you didn’t vote for. If enough of us did this, we’d be much better able to resist the stories Trump’s corporate masters want to tell us about ourselves and our neighbor and the world we live in, for if the election taught us anything, it’s that we can’t counter Fox News with MSNBC. We just can’t. It won’t work, and it never has. And even a (second) Clinton presidency, however much more enlightened it may have been, would not have enabled us to overcome the partisanship that divides us so that we could actually create the kind of world we hope our kids grow up in.
Let’s look at a few issues:
I don’t doubt that a Trump presidency will likely be devastating for the environment, for the good world that God made. A Trump presidency that favors fracking and reducing the reach of the EPA will likely accelerate the processes that are destroying our air and water. But let’s be honest. A Clinton presidency would likely have only slowed that destruction. So we can kill the planet quickly or slowly. We’re right to be upset that a quick death seems to be what the country voted for, but it’s hypocritical if we wouldn’t have been just as upset at a Clinton presidency that might have slowed the process but likely would have done little to change its root causes.
A Trump presidency will likely be devastating for disadvantaged communities in the U.S. Even/especially if Trump winds up acting on the economic principles that Paul Ryan might want him to, I don’t believe that ever more unfettered consumer capitalism in the form of an efficient market with little regulation and few or no taxes will create the conditions in which the poor through their hard work and thrift can rise above their circumstances to achieve the “American dream.” This won’t happen because a more efficient market will do nothing to root out systemic racism and misogyny, while it will more efficiently grow the school to prison pipeline, for example, because there’s a market for it. The prospect of Attorney General Giuliani instituting stop-and-frisk nationwide is truly horrific. It’s been shown not only that this program doesn’t work but that people of color are disproportionately targeted by it, no doubt worsening the mass incarceration of people of color. That said, is it likely that Clinton, even with a cooperative Congress, would have not only shut down the for-profit private prison industry but also created a system that equitably funds every school across the country while simultaneously providing a living wage for every single USAmerican while eliminating racial bias in our law enforcement and justice systems and fully funding childcare and early education systems so that every child, especially children of color, live in an environment that enables them to achieve academic success commensurate with their potential? Sadly, I don’t think there’s a market for this. It just wouldn’t have happened. So are we really so upset that poor folks will stay poor because of “conservative” policies and principles instead of staying (maybe a little less) poor because of “liberal” ones?
Let’s take just one more issue(s). If Trump follows through on his promises, the U.S. will become even less welcoming to refugees fleeing war and immigrants seeking a better life than it already is. Compare our response to the refugee crisis to that of rest of the world, for example. There is no comparison. In mid 2015 the U.S. had 0.84 refugees per 1,000 of our own inhabitants. Germany had 3.10. Chad had 30.97. We have more (stolen from Indigenous peoples) land and resources than any single European country by far, but have accepted far, far fewer refugees than most European countries, which is to say nothing of countries in other parts of the world. Speaking of Indigenous peoples, it’s the most sinful hypocrisy that we European descendants took a continent from its native inhabitants while committing genocide against them and partitioning off their descendants on virtual concentration camps could then say this land is “our” country and further have the gall to say that others can only come here under conditions that suit and don’t inconvenience us. While a Clinton presidency may not have resulted in a giant wall along the border with Mexico or cut off all Syrian or Muslim refugees, a hawkish President Clinton may have only exacerbated the Syrian conflict that is making its citizens flee, and even if not, the conflict that perpetually roils that region is often fueled by an interventionist U.S. foreign policy motivated in no small part by economic interests. Trump says he’ll just “take the oil.” Clinton likely would not have done so but would have perpetuated the systems by which global corporations with strong ties to the U.S. do, all so that we rich Westerners can keep enjoying our “freedom” to drive wherever we want to, whenever we want to. Is there really much of a difference?
Likewise, whether NAFTA gets rescinded or renegotiated or not, the economic conditions and crime that drive Mexicans to risk their lives to cross the border illegally are unlikely to have been dramatically improved under a Clinton presidency. We USAmericans like our way of life but won’t admit that it’s unsustainable and that it’s literally impossible for everyone to live this way. We consume far too much of the world’s resources and create far too much of its waste. “All boats” cannot rise to the level of comfort some of us here in the U.S. enjoy. If devastating poverty around the world is to be really improved, we rich USAmericans must move down the economic ladder a bit. Our standard of living must decrease so that the standard of living of the world’s poorest citizens can increase. Put simply, we must be better at sharing. I don’t think a Clinton presidency would have seriously addressed this. Do you?
I will confess that I was and am devastated by the results of this election. This surreal, dystopian moment we find ourselves in, in which the nation’s first Black President has to give up the “White” House to the KKK endorsed candidate is the stuff of nightmares. There’s already talk- and evidence– of press access to Trump being restricted, thereby limiting our ability to watch this dangerous man with the scrutiny he deserves. Meanwhile, the “Trump effect” has taken hold in the nation’s discourse as civility has gone out the window and racist, misogynistic rhetoric is normalized, perpetuated, and encouraged. There are ever more reports of minorities being harassed and women being harangued. I have a conservative Evangelical co-worker whom I trust loves Jesus very much and believed he was following him as best he can as he voted for Trump. Yesterday as an incident of school bullying attributed to the Trump effect was described to this co-worker, he asked incredulously “…and this is Trump’s fault?!” The answer is unequivocally yes. Trump’s “locker room talk,” his racist “dog whistle” rhetoric, his deplorable descriptions of whole people groups as criminals and rapists and calls to ban whole religions from entering the country has emboldened and encouraged those who think this way. Worse, it’s influenced those who may not have previously thought this way, at least consciously, to perhaps consider this an acceptable way of speaking, let alone acting. This is deplorable, even if the people who would let themselves be influenced in this way are not. I could go on and on about all the reasons to be sad, angry, and terrified at the election of Trump, and I’ve described some of them above.
I need to be honest, though, and clear in my own thinking, as I’ve also described above how a Clinton presidency would have been obviously better about some of these issues, but only to a point, and not nearly to the point where the deepest and most entrenched problems might have been solved. I long ago disabused myself of the notion that USAmerica was a “city on a hill,” a “new Israel” by which the nations of the world might be saved or healed (there are people who think this, unfortunately, and I grew up under their influence). The world does have a rescuer, however, and even now he beckons us to join together and love his world by living like he did and doing the things that he did. Jesus got violently angry when capitalists tried to institute a market economy in a place of worship. In the midst of a political and economic system that demanded total allegiance he said to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” because Caesar’s face was on the coins Jesus’ followers would have paid their taxes with, but simultaneously he said to “give to God what is God’s,” thereby implying that Caesar could not own everything and therefore Caesar’s authority and power was limited and marginal. In this same culture it was common to say that “Caesar is Lord” again because he demanded such total allegiance and subservience from his subjects. Therefore, when Jesus followers proclaimed instead that “Jesus is Lord,” they were saying that Caesar is not, and they were likely guilty of treason. This was a profound political statement and should carry the same currency (ha!) today.
Today whether Trump is Caesar, or Hillary is, neither of them are Lord. So let’s live like Jesus is Lord, like he is our Commander-in-Chief. Let’s make government-run social safety nets superfluous because we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and serve the poor so well that they have no need for government assistance. Let’s visit, befriend, and advocate for the prison population so overwhelmingly that for profit prison corporations abandon the industry just because they’re sick of dealing with us. Let’s stand with Standing Rock in such force, with such relentless peaceful protest and nonviolent civil disobedience (if need be), that there simply aren’t enough officers from neighboring states to arrest us all. Let’s flood the mailboxes and email inboxes of Congress, the President, and the oil companies with so many petitions and requests that they abandon their work and respect the rights and treaties of Indigenous people, again simply because it’s easier than dealing with us. Let’s care for the sick among us so well that Obamacare becomes irrelevant and there’s no profit in healthcare for the big corporations.
I could go on, but these are just a few of the things we would do if we really believed that Jesus is Lord rather than Caesar, the market, or our own (enlightened or not) self-interest. To do this, of course, we’ll need each other. We’ll need to be organized, motivated, and informed. We’ll need to stop “going to church” (as if that were possible) and start being the Church. We’ll need to share our resources and ideas, our homes and our income and our lives. We’ll need to resist the evil that will occur under President Trump, just as we ought to have been resisting the evil committed under (the much more likable, respectable, intelligent, and civil) President Obama (drones, record deportations, and DAPL come to mind, for starters), and just as we ought to have resisted the evil that would have occurred under a would be President Clinton. As one dad apparently wrote to his son after the election and which has been making the rounds on social media:
“Trump won. Don’t panic. The world won’t end. The country won’t fall apart. We’re just underdogs now, caring about women, minorities, decency, and truth. You’re going to have a job now: Be Extra Moral. Rebel against meanness. Be kind. Heal things. Inspire people with optimism. Most of all, LOVE.”
The truth is we’ve always been underdogs whether we’re resisting overt individual racist acts under President Trump or more subtle systemic racism under President Obama and all the presidents who came before him. We’ve always been underdogs whether we’re resisting the DAPL or the 85% unemployment rate that exists on some reservations. If we who would follow Jesus ever find ourselves in the position where we’re not underdogs, we need to open our eyes and look around. Chances are Jesus is nowhere in sight.
He’s not hard to find though. He’s always on the margins, with the “least of these,” eating and drinking with prostitutes and sinners, working to heal the sick, not the well, and sometimes breaking the (religious) law to do so. It’s more important than it ever has been to pay attention to what God is up to, what he’s doing in this moment in history, so that we can join him in his mission to love, heal, serve, and save the world; so that we can join him in his ministry of reconciliation. He beckons us to follow him, even now. Let’s go.