By Rudy Barnes, Jr.
On Thanksgiving morning I ran across an article from the National Review captioned This Thanksgiving, Thank Donald J. Trump. I thought it must be satire, but soon discovered it was not. It begins: “This Thanksgiving, Americans in general — and free-market conservatives in particular — have plenty for which to be grateful. And much of it would be absent had the White House’s current occupant not become president on November 8, 2016.”
The article contends that Trump should be given credit for improving economic conditions and that his deplorable personal behavior can be ignored as irrelevant to U.S. politics. The opposite is true. Favorable economic conditions are tenuous. Without renewed moral underpinnings for American politics they will degrade further to reveal their fundamental weakness. America the Beautiful will become America the Ugly—if it isn’t already.
I was stunned that a publication I once considered the jewel of political conservatism would publish an article praising Donald Trump. It precipitated a dark revelation of ontological proportions for me, and brought to mind a recent article by Garrison Keillor: I’m a Conservative. It reminded me that traditional terms describing political views such as conservative, liberal, libertarian and socialist have become muddled, and left me wondering how to describe myself.
I’ve always considered myself a conservative and Garrison Keillor a liberal, but his article resonated with me. It seems that we both share reverence for traditional values related to family, community and culture, and are also open to progressive change. I always thought that most sensible Southerners shared my moderate free-market conservatism, but I was proved wrong on November 8, 2016, when most white Southerners voted for Donald Trump.
Southerners have traditionally been libertarian conservatives who favor individual freedom and limited government. They oppose socialism, but as people of faith they understand the need to balance individual rights with providing for the common good. They have a healthy skepticism of both Tea-Party neo-libertarians who seek to eviscerate government, and socialist liberals who seek to eviscerate traditional values. Occasionally they have supported populist demagogues like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman and Donald Trump, but that has not been the norm.
Since Trump’s election commentators have described his supporters as undereducated white voters motivated by their eroding political power and their distorted Christian beliefs. But the National Review article blew the cover of Trump’s more quiescent but formidable rich and powerful allies. It is eerily reminiscent of the Antebellum South, when aristocrats exacerbated the fear of poor white dirt farmers to support secession and fight a terrible Civil War.
My dark revelation was of an unholy alliance between white evangelical Christians who follow a distorted prosperity gospel and rich and powerful Randian objectivists on Wall Street who are the primary beneficiaries of Trump’s economic policies. It will take a moral revival to convince Trump’s less affluent evangelical supporters that they have been exploited by Trump’s Wall Street allies and convince them to promote a new standard of morality in politics.
A moral revival in politics must be led by the church. Christians provided Trump with his margin of victory and will likely determine the outcome of the next election. To counter the corrosive influence of wealth in politics, the church must restore the primacy of the teachings of Jesus over distorted evangelical beliefs that have supported radical right politics and that are closer to the self-centered objectivism of Ayn Rand than to the altruistic teachings of Jesus.
The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and that includes our neighbors of other races and religions. It is a common word of faith and a moral imperative for Jews, Christians and Muslims that can provide the foundation for a moral revival in religion and politics; but such a revival will require a new spiritual Awakening to unite a fragmented church that has lost its moral compass.
America is polarized by partisan politics defined by the radical right and radical left, with moderate voters left on the sidelines. Trump and his Republican supporters are more than a passing political aberration. The rich and powerful are in control, but they are just 1% of Americans and rely on exploiting others to maintain their grip on power. Most of the remaining 99% are people of faith whose moral values—if revived—can save America from itself.
For the National Review article This Thanksgiving, Thank Donald J. Trump, see http://www.nationalreview.com/article/454028/donald-trump-accomplishments-thanksgiving.
For Garrison Keillor’s article, I’m a Conservative in the Washington Post, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/im-a-conservative/2017/11/07/1d2a9890-c3e2-11e7-afe9-4f60b5a6c4a0_story.html?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1.
On evangelicals having to choose between morality and the corrupt radical right politics of Donald Trump and Roy Moore, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/for-some-evangelicals-a-choice-between-moore-and-morality/2017/11/16/27a28a16-cadc-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1.
Ilya Somin has taken issue with the assertion of Will Wilkinson that “libertarian skepticism about democracy is a major cause of the current pathologies of the political right in the U.S,” and has argued that libertarianism may be a remedy rather than the cause of radical right politics. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/11/05/will-wilkinson-on-libertarian-democracy-skepticism/?wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1.
Jim Wallis has suggested that Christians are facing a spiritual reckoning a year into Trump’s presidency on the corruption of standards of morality in the areas of sex, money and power. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/a-year-into-trumps-presidency-christians-are-facing-a-spiritual-reckoning/2017/11/17/551dc318-cafd-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?undefined=&wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
On how the prosperity gospel explains Donald Trump’s popularity with Christian voters, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/07/15/how-the-prosperity-gospel-explains-donald-trumps-popularity-with-christian-voters/?wpisrc=nl_headlines&wpmm=1.
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(3/8/15): Wealth, Politics, Religion and Economic Justice
(3/22/15): The Power of Humility and the Arrogance of Power
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(8/2/15): Freedom and Fundamentalism
http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2015/08/freedom-and-fundamentalism.html (8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(10/18/15): God, Money and Politics
(3/26/16): Religion, Democracy, Diversity and Demagoguery
(4/23/16): Standards of Legitimacy in Morality, Manners and Political Correctness
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/14/16): The Arrogance of Power, Humility and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/4/16): Christianity and Capitalism: Strange Bedfellows in Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(10/18/15): God, Money and Politics
(8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(2/11/17): The Mega-Merger of Wall Street, Politics and Religion
(2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/3/17): When Winning Trumps Mercy and Losing is Evil
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power
(9/23/17): Tribalism and the American Civil Religion
(11/4/17): What to Believe? Truth or Consequences in Religion and Politics http://www.religionlegitimacyandpolitics.com/2017/11/what-to-believe-truth-or-consequences.html.
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy