Saturday, July 21, 2018

Musings on America's Moral and Political Mess and Who Should Clean It Up

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

In the wake of President Trump’s destabilizing diplomacy--disparaging NATO leaders in Brussels, criticizing Theresa May in London and praising Putin in Helsinki--Americans have now seen their narcissistic president make a moral and political mess both at home and abroad.  But Trump is merely symptomatic of the problem. He was right when he said that Americans are stupid. After all, they elected Trump as their president, and they will have to clean up his mess.
In politics Trump has put himself first, and made his America First nationalism the moral equivalent of Putin’s strategy to denigrate and destabilize America’s allies.  Tim O’Brien has noted that “Trump likes the ideas of leaders being destabilized and therefore easier to manipulate for him. He is trying to make everyone look weak and doesn't understand how all the moving parts work. He sees it as a zero-sum game where the United States can call the shots.”

With polarized partisan politics at home and a dysfunctional foreign policy abroad, Trump and his Republican minions could transform a libertarian U.S. democracy into a fascist state.  There is no middle ground left between a radical right Republican Party and a leftist Democrat Party to prevent such a political degradation. It will take a third party to promote a politics of reconciliation based on shared values and restore equilibrium to American democracy.

A third party must have a viable nationwide structure and represent broadly shared conservative values in order to compete with the existing partisan duopoly, and no existing third party has the wherewithal to do that.  But since over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians, and since an overwhelming majority of them elected Donald Trump, the church could be a transforming political force--a new moral majority--that could clean up America’s political mess.            

Jerry Falwell’s original moral majority of the 1980s may have been a political success, but it represented a failure of Christian morality.  It fostered radical right politics with distorted evangelical doctrines of family values and the prosperity gospel, both of which conflict with the altruistic teachings of Jesus summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors--including those neighbors of other races and religions--as we love ourselves.

Jesus revealed a spiritual kingdom of God that is not of this world, and he urged his followers to help make “God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  If American Christians assume the stewardship of democracy and promote a politics of reconciliation based on the moral teachings of Jesus, they can create a new progressive and altruistic force in American politics and clean up the political mess they have made.

Christians gave Trump his margin of victory, so the church bears responsibility for the resulting political mess.  If the church cannot clean up the mess with moral reforms in politics, then it and American democracy are destined for demise.  That’s more likely than not since the altruistic teachings of Jesus do not resonate in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture.  

History doesn’t give us reason to expect the church to clean up a political mess, even one it has helped create.  In the 1930s, the church in Europe’s two most Christian nations failed to stand up to the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler.  Today radical right movements are growing again in Europe, and in America Trump praises Putin’s fascist Russia. If the church doesn’t oppose such a degradation of democracy, that will suit Trump’s “Christian” supporters just fine.

As the primary source of America’s moral standards of legitimacy the church has shaped the American civil religion; and Christians, as a majority of Americans, have made a holy mess of its moral and political standards.  The church, in its myriad variations, must be accountable. It must assume the stewardship of democracy and motivate Christians to clean up their mess by promoting a politics of reconciliation based on the altruistic teachings of Jesus.             


On Trump treating NATO allies as adversaries, see

On Trump blasting Prime Minister Theresa May in an interview published during his visit to Britain, see

Jim Wallis has described the Helsinki meeting between Putin and Trump and its aftermath as clarifying, and challenged the church in its myriad forms to reclaim Jesus and clean up the moral and political mess Christians have made in America.  See

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