Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Fat's in the Fire, but We Haven't Heard the Fat Lady Sing

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            At the end of 2017, clichés say a lot about the Trump era.  The tax reform bill just signed into law throws the fat in the fire and caution to the wind, but we haven’t heard the fat lady sing.  At least not yet.  It may be a while before America knows the real consequences of legislation that ignores conventional political wisdom and puts voodoo economics ahead of common sense.

            Trump has told America that we can have our cake and eat it too.  His tax reform law has given us reduced taxes—permanently for corporations and the rich, and for a few years for the middle class; but it has ignored the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, along with a wounded Affordable Care Act, an anemic Defense budget, and a soaring national debt.

            Hopefully those daunting economic issues will be addressed before the fat lady sings; but the common good was ignored in this political miasma.  James Traub has described America as a decadent and depraved nation.  Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians, but most voted to elect Donald Trump their president—a man whose narcissism and depraved morality is the antithesis of the altruistic Christian morality taught by Jesus.  How could that happen?

            Christianity is based on belief in Jesus as the word of God, but most Christians have subordinated the altruistic teachings of Jesus to exclusivist mystical beliefs and a prosperity gospel that is more like Ayn Rand’s self-centered objectivist philosophy than the gospel of Jesus.  Sadly, Christianity has failed to prevent the moral decline of American culture into decadence and depravity, and has been complicit in the debauchery of American democracy.

            Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have ancient scriptures that provide sacred standards of legitimacy; and all three religions of the book share the greatest commandment as a common word of faith.  It combines the mystical command to love God with the moral imperative to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions. Love of neighbor is essential to political legitimacy in a democracy, but it has been lacking in America. 

            Democracy requires that individual rights be balanced with promoting the common good.  Ancient scriptures complicate the issue.  They emphasize promoting the common good but don’t mention individual rights or democracy.  It wasn’t until the Enlightenment of the 18th century that individual rights were recognized to be essential in a libertarian democracy, but since then individual rights have often been expanded at the expense of the common good.
            In America evangelical Christians claim their freedom of religion allows them to discriminate against those they consider sinners, denying them equal protection of the law.  In Islamic nations the issue is reversed.  The freedoms of religion and speech are denied by apostasy and blasphemy laws that are often used by autocrats to stifle their political opposition.
            Since religion is part of the problem with politics, it must also be part of the solution.  James Traub has acknowledged this: “The only way back is to reclaim the common ground—political, moral and even cognitive—that Donald Trump has lit on fire.”  Religion must provide that moral common ground.  It is the greatest commandment as a common word of faith.

            Continuing to predict Armageddon—the end times—is not the solution.  Trump is but a symptom and not the cause of the problem.  It’s rooted in the lack of altruistic morality among America’s voters, and the new tax reform act will likely solidify support for Trump and his Republican minions until the flaws of the tax law become obvious—and that could take a while.

            It doesn’t help that Trump critics are beginning to sound like Chicken Little shouting that the sky is falling.  It hasn’t fallen yet, but the fabric of American democracy is unraveling.  It will take a moral revival that begins in the church to restore the legitimacy of America’s civil religion.  That’s the only way to prevent the fat lady from singing her finale to democracy.             


Roger Cohen has echoed James Traub’s lament, and asked, Is this America?  See

Frank Bruni has warned that characterizing the tax overhaul just signed by Trump as “Armageddon” does more harm than good in the effort to correct the problem. See

Related Commentary:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(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
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(5/21/16): Religious Fundamentalism and a Politics of Reconciliation
(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
(2/25/17): 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
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/19/17) Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/9/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(11/4/17): What to Believe? Truth or Consequences in Religion and Politics
(11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church
(11/18/17): Radical Religion and the Demise of Democracy
(12/2/17): How Religious Standards of Legitimacy Shape Politics, for Good or Bad
(12/9/17): Religion, Race and Identity Politics         
(12/16/17): Can Democracy Survive the Trump Era?
(12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

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