Saturday, January 12, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Authenticity and Political Legitimacy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Authenticity has become a political buzzword in America.  It’s the flip-side of fake news. Reality is another word for authenticity, and reality TV has sanctified vulgar but popular concepts of reality, no matter how false or absurd they may be by objective criteria.  Fake authenticity now challenges Christian morality as the source of America’s standards of political legitimacy.

Donald Trump has distorted authenticity to promote the lies of populist nationalism, but he’s not the first.  Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin all did the same. They were authentic bad guys, but most people in their nations accepted them as legitimate leaders.  Likewise American democracy has bestowed legitimacy on the immoral leadership of Donald Trump.

Christianity bears considerable responsibility for America’s moral malaise.  Over 70% of Americans claim to be Christians, and 80% of white Christians elected Donald Trump as their president.  The church has its focus on popularity and has been a sanctimonious sideshow to Trump’s populist politics by either supporting them as God’s will or ignoring their immorality.

Jesus taught that it is God’s will to reconcile and redeem humanity, and that Satan’s will is to divide and conquer; but Satan does a convincing imitation of God and promotes his authenticity in the church and politics.  In the cosmic battle of good versus evil, it’s obvious which side most politicians support, and which side is winning the popularity contest.        

America’s politics are polarized by identity groups that put their own special interests ahead of providing for the common good.  America’s two-party duopoly lacks any centrist component to mitigate its partisan polarization, and both parties use the rhetoric of authenticity to promote divisive partisan objectives that ignore the common good.      

Republicans include an unlikely mix of upper income whites motivated by Ayn Rand objectivism who exploit others to promote their wealth and power, and lower income whites who fear that their white supremacy in politics is eroding (it is).  Democrats include a number of minority identity groups that subordinate the common good to their parochial political priorities.

There is little indication that America’s polarized politics can be reconciled.  They are increasingly paralyzed by divisive identity groups whose leaders motivate and further polarize voters by defining authenticity in their own narrow interests, and they consider compromise a sign of weakness.  If politics is the art of compromise, it has become a lost art in America.

American Christianity suffers from the same malaise as its politics.  For most white Christians, Jesus and his disciples are no longer the authentic Christians.  They have been replaced by Donald Trump and his evangelical disciples, who include Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, Paula White and Tony Perkins.  Their Republican gospel is one of popularity and prosperity in America’s politically polarized materialistic and hedonistic culture.

Jesus taught an altruistic gospel of reconciliation and redemption based on serving the common good.  America has sacrificed that altruistic ideal to the parochial interests of identity groups led by so-called authentic leaders who discourage compromise and reconciliation.  It will take a moral revival in America to preserve the legitimacy of American religion and politics from the corruption of populist politicians who promote their power with the false virtue of authenticity.

Michael Gerson has described Trump’s “authenticity” as merely moral laziness and cruelty.  He also criticized newly-elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich) for the same offense. “She explained her use of the mf-word against President Trump as the expression of her “very passionate” nature. The same argument is more familiar from Trump defenders, who explain away his endless vulgarity and malice as quirks of an oversize personality. Isn’t it refreshing when politicians speak what is really on their mind?” ...Trump is seen as an authentic communicator [by his supporters], even when he lies  — because the author of those lies is somehow true to himself. That is not the way a president should act. ...This form of authenticity is just the refusal to master the self,..moral laziness, cruelty, deception, and decadence. And the repetition of these failures should not numb us. It should serve to reinforce our conviction that Trump is a man of bad character, unworthy of respect, unworthy of trust and unworthy of high office.”

Ronald E.Osborn has described Trump’s authenticity as his “...alleged prowess as a businessman and his…vitriol against the political establishment, [but] the only ‘motifs’ that Trump has ‘consolidated’ are precisely those of the nihilism that conservative intellectuals have long made it their vocation to decry.

Christine Emba has described the evangelicals’ infallible new faith: The gospel of Trump.  Based on an interview with Jerry Falwell, Jr. she cited his claim “...that it was a distortion of Christ’s teachings to suggest that because He taught love and forgiveness, ‘the United States as a nation should be loving and forgiving.’ According to Falwell’s creative theology, Christ ‘went out of his way to say that’s the earthly kingdom, I’m about the heavenly kingdom,’ and loving your neighbor as yourself only applies to the latter.  Falwell “then meditated on the uselessness of the poor--’A poor person never gave anyone a job. A poor person never gave anybody charity, not of any real volume. It’s just common sense to me.’ He then suggested that it might be immoral for Christians not to support Trump.” Emba noted that Falwell’s statements “...are in total contradiction to Christian truth. This isn’t just benign confusion: This is heresy. And, like many heretics, Falwell and his fellow evangelical Trump apologists are on their way to founding a new religion, one in direct conflict with the old. This new religion doesn’t have much to do with Christ at all. Instead, it centers Trump as savior above any other god. ...A disconcerting number of self-professed Christians have spreading the gospel of wealth creation and fighting the ‘radical left.’ National identity is what ties this body of believers together, and ‘the wall’ has become its icon of hope, pushing the cross to the side. At the end of his interview, Falwell was asked if there was anything that Trump could do to endanger his support from evangelical leaders. His confident answer? “No.”

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