I’ve enjoyed watching Donald Trump steamroll his way through the Republican primaries. It’s cathartic to watch so many of the typically hushed ideologies and pathologies that I find so destructive get their prime-time moment. The man’s lack of nuance or compassion is a breath of – well, maybe not fresh air, but it’s better than the stale political lies to which I’ve been conditioned.
So, yeah, I’m enjoying this moment of truth, including the accompanying hand-wringing by those who’ve worked so hard to convince us that the emperor is, all evidence aside, fully and splendidly dressed. That is, I was enjoying it until I overheard some Christians enthusing about Trump a few weeks back. It’s happened at least once more since then and not only has it spoiled my perverse joy about our collective political dysfunction, it’s made me reflect more deeply than I wanted to about why some Christians seem to love this guy… and why I don’t.
They must be crazy. Or they live in a bubble. Or their prejudiced notions about making America great again squelch their Christian commitments to God and neighbor.
My tendency is to dismiss those Christians who are hoping (and praying!) that Trump becomes the next president. They must be crazy. Or they live in a bubble. Or their prejudiced notions about making America great again squelch their Christian commitments to God and neighbor. How else can people support Trump and worship the One who gave us the beatitudes, the parable of the good Samaritan, and the command to love our enemies? How can a guy whose prejudices are this visible be a legitimate candidate?
As great as it feels to be so quickly dismissive – and it feels so good – it’s not a really an option. I’ve been on the receiving end of this dismissiveness and know how demeaning it is. And beyond the disrespect, for the Christian who is expected to think the best about other Christians such easy dismissal conflicts with the basic trajectory of our faith. What then? Well, as I think about those Christian family members who support Trump I’ve begun to wonder more deeply about their rationale. I’m sure there are some who are responding to the base, selfish instincts that Tump wears with pride. But others, I have to believe, inhabit a set of circumstances and expectations that lead them to believe, honestly and without malice, that this is the right guy for the job. Admittedly, I don’t understand these circumstances but I don’t have to. My cynicism begins to crack simply by acknowledging the power of the circumstances that have formed the Christian who supports Trump. It may not be empathy, but I’m moving past antipathy.
If the Trump supporter is formed by her circumstances… than so am I. As much as I want to believe that my political perspective remains untainted, informed only by the faith handed down, I have to admit that it’s not.
But acknowledging the legitimacy of another’s circumstances ends up having an implication that’s harder for me to accept. If the Trump supporter is formed by her circumstances… than so am I. As much as I want to believe that my political perspective remains untainted, informed only by the faith handed down, I have to admit that it’s not. I who enjoy Trump for everything wrong he embodies and makes undeniably plain- I have to confess that I’m no less susceptible to complex and deforming circumstances than is the one who believes Trump is the best representation of a Christian’s political commitments.
For the Christian, the road to loving empathy runs indiscriminately through our own assumptions and cultural formations. So where does this leave me, someone who thinks Donald Trump is only good for exposing our country’s previously hidden ugliness? The difference – the Christian difference – is that we make our case fully aware of the frail humanity that exists on both sides of the debate. In blatant contrast to a cultural debate that diminishes and dehumanizes the other, Christians fight about these things with huge quantities of humility. We remember that our so-called opponents have arrived at their convictions by way of the same sorts of forming process to which we are vulnerable. I still think the Trump supporters are very wrong about their candidate. But then, who knows how many things I’m wrong about?
Header image: Donald Trump Backyard Photo Sign at Night – West Des Moines, Iowa. Credit: Tony Webster.