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An America after Trump

By Peter Sellick - posted Tuesday, 17 January 2017


America! How is it that out of all your depth and wisdom, all your fine universities and colleges, all your writers and artists, all your philosophers and thinkers, all your giant tech corporations, all your savvy business men and women, all your expensive political campaigns you have foisted upon the world a self deluded narcissist and fool?

It is tempting to understand Trump's election to the presidency as a political accident. Yes, the Russians were involved, but this does not take away from the fact that nearly 50% of Americans voted for Trump. We may conclude that this is the final verdict on the American Experiment; that the philosophies that founded the nation have come home to roost.

Those philosophies were an ugly amalgam of parts of the Christian tradition and Enlightenment idealism. For example, how can "the pursuit of happiness" live side by side with the central proclamation of the gospel that: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." It seems that America, perhaps one of the most Christian countries in the world, has opted for self-seeking rather than the promise of self-transcendence and community.

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Trump is the direct result of the theology that governs great swathes of the American heartland. The language of human rights together with the idea of unfettered freedom undermined community and produced the autonomous self that heeds only his own counsel. The resultant rugged individualism, shorn from intimacy with the closest neighbour, has produced a self that is blind to the need for confession and forgiveness and unused to self-reflection.

Trump is a product of Norman Vincent Peale's church in New York City that displaced the gospel of repentance and self-examination with the power of positive thinking in which negative thoughts about the self are resolutely denied. This explains a lot about Trump. It explains why he seems to have no idea of reality, of truth. Trump's world is that which is positive to his wishes. All else is fake news. This is why he can blatantly lie about his opponents and promise to do the impossible, like building a wall between the US and Mexico and get the Mexicans to pay for it.

Trump is the product of a theological mistake that places the individual and his or her dreams as the centre of human life. As such, it is based on desire alone. It is the ethos of the child that wants anything that is new and shiny and does not recognise consequences. Trump wants to be president not because he has any idea about how to govern but because it is the biggest prize in the land. Having cheated and grafted his way to billionaire status he has now cheated and grafted his way into the Whitehouse.

In theological terms this is idolatry; things of the world are worshipped instead of God. Thus our desire is directed not towards the face of God and hence towards greater humility and humanity but towards the flim flam of this world. Rather than struggling with ego and living out our baptism, we give the ego full reign. We might say that all of the monsters of history may be described by this analysis. Did Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot ever look for the truth? Were they not all so immersed in their own hubris that they could not see the millions they sent to their deaths? Thankfully, the American system will limit Trump's excesses but he still will hold enormous power to damage American society and the world.

However, a time will come when he will be faced with his own inadequacies. He will have to face the chaos and the backlash that his own soaring ego unleashes upon the country. For Donald is a man much like any other and he does have to deal with his conscience even though this is buried so deep that it remains mostly out of sight. Being the President of the United States is a demanding job and he will somehow have to run an administration. Having reached his goal, by lying and cheating, it will dawn upon him that he has no ability to lead an administration. We can only hope that this crisis comes about sooner rather than later.

Trump is a fantasist. He will say anything that he thinks will appeal to his followers. But all of the monsters have been fantasists and all have been judged in their own time or after their death. The truth will out! Reality will catch up with Trump and he will be found wanting.

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The upside of a Trump presidency is that now the truth is revealed that humanist positivism engenders a fantasy world and that anyone living in that world, as Trump surely does, will endanger us all. The resulting chaos will place a large question mark against every fundamentalist congregation and pastor that has invested in the gospel of prosperity. It will question every snake oil salesman preacher who promises all if only we would only believe. It will question every motivational speaker with the message that all we have to do is to step up to receive the largess of our society. It will question the populism that thinks it holds easy answers to complex questions.

The Trump presidency may have the ability to hold up a mirror to the American people and show them that they have lost their way. It may even bring them to take the shine off the democracy that they have invested so much in. For one thing is certain, democracy will never be the same in America after the Trump presidency. In other words, all kinds of idolatry will topple and it may be that a new start be made, a more faithful start.

The Church must be at the forefront in limiting the damage that Trump will do. Now is the time to preach obviously political sermons denouncing him.

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About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

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