Not the Enemy

I meant to post this a couple days after the election, but a combination of work trips and Thanksgiving held me back. That’s probably a good thing. When your country just elected a reality star as president and you spend the next day staring out the window wondering if the whole world has gone insane, hot takes aren’t healthy. So instead, here’s my cold take…

There’s a two-step pattern in my (many) Trump posts. Step one: I defend evangelicals by saying their Trump support isn’t as widespread or deeply-felt as commonly believed. Step two: evangelicals prove me wrong. For instance:

  • During the primaries, I argued that evangelicals weren’t supporting Trump as much as the media claimed, and hoped that evangelicals would eventually reject Trump en masse for one of the many fine candidates.1 They didn’t.
  • When Trump got the nomination, I predicted that big chunks of evangelical voters would oppose him in the polls. Instead, the polls had similar evangelical support for Trump as for past candidates like Romney.
  • When the election approached and it was clear that evangelicals were going to vote for Trump, I told myself that lots of them may be voting for him, but they don’t like him. They view him as a repugnant lesser of two evils. Even though I disagreed with this thinking, it was still (on balance) a comforting thought.

Being wrong about that last point depressed me the most. After the election, too many evangelicals–whether the Old Religious Right leaders or the people on my Facebook feed–were elated that Trump won. Their initial concerns were applauding Trump’s screw you’s to “liberals,” telling people not to protest, and saying the racial violence from Trump supporters wasn’t all that bad.

And yes, there are ways to minimize Trump’s evangelical support even now. But I’m sick of doing that and being wrong. So please indulge my doomsday scenario:

Before long, the Old Religious RIght will defend Trump to precisely the same extent (and with the same fervor) that they defended George W. Bush. Franklin Graham will argue that Steve Bannon isn’t nearly as bad as the Liberal Media would have you believe. Eric Metaxas will tell us to give the alt-right a chance. Jerry Falwell Jr. will systematically crush any evangelicals foolish enough to resist Trump. Literally everything that Trump does will become right.

Hopefully I’ll be wrong. Again. But what if I’m right, and evangelicals become the handmaidens of Trump? Because I’m a nerd, my mind went to The Hobbit.

You know that scene where the dwarf king is walled under his Lonely Mountain Kingdom, preparing to face the army of elves? Then suddenly a goblin hoard pops out of the hills, and he realizes he has to fight two armies now?

In case the analogy isn’t clear, progressive post-evangelical cynics are the elves. The Trump evangelicals are the, well, you know. And I’m the dwarf king under my own Lonely Mountain, watching everyone turn against me and feeling very sorry for myself.2

That’s right, my first impulse was to add Trump evangelicals to the “enemies list.” And honestly, maybe ditch evangelicals altogether. You know how this blog is about quitting cynicism? Well, for a while I considered quitting quitting, and going back to sweet, simple cynicism.3

But now, a couple weeks out, I’ve come off the ledge. And no, I haven’t changed my mind about Trump. I realized I should come off the ledge for the same reason I realized it’s wrong to picture Trump evangelicals as goblins and myself as the King under the Lonely Mountain. I don’t want to view Trump evangelicals as “Them.”

It’s tempting to write off all evangelicals in Trump’s circle–especially as they stumble over each other to kiss his ring. I’m sure it’s tempting for Trump voters to write off people like me, too. But it’s something we all have to fight. When we get to Us versus Them, everything gets distorted. The only thing that matters is propping up the arguments of Us, and vilifying the arguments of Them. Understanding Them stops mattering. The truth stops mattering. All that matters is winning.

This attitude is easy to have. Honestly, I think 90 percent of the Old Religious Right’s problems stem from that attitude: the Republicans are Us, the Democrats are Them, and we must destroy Them at any cost. Progressives are just as bad–see, for instance, Buzzfeed’s bizarre crusade against Chip and Joanna Gaines.

But even if everyone else is playing that game, we as believers still can’t. If you’ll allow me to modify a Beatitude: if you love only those who agree with you about Trump, what profit is there to you? Don’t even Trump supporters do that?

I’m not saying that we should pretend that everything is okay when it isn’t. I suspect that, four years from now, Falwell Jr. will have done horrible things in the name of Trump. But when we’re criticizing, we can’t have the attitude that Trump evangelicals are irredeemably corrupt embarrassments who must be destroyed rather than understood.

The next four years will be filled with hot takes, scandals, and depressing compromises. Responding to it will be tough. Somewhere, I suppose, is a tightrope between speaking truthfully and speaking lovingly, between avoiding naivety and avoiding cynicism. I’m not sure where that is yet.

But I’ll try not to be the king under the Lonely Mountain…

____________________

1  Because I’m sure you’re dying to know my obsolete thoughts on the primaries: if I could have hand-selected any of them for president, it would have been Jeb. But I ended up supporting Rubio because I thought he was the most electable in the general election. And while I’m saying useless things, I don’t think Gary Kubiak should have kicked that 62-yarder in overtime against the Chiefs last Sunday…

2  And yes, nerds, I know that in The Hobbit, the Dwarves join forces with the Elves and Men to fight the Goblins. I’m not taking the analogy that far. Otherwise, I’d have to figure out who the Eagles are…

3  I’m a great quitter. You should see the dusty guitar in my closet, the stack of partially-read books on my shelf, and the abandoned first canto of my epic poem about John Elway. I am outstanding at quitting.

_______________________

Photo from The Land of Shadow

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