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Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump, edited by Miguel A. De La Torre

11 May 2018

Harriet Baber weighs the religious might set against Trump policy

IN THE wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the last United States Presidential election, Miguel De La Torre has assembled 25 short essays by academics, clergy, and political activists for the current volume in response. The essays address three questions posed by Mr Trump’s election victory: (1) Why did it happen? (2) What are the likely consequences? and (3) How should Christians respond?

Why? Several contributors, including Jim Wallis, doyen of the American religious Left, noting that most white Americans voted for Trump, rehearse the received view that Trump’s victory was the result of racism. This is false. For decades, the Republican Party has had a white majority. During the last election, Republicans voted Republican, Democrats voted Democratic, and a minority of largely working-class voters swung the election to Trump.

David Gushie suggests ten reasons for the débâcle, including white racism, but more insightfully Trump’s “exaggerated masculinity”, authoritarianism, and attack on “political correctness”. This probably played a part in winning support for Trump, particularly among his most enthusiastic supporters: white working-class males. Supporters cheered when, at rallies, Trump urged them to “beat the crap” out of protesters. Trump gave his followers permission to be rough, tough, and angry. That felt good: it was the Wild West where cowboys drank, brawled, and whored before respectable women came and put an end to the fun — the schoolyard without politically correct schoolmarms policing it.

The most plausible analysis however is Diane Oh’s. The political divide in the US, she argues, is a consequence of the geographical divide between urban and rural voters, which cuts across other demographic divisions. In economically and racially diverse Washington, DC (46 per cent black, 40 per cent white, ten per cent Hispanic and Asian), Clinton got 97 per cent of the vote.

As Americans sort themselves out geographically, the urban-rural divide increasingly reflects differences in other demographic characteristics. “Over the last several decades,” she writes, “people with college and graduate degrees moved away from more rural areas and into cities; this shift has fueled the economic growth of major cities and the demise of rural economies.”

The arcane Electoral College system in the US weighs votes from sparsely populated largely rural states more heavily than those from the urban-coastal states, where most Americans live. And that is why Trump won the Electoral College while losing the popular vote by 2.8 million — the largest such discrepancy in US history.

The second question, What? Most of the discussion in these essays concerns a range of social, political, and economic issues, with attention to how things currently stand, how Trump is likely to deal with them, and how his policies are likely to affect minorities, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, immigrants, and other “identity” groups in the US.

One thing is certain: they will not do well. Trump’s favourite, oft-repeated pejorative terms are “weak”, “little”, and “loser”. He is contemptuous of anyone who is disadvantaged materially, physically, or socially. While his policies on a range of matters have shifted, he is unwavering in support for the interests of “winners” at the expense of individuals who are, in any respect, for any reason, less well off.

All contributors to this volume recognise and deplore that policy. But the essays are uneven in quality. Some are rambling and uninformative opinion pieces rehearsing the obvious. Others are excellent. Especially impressive is the factually informative analysis in “Low-Wage Workers and the Struggle for Justice” by Sister Simone Campbell, organiser of the “Nuns on the Bus” tour.

The third question, How? Faith and Resistance is a document of the religious Left published by Maryknoll, a mission of the Roman Catholic Church focused on combating poverty and advancing social justice. Currently, however, the prospects of the religious Left are not bright. While the self-styled progressive “Resistance” is growing, there are too few religious progressives to form an effective religious Left.

The US is increasingly polarised, divided between highly educated “knowledge workers” in flourishing cities and less educated, ageing populations in rural areas. Mainline churches, which traditionally catered for affluent, educated, urban-coastal elites, have collapsed, and the country is, increasingly, divided between politically conservative Evangelicals — disproportionately rural and Southern and overwhelmingly working-class — and a secular liberal elite, which is hostile to religion.

How should Christians respond to policies that are inimical to our fundamental moral commitments? My own view is that it is not realistic to hope that the religious Left, as an organised body, can rise again. It is, rather, for us to work as anonymous Christians within secular organisations to resist the anti-Christian policies instituted by the current administration and to do Christ’s work in the world.

Dr Harriet Baber is Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego, in the United States.

Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump
Miguel A. De La Torre, editor
Orbis Books £17.99
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