Watching the pictures of Donald Trump, and listening to him speak, my first reaction is to call him a buffoon and to dismiss him. Imagine talking of building a wall between the US and Mexico! Imagine seriously suggesting that the US exclude all Muslims from immigration! And the way he carries on in his rallies, by insulting his opponents, and manhandling people who disagree with him. In this I am at one with the leadership of the Republican Party! This man cannot seriously be president can he? It won’t happen will it?
My response is one of incomprehension. But then I heard this quote from a Trump supporter. They said “I’m voting for Trump! We have to get Wall Street out of politics!” Now Trump himself is a representative of some of the worst aspects of human economic behaviour, but he does not present as one of that group of Wall Street traders and bankers who, before 2008 called themselves ‘The Masters of The Universe’
The person making this comment is angry about the fact that it is the banking system, characterised as ‘Wall Street’ and as yet unreformed, which led to all the hardship of the financial meltdown of 2008. (Remember? Bill Clinton helped to get many people into housing by offering easy loans to people whose ability to pay them back was doubtful. The bankers packaged up this ‘debt’ which they knew was toxic, sold it on to others and then ‘bet’ on the fact that they would fail.)
This person says it all. There is something very wrong going on in the US. The economic system is giving us a time of increasing inequality between rich and poor for which the poor are blamed, and ‘screwed down’ ever further. There is increasing police injustice perpetrated on Blacks. There is just too much gun violence. Something, that makes for a peaceable and coherent society is missing! And this guy knows it! America is not great any more. Donald Trump is saying “I will make America great again!”
But the targets of the malaise are not the real causes. Despite the threat of terrorism, it is no worse than in the 1970s. Everyone knows that immigration helps the economy: it does not hinder it. What Donald Trump is doing is mirroring back to the people the same kind of fear and visceral reactions that they themselves have. He is joining in the displacement of blame that everyone else is doing, because neither Donald Trump, nor most of us want to criticise an economic system which has made us rich or on which we also depend as wage earners, unless there are strong organisations which can support employees rights to reasonable living conditions: something that has also been eroded since the 1980s.
What is needed is not the populist demagoguery which Donald Trump represents. His analysis will not fix the system because he identifies the wrong causes of the problem. What is needed is that someone will be able to ‘join the dots.’ That someone will be able to make the connections between inequality of incomes and social discontent. That someone will have what it takes to avoid blaming east targets for our problems, and start naming the real causes.
The sad thing is that we have seen this before. Politicians know, that in the short term, if they can find a distraction for their problems in some scandal, they can avoid answering for their mistakes. The Jews have ever been a popular cause of everyone’s problems, from Arab governments in the Middle East, to Governments in Europe (both then and now!).
People say ‘The first one to mention Nazi Germany in an argument loses!’ or “But we are not in times like those in Germany in the 1930s.” Well I think there is enough similarity between then and now to make the comparison valid. This view is born out by the fact that someone whose analysis is as shallow and as reactive as Donald Trump’s is finding a following. In a world where there is social cohesion, where black people are not shot while running away: in a world where the phrase ‘working poor’ does not exist, and where the difference between the richest and poorest is moderate: in a world where people are not so frightened that they tolerate thousands of their own citizens being killed by guns in order to ‘protect’ themselves, Donald Trump would not find anyone to follow him.
So what to do? Christians have a responsibility, because they ‘see’ something in the way of Christ that others do not see, to offer, not reactive emotionalism, but an alternative analysis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” This is a repetition of Marx’s critique of religion, when he calls us the ‘opiate of the people’. We are too busy helping the poor, and not busy enough in asking why the poor are poor. One way of driving a spoke into the wheel of injustice is to name its real causes. Christians, first of all, must avoid the herd instinct that makes us rush to blame the nearest handy target in times of anxiety. We must be examples of good analysis. If we can help to ‘connect the dots’ between our present anxieties, and their real causes, then we will be doing a good service to our society.
We see this in the description of Pope Francis. When asked about Donald Trump, he said “Christians must build bridges of dialogue, not walls of resentment.” This is what Christians see that others do not.
But the Bible too is full of this kind of analysis that shows us what God thinks about those who get rich, but neglect justice. Evensong ought to be a hotbed of social action for the poor, because there we sing ‘he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble and meek.’ And the sermon on the mount gives us ample evidence to argue a case that God stands with those who are oppressed.
God stands with the man who is voting for Donald Trump, because that man can see that ‘Wall Street in Politics’ destroys a societies cohesion with the selfish, divisive worship of money. But he needs something more than Donald Trump’s superficial, emotional calls to exclude Muslims and build a wall along the border with Mexico.
Germany has done a wonderful thing. Since the second world war, when that country had a fling with populism in the face of intractable problems, it has made all the right noises about its sorrow for that period in its history. But now, she has, in her acceptance and integration of refugees shown us in the most concrete way how it might be possible to act differently from the policies of Donald Trump. Germany’s history has taught her how to be ‘great’. That’s what we need.