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The Trump Phenomenon

July 1, 2018

Cate Thorn

Ordinary 13     2 Corinthians 8:7-15     Mark 5:21-43

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I’ve been reluctant to speak of or about Trump. In part because speaking of someone publicly enlarges their profile, for good or for bad it enlarges their presence in the public square. I’ve not wanted to participate in that. However there comes a time when keeping silent before someone who is a catalyst for bringing out the worst in others becomes a silence of complicity. 


It would now be easy enough to enter into a diatribe against Trump. His dangerous, boorish, narcissistic, nationalistic protectionism, his playing loose and easy with truth, morality, ethics, his admiration of tyrannical systems of absolute power and leadership, his withdrawal from participation in global systems providing mutual accountability. Even the seemingly ironclad US constitution with its instituted system of governance designed to protect against misuse and abuse of absolute power is looking like the thing that it is - a humanly generated document able to be humanly unstitched if you have a person in power willing to disregard it. It’d be easy to put all of this onto the persona of Trump, to make him scapegoat. I’ve wanted to do this, to lay blame at his feet. I’ve not wanted to face the wider implications of his success. 


The reality is Trump’s simply a person of no particular stature who’s been a successful lightning rod for a sufficient majority of the US. He didn't get there by himself and he isn't staying there by himself. Judging by his recent unbridled rhetoric in the opening of a hockey game in the US that drew chanting crowd support, even though Trump’s words were littered through with lies and twisting of the truth, he’s still supported. Trump’s a phenomenon who breathes life into something that already exists. Trump’s not creating a way of thinking, of self-understanding in the world. Trump’s allowing it voice, allowing it to become incarnate, to have life. As Adrienne Brown, a young African American woman writes things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. we must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil. [1]


That Trump’s succeeding is so astonishing we are and have been left speechless, powerless to know how to act to counter the audacity of such raw, unbridled, uneducated access to and use of enormous power on the world stage. The Trump phenomenon is perpetuated because there are enough people in the US who prefer to live in a world where it’s better to look out for yourself, your kin, those like you, before anyone else. To get what you want regardless of the consequence, to objectify and vilify difference, to have the right to do what you want when you want. To respond with anger in the face of shame, to assume a position of bullying dominance because you perceive you/your country as superior beyond compare, answerable and accountable to no one. Unless it’s of benefit for you to decide to and even then you reserve the right to change your mind and then lie about it. 


Another reason I've kept silent is from fear that by speaking out against the U.S. in general I tar with a brush the many and varied people who make up that nation. The many good people equally horrified by this phenomenon that are actively resisting or working to derail this behemoth. Increasingly strong words are being spoken against the Trump phenomenon within the U.S. and wider. Even so, how is it that the steamroller of this government can roll on without check, flattening decade long relational ties, flaunting international accountability, flexing trade negotiation muscle with impunity without regard for the potential to destabilise global markets? 


It exposes the enormous vulnerability of our global dependency on one another and of what happens when one member of our globally dependent family decides to not want to belong. Or rather believes their stature grants them the inalienable right to dictate the terms of belonging, unrealistic as that may be. How did it get this way? 


We are right to be afraid. For fear sharpens us, makes more acute our need to act to preserve life in face of ready and present danger. Do we feed our fear to the devouring furnace of Trump phenomenon or do we use it to fuel the fire of our resistance? If we choose to resist we must speak out loud our ‘No’ to such rhetoric, make public our dissent, use the history people of our generation remember, we who hold lived memory of the immoral reality of a totalitarian nation. For “no human entity,” Edwin Friedman writes, “is more invasive than the totalitarian nation, equally invasive of the lives of its citizens and the space of its neighbors. … There is … almost no example in history of a sensitive or understanding approach to an invasive nation that successfully staved off a war in the long run. This seems to have been as true for Rome and Carthage, Athens and Sparta, the Allied Powers and the Central Powers of World War I, or the Allied Powers and the Axis Powers of World War II. On the contrary, history is filled with examples of democratic countries trying unsuccessfully to stave off conflict with invasive nations by trying to appease them … the invasive forces get their way because the “peace-loving” lack the will to confront them.” [2]And at this moment our world is ringed with leaders of such nations. Trump is not alone, even as the U.S. is the last nation we thought to name alongside such companions.


It’s time to speak out loud our No and join ourselves with others speaking this way, also willing to act with their fear to resist. It’s time to change the rhetoric from hate to hospitality, from fear to faith/trust in the risk of otherness, from scarcity to abundance. Before our hearts turn to scorn before the fairy dust this sounds like in face of such real and present danger let me remind you. The terms of rhetoric that’d dismiss this are the ones presently determining what’s real, what truth is, what’s possible. We don’t have to accede to a world on such Trump phenomena terms. We do need to be clear eyed to see such rhetoric for what it is.


Let me tell you a story about a woman almost without hope, incurably ill rendered invisible, nameless and unseen. Unsuccessfully she’d tried every cure, received all wisdom from the healers of her world. Still she sought wholeness, held thread of hope of restoration. One day she heard tell of a person in whose presence God seemed made real. They were passing through her town. In hope she joined the crowds that came to see, as the person passed her she reached out and brushed their clothing. She knew herself made whole. The story could end there but the frame freezes, the person in whose presence God seems made real stops. Being made whole changed not only this woman. It was experienced by the God presence one who was changed also. The woman is asked to make herself known, become visible, speak her story. Her wholeness is made real, we discover, because she held a thread of hope for wholeness and for what could be made real by joining herself to the life of God present in the world she inhabited. She’s not the only one I heard of today who on that day held tight to thread of hope despite overwhelming derision and disbelief, held tight to what can be made real in the world when we humans have courage and humility to join ourselves to the life of God in the world.


Did it change the world, such small act, you might challenge? Let’s notice a couple of things here, wholeness and healing aren’t done to either of those in the stories today. Each one who seeks healing holds the thread of hope, steps toward, initiates relationship from which wholeness is restored. Wholeness is outcome of their decision to step into relationship. There’s no divine intervention that does something tothem. Holding thread of hope and stepping toward that which brings life in the midst of apparent hopelessness changes us. It changes the way we understand the world, how we live, what is possible. It reminds us also that much of what we experience in the world is result of the choices we make and have made – it’s not done to us. 


This is a story around which we gather. Our story is one among many. With urgency we must gather with others of many and different stories, and speak our ‘No’ for it may just be the preservation of our humanity, the future of this planet, the restoration to wholeness depends on it. We need one another for we are mutually vulnerable whether we like it or not. Let Adrienne Maree Brown have the last word: we must deepen our connectionsto each other. there is no way the majority of us will survive this time if we continue working in isolation or in competition. we must meet at the intersections and lovingly figure out how to be in right relationship. we need the largest, and most authentic, collaborative efforts for justice and liberation that have ever been witnessed on this planet. we must increase our collective tolerance for truth. we must take the risk of leading. … not only are we the ones we have been waiting for, but this is the exact moment we have been shaped for. … here we are, in this moment, the present moment, naked and messy and visible right down to our roots. … the veil never hid us from others, it only ever hid us from ourselves. now that more of us can see who we truly are, we must begin/continue to move towards who we truly want and need to be in order to sustain human life on this planet. liberation is no small task – it is appropriately daunting for miraculous beings. it is a gift, to be given such undeniable purpose, such immense odds. hold each other tight, and let’s do this work. [3]





[2] Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix, Revised Edition (Kindle Locations 2926-2938). Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.



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