American Lent in the Season of Trump

One of the smartest and funniest women at my church, Alyssa, has this great blog you should all follow. In it, her observations on life, cities, and spirituality are whip smart and hilarious. Several weeks ago, she put up a post asking “Is Trump America’s Lent?” She writes:

For the purposes of this argument, let’s call Lent an annual wake-up call, a reminder that we aren’t as good as we think we are….Trump’s success so far is a wake-up call in itself, like a large-scale Lent: maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are. Apparently, as a country we’re actually more racist and fearful than we thought we were just a few months ago, when people laughed at the thought of him actually standing a chance. The land of the free might just be okay with building that wall. The home of the brave is actually pretty scared of Muslims.

This is incredibly insightful, and I think it turns our national “Trump-versation” to a helpful place in the Lent season. Rather than trying to understand “the Trump voter” on a micro-individual level–a level full of misunderstanding, prejudice, and judgmentalism on all sides–we might turn our gaze inward to our nation as a whole. Looking at the bigger movements and structures of our society, we can ask the hard questions that you can’t really ask when staring another individual in the face.

Remember: everyone’s a little bit racist. But our national racism shows itself more in broad institutions, economic realities, trends, and unconscious biases rather than blatant individual overt hatred of other races. As Social Psychologist Christena Cleveland said in a similar (and phenomenal!) Donald Trump Lent blog post yesterday:

No longer guaranteed to be on top, no longer guaranteed to be in the majority, no longer guaranteed to be at the center of all that is hip, innovative and relevant, white men are no longer an invincible social group. Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different. This makes us feel better.

Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men…. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order white male supremacy.

Disagree with that all you want (but first, definitely read the whole post), yet research clearly shows that, on a macro scale, this is true. I’ve never met an individual white man who would say he feels any of the things above, and I don’t expect them to now. But the human heart in aggregate is deceptive beyond all measure, especially in a nation that fancies itself beyond error and prejudice.

And I (and Alyssa, and Christena) feel like Trump is actually a helpful expression of our true nature. Even beyond the race issues, Trump is a placeholder for American desires for conquest and power; not on a national level, but among the citizenry. Even the most wildly progressive bleeding heart liberal feels like they no longer call the shots politically. We seem to serve the interests of politicians rather than the other way around.

There is something exciting about sticking it to the power structures that have stuck it to us for so long. There is a sense that the entire political apparatus is so stuck that it really does need a radical shake-up. And that’s what Trump is. (If only his views weren’t so damn terrifying if they became reality!)

Either way, be it an idolatry of race, power, utopianism, control, nationalism, or just a rage against the machine, Trump (and in a certain, entirely different way, Bernie) reveals to us our national sins; not merely as a collective of individuals, but as institutions, societies, communities, and larger systems.

So…. what if there’s a whole dimension of Lent that we’re missing when we only think on the individual and personal level?

What if we began repenting of our corporate national sins–even the ones we don’t think we’ve committed? Even if you reckon yourself an enlightened non-racist liberal, can you repent because you perpetuate systems of racism on a daily basis?

What if Trump reveals something deep within the American experience and the American psyche as a whole, and not just whatever unfair stereotype you hold of his supporters?

What if your own heart has the same dark tendencies you see in supporters of the “other” candidate (whoever that is)?

What if we all, simply on account of being thrown together in this country, suffered from mostly the same societal sins, no matter where they express themselves on the political spectrum?

If Trump can serve as America’s Lent, then what would America’s Easter look like? What would it look like to live as Resurrection People in American politics rather than perpetuating those dead idols of the Left, Right, and “Center”?

What if we stopped building the Kingdom using the Devil’s tools? Could we trust God with that?


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