It is hard to know what words to use to describe the confused place in which a large minority of the American population is now living. Even after repeated demonstrations of presidential lying, tens of millions of people continue to trust the veracity of every word that President Trump utters. To put it another way, large numbers of people seem to have lost the ability to feel credulity in face of absurd and obviously false claims. They have also shut themselves off from other sources of information that might help them to make sense of the totally improbable. For reasons of personal need, this group has made an act of identification with a powerful individual who has articulated all its prejudices and fears. There has consequently been a handing over of responsibility for thinking about the issues of society and its political life to this extraordinary figure of President Trump. In doing this the supporters have become trapped in a place that is impervious to change or any new information.
I have tried, unsuccessfully, to enter imaginatively into the closed world of Trump supporters. To be in that place would require me to shut down several important aspects of my personality. The first thing to be surrendered is the human quality of curiosity. Most people are aware when they hold opinions which are not universal to everyone around them. Even when entire communities have declared themselves to be Trump supporters, one would expect there to be a few nonconformists who challenge the dominant narrative. Can the supporter of Trump not be even the slightest bit curious to find out who these minority people are and what they believe? Along with burying themselves within the dominant opinion of their neighbours and community, they would also have to refuse to watch television or read newspapers unless they represented their opinions.
The next thing to be lost from my personality after my sense of curiosity would be my understanding of the incompleteness of knowledge. In short, the education I have received has given me the insight to see that not every problem has a definitive answer. In contrast the Trump supporter appears to believe in the ability of their leaders to provide solutions to every problem. The political party they support will make policy decisions on such issues as health care, economics or foreign policy, and these decisions will always be rational and correct. Absent from the thinking is the thought that debate or changing of minds could ever be a healthy part of political life. These may sometimes even produce richer and more complete answers to the problems of government. No, Trump has spoken and because he is my leader and representative, I believe in his solutions and judgements.
A further change to my thinking that I would have to make to be a successful member of Trump’s gang, is to learn to hate and despise others. At best I would have to be indifferent to the sufferings of people who live overseas. I would also learn to be far more aware (and proud) of my racial group. This is something that defines me and makes me for the most part insensitive to the plight of other races and groups. Probably I will have bought into the myth that large hordes of people are waiting to overwhelm my nation. I will applaud the building of large walls and tough immigration policies to keep these strangers out. All traces of tolerance and inclusion would need to be purged out of me to be a successful Trump supporter.
A Trump supporter who would identify with the title of this blog post is, I believe, someone devoid of these qualities of curiosity, insight and compassion. This I know is a harsh judgement. I am forced to come to such a strong opinion by watching as Trump supporters attempt to justify things which cannot be justified. They are hooked up to a drug which feeds on lies, fear and intellectual apathy. In all this, is there a link to another real slogan that is often seen on the bumpers of American cars? On the genuine slogan one word is replaced from the heading of this post. Instead of the word ‘Trump’ we have the word ‘God’.
Many of the things that I have said about Trump supporters might also be said about Christians who believe their faith is articulated through the slogan – ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it’. The first part of this slogan refers to an understanding of Scripture that it is God’s inerrant word. This claim is, when examined, misleading about what in fact has taken place in the believer’s mind. To make any sense of Scripture at all, the believer needs either to commit to a life-time of questions and study or trust another individual to do the hard work for them. In practice, few Bible believing Christians expect to do more than look up passages presented to them in church by a minister. It is the minister’s understanding that the folk in the pew will depend on for their relationship with Scripture and its author, God. Any desire for the kind of study that might raise awkward questions over such things as contradictions and inconsistences in the text is never sought and indeed is strongly discouraged. So, the belief that ‘God said it’ is the outcome of a dependent relationship on a voice from the pulpit. This relationship is little different from the kind of blind confidence in a political figure like Donald Trump. The person who trusts his/her minister to interpret the Bible will likely also be equally totally lacking in curiosity about other ideas or other opinions.
In a Christian context, the person who can utter the words’ I believe it and that settles it’, is also going to be someone who has little sense of the limits of factual knowledge. They may have been encouraged by their education to believe the idea that there are always answers to every problem. Even as adults they see knowledge as ticking a box with the correct answer. But, as many of us who have taken education beyond ticking boxes know, definitive answers to every problem are not always to be found. To understand knowledge may paradoxically require us to see the limitations of knowledge. Many issues, even in science, are topics of debate and even sometimes unresolvable. This realisation will allow an individual to have a proper sense of humility in the face of things that cannot be fully understood.
My third fear for many Christians in this conservative fundamentalist mode is that they like Trump supporters thrive on hatred and fear. The hatreds found in church may not be racist in nature but many believers in this tradition have learned to identify the ‘other’ in the liberal, the unbeliever or the demonic. Many Christian leaders have discovered that it is easy to create a strong community by identifying the enemy. Those thus identified can then serve to bind all together by being objects of hate for the group.
I have drawn uncomfortable parallels between the right-wing thinking of Trump supporters and those who follow conservative Christian beliefs. I speak for myself when I say that the reason I am not a conservative Christian is because I simply would have to give up too much. I cannot surrender my curiosity, my education or my broad tolerance towards those who are different from me. I cannot in other words withdraw into what I call a dark place of ignorance and hatred that I see being peddled by Christians in many parts of the world. I fear for the United States and the Christian faith taught there if this blight of narrow ignorance cannot be defeated by a new humanity and love.