From repudiation to reconciliation

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The voters in the United States have spoken and Donald Trump has mercifully been made a lame-duck president. He will go down in history as a complete failure as president, by virtue of only winning one term in office and being rightfully impeached during that term. By his own standard, he claimed that winning 306 electoral college votes in 2016 was a landslide victory for his campaign despite losing the popular vote, Biden won in a historic landslide garnering more votes than any candidate in U.S. history and winning the popular vote by over five million votes. It was a stinging rebuke to a malignant narcissist and his enablers in a political party that did everything it could to suppress the vote and sow doubt about the election’s legitimacy. It was also a repudiation of Trumpian fascism that was necessary to prevent America from sliding further into being a full fledged fascist state.

This election is just the beginning stage of repudiating as a nation our racist past and present while working towards an antiracist and truly democratic future that rejects all forms of authoritarianism. It is only the beginning, because as author Jared Yates Sexton has opined recently on social media, America has a fascism problem that will not just go away on its own. The sad fact is, that despite Trump showing the world who he truly is for many decades, especially as the spotlight was on him in his role as President, over 70 million people voted for him in 2020 which underscores the notion that the process of repudiation has only just begun. For too many people, over 70 million Americans, the truth of who Trump is, and by extension who ‘America’ is, remains a mystery despite the mountains of evidence. To a vocal and violent minority, who Trump is, is who they want America to be – that is white, racist, straight, and anti-democratic. 

Much of Trumpism comes down to the racism that is ingrained in the very fabric of America’s history and has become part of the interiority of our society (though America is not alone in having racism as a systemic problem) as institutional or systemic racism. (1) White people who voted for Trump, I believe, ignore his racism because they cannot or will not see their own, and in too many cases they openly embrace it.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that as a whole, the United States has failed to fully interrogate its past. This can be seen when people in positions of leadership proclaim that systemic racism is not a reality in America as Trump, Pence, and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley have all done in recent times. It can also be seen in the white washed versions of history taught in American schools and the conservative backlash against telling the truth about our nation’s history as expressed towards scholars like Howard Zinn and those who produced the 1619 Project. To truly move forward as a society, we must face our past in all of its ugliness. German theologian Wolfgang Huber said that though there is no collective guilt for today’s Germans regarding the atrocities carried out by the Nazis, there is collective shame, and “even more there is a collective responsibility for the consequences of historical events which took place in the name of Germany, on or from German soil, under the German flag.” (2) So too with the sins of America. We as an American society must take collective responsibility for our nation’s past and until we do so, reconciliation is not truly possible.

In the immediate aftermath of the election I have seen pundits, commentators, and memes on social media exhorting the president elect and those who voted for him to essentially let by gones be by gones in order to heal a divided nation. Alas, this simply will not work because reconciliation cannot take place without relationship, and healthy relationships are impossible with those who hold onto toxic beliefs like racism, misogyny, sexism, bigotry, xenophobia, nationalism, and engage in  the behaviors those beliefs elicit in the who espouse them, such as Kyle Rittenhouse did when he shot and killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest. A healthy relationship is also impossible with people who refuse to act in good faith as far too many Republicans have been doing as they enabled Trump at every turn, and worked hard to subvert the democratic processes currently in place in the name of grabbing power. This is seen in McConnell’s refusal to allow almost 400 bills to come to a vote in the Senate (3) because he doesn’t like what’s in them, and the sham of allowing an impeached president to ram through an unqualified justice to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court while there was an election already underway. In many ways, the Republican party has forfeited their right to cry foul when people refuse to engage them.

This is a huge problem as we move forward and deal with the aftermath of Trump’s four year term. Accountability is imperative for those who enabled Trump’s racism and authoritarianism, criminally negligent pandemic response, brazen corruption, and his narcissistic path of destruction. This accountability must extend to the media, as well as members of the Trump regime, and all of the politicians who aided and abetted him. The Biden-Harris administration has an enormous mess on its hands to clean up after Trump while simultaneously dealing with a rampant pandemic, climate change, and ecological collapse. Hopefully an engaged and energized citizenry will continue to be engaged and hold the incoming administration and members of the Trump regime accountable.

For Trump’s supporters the onus is on them to do the hard work of educating themselves and then repenting of their support for a fascist sexual predator whose racism and criminality is so well documented. It is up to evangelical Christians to repent of the toxic theological views, which are often authoritarian, bigoted, misogynistic, and militaristic which in large measure led to their acceptance of and support for Trump despite his utter lack of compassion, empathy, or Christian love. As Huber put it:

The old tradition of atonement said that repentance, confession and reparation, or, contrition of the heart, the confession of the mouth and the satisfaction of the deed, together, define the process of atonement. These three are indissolubly linked to one another. I am convinced that we have to regain the depth of atonement as an answer. And, we have to keep in mind that the process of atonement is always, in itself, a reaction to the gift of forgiveness. We are only strong enough to be exposed to truth because we are liberated for truth. It is then that a process can begin, which includes repentance, confession of guilt and reparation, or, the contrition of the heart, the confession of the mouth, and the satisfaction of the deed.

Jesus calls on us to forgive. I do not think that means that we must continually expose ourselves to repeated toxicity and abuse, especially when there is no true repentance on the part of those perpetuating that abuse. In our context, that abuse has been being perpetuated by Trump and his supporters, many of whom are adherents of slave holder religion. Our entire history as a nation is what led us to the era of Trump, and we must all acknowledge as theologian Jean-Pierre Fortin suggests that, “corporate sinning demands corporate confession” of the sins of our national past. 

 To heal the divide we must all engage in deep introspection that leads to the kind of atonement that Huber speaks to in the quote above. This will be particularly hard for those who have been inculcated with toxic theology, propaganda, racist, misogynistic, bigoted, or other hate-filled ideologies, and have succumbed to the pandering of a malignant narcissist and his sycophantic enablers. Those of us who have been telling anyone who will listen about who Trump is, or the truth about American history, must continue to do so in the hope that the message will get across. Education is a key element to this process and historical truth telling remains of paramount importance to counter the white supremacist’s narrative that has been promulgated for centuries.  Hopefully that can be done with grace. That too will be difficult for those of us who have been victimized by the injustices of our collective past and present. It is not up to us to do the heavy lifting for the oppressors beyond speaking the truth. Only with repentance can reconciliation truly occur. 

 

  (1) Dear white people ;  Discussing Dr. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning 

(2) Wolfgang Huber, “Truth – Guilt- Reconciliation” in a lecture at Union Theological Seminary, October 2002.

(3) McConnell’s Legislative Graveyard 

(4) See the writings of Chrissy Stroop for detailed analysis of evangelicalism. Religion Dispatches 

 

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