This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”
That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.
.. This essay explains why Trump gravitates toward leaders like Vladimir Putin, the Saudi princes and various global strongmen: They share his core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance.
.. It explains why people in the Trump White House are so savage to one another. Far from being a band of brothers, their world is a vicious arena where staffers compete for advantage.
.. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest.
.. People are wired to cooperate. Far from being a flimsy thing, the desire for cooperation is the primary human evolutionary advantage we have over the other animals.
.. You don’t have to teach a child about what fairness is; they already know. There’s no society on earth where people are admired for running away in battle or for lying to their friends.
.. Jonathan Haidt has studied the surges of elevation we feel when we see somebody performing a selfless action.
.. Good leaders like Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Reagan understand the selfish elements that drive human behavior, but they have another foot in the realm of the moral motivations. They seek to inspire faithfulness by showing good character. They try to motivate action by pointing toward great ideals.
.. By behaving with naked selfishness toward others, they poison the common realm and they force others to behave with naked selfishness toward them.
.. By treating the world simply as an arena for competitive advantage, Trump, McMaster and Cohn sever relationships, destroy reciprocity, erode trust and eviscerate the sense of sympathy, friendship and loyalty that all nations need when times get tough.
.. By looking at nothing but immediate material interest, Trump, McMaster and Cohn turn America into a nation that affronts everybody else’s moral emotions. They make our country seem disgusting in the eyes of the world.
.. I wish H. R. McMaster was a better student of Thucydides. He’d know that the Athenians adopted the same amoral tone he embraces: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” The Athenians ended up making endless enemies and destroying their own empire.
In 1898, as you point out, the United States burst from being a continental empire, if you want to call it that, within North America to taking territory overseas for the first time in those countries that you mentioned. This was a huge turning point for the United States, and everybody that studies American history is aware of this episode.
.. As for Andrew Carnegie, he was a great believer in the principles of America. And in his famous article denouncing American expansion, he wrote, with what face shall we hang in the school houses of the Philippines our own Declaration of Independence and yet deny independence to them? The United States paid $20 million to Spain to buy the Philippines.
Andrew Carnegie offered to pay the U.S. Treasury $20 million to buy the Philippines so he could set the Philippines free and give them independence.
.. Teddy Roosevelt definitely believed that war was the only condition of life that was worth living, that peace was only for (unintelligible) jellyfish who had no place in the great American nation.
He wanted to go out and fight. Even when he sent his sons to fight in World War I, he wrote that he hoped they’d come back missing a few limbs. The business factor was also huge back in 1898 and has continued to be.
.. We’ve twisted ourselves into pretzel-like shapes over many years trying to explain what is Puerto Rico and what is Guam compared to the United States? And we do this because we can’t use the word colony. We can’t call them colonies, so they have to be dependencies, territories, commonwealth, free-associated state. We’ve gone through a whole vocabulary – a whole lexicon of vocabulary in order to get through this difficult minefield.
They wanted to restore Spain, the Spain of old, a Spain where the dominant institutions were the large estates in the countryside, no more of this nonsense of land reform. There would be no trappings of democracy, no free trade union. The army would remain – would reign supreme.
It would be a military dictatorship, and education would be handed back to the Catholic Church. And you can actually see photographs of bishops and cardinals giving the fascist salute alongside nationalist officers. So it was a pretty stark difference between what two kinds of Spain these two sides wanted.
.. GROSS: You said that Franco’s war was against modernity.
HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely. I mean, he also talked about regaining the Spanish Empire of old. But of course, it was always very foggy how that would happen because the former Spanish colonies in South America, for example, had been independent for hundreds of years. So exactly how the empire was to be regained wasn’t clear, but he certainly had the idea of an empire on his mind.
.. he also talked about regaining the Spanish Empire of old. But of course, it was always very foggy how that would happen because the former Spanish colonies in South America, for example, had been independent for hundreds of years. So exactly how the empire was to be regained wasn’t clear, but he certainly had the idea of an empire on his mind.
And in fact, after Franco and his nationalists won the war, he bargained with Hitler about whether he was going to actually join the Axis in World War II – finally decided not to because Hitler wouldn’t give him everything he wanted, which were a huge swath of British and French colonies in Africa and a slice of France. So he was definitely somebody who want0ed to expand his power.
.. One of the most interesting characters that you write about in this book is the head of Texaco oil, Torkild Rieber. He was the head during the Spanish Civil War, and he supported the fascist cause, the military coup in Spain. And he made a deal with Franco’s regime. What was the deal?
.. He not only did that but he gave them the oil at a big discount, which, as far as we can tell, he never told Texaco shareholders or even his board of directors about. And he violated American law in a couple of ways because U.S. neutrality legislation was pretty strict
.. And this information was passed on to the Nationalists to help submarine captains and bomber pilots look for targets. Twenty-nine oil tankers heading for the Spanish Republic were destroyed, damaged or captured during the war. And in at least one or two cases, we can specifically tie it to information supplied by Texaco. So the United States might be neutral, but Texaco had gone to war.
.. GROSS: Wow, Texaco was acting – because of Rieber – was acting like a spy.
HOCHSCHILD: Absolutely, absolutely. I don’t know of any parallel where a private corporation has supplied a vast amount of intelligence information to a warring government secretly.
.. many of the principle weapons that the Nazis used during World War II had their first trial in combat in Spain – the Messerschmitt 109 fighter plane for example, the Stuka dive bomber, the 88 millimeter artillery piece, which could be used both for antiaircraft purposes and also shelling on the ground. And American soldiers were the victims of these things in Spain, American volunteers.
So this war was really a testing ground for Hitler. And he learned a great deal from it about the strengths and weaknesses of these different weapons.
.. a woman named Virginia Cowles, who was 26 years old when she arrived in Spain, never been to college.
.. What makes her reporting so good, I think, is that she’s one of the very few people who reported from both sides in the war.
She reported from the Republican side. Then she set her sights on being able to get into Nationalist Spain, which was very difficult, especially for a journalist who had written from the Republic. But she managed it, traveled all over the place, was the first foreign correspondent in Nationalist Spain to be able to quote Nationalist officers admitting that they had bombed Guernica – because this was something that Franco and Hitler were strenuously denying.
.. if President Franklin Roosevelt had agreed to sell arms to the Democratic side in Spain, that maybe the Democratic side would’ve won.
Spain would not have become a fascist country. Hitler wouldn’t have been victorious in Spain because Hitler was aligned with the fascist side in Spain. And maybe he would have thought twice before invading so many other countries, and he wouldn’t have had all the military experience that the Spanish Civil War provided for his troops and the tests that it gave to his new bombers and artillery.
So do you think it’s possible that if the U.S. had been willing to sell arms to Spain, that World War II wouldn’t have happened? Or it wouldn’t have happened in the same way that it did?
HOCHSCHILD: I don’t think World War II wouldn’t have happened because Hitler was determined to conquer the world, especially Eastern Europe, the Balkan and Caspian oil fields. This is what he had his eye on. And I think a setback in Spain would not have deterred him from that. But I still think it could’ve made a difference if the Spanish Republic had won because during World War II, Franco was sort of a de facto ally for Hitler.
But then the grumpy drunk stumbled over, pointed at the beanie on George’s head and barked, “Why don’t you take that hat off. You look like a fucking terrorist.”
The white partygoers grew silent and waited for George to react, which he eventually did, diffusing the conversation with politeness. Though he lowered the heat a few notches, the man continued to call him a terrorist so many times that George realized something that hadn’t occurred to him, “He was concerned that I might have actually been a terrorist.” Still, nobody came to George’s defense, leaving him alone with this angry, potentially-armed man. “I didn’t feel like he was going to kill me,” George says, “but he wanted to intimidate me.”
.. So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers
.. Their endeavors run the gamut, but the ones gaining steam include leaving evangelicalism altogether, reframing the evangelical world as a mission field as opposed to a place for spiritual nourishment, creating ethnic safe spaces or staying firmly planted in evangelical community to combat racism from within.
.. Many describe these moves as “divestment” from white evangelicalism: they’re moving money, bodies and souls elsewhere.
.. “I was working on a book that was marketed toward evangelicals and I’m no longer doing that because I think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think they’re ready. I’d rather work with folks who are ready.”
.. White male evangelical neglect of issues concerning black evangelicals and evangelical women prompted these groups to turn to their own coalitions. As a result, the progressive movement lost its minority and female constituency and faded into the shadows just as the religious right was born.
.. Bill McCartney, the white leader of Promise Keepers, made this subject a focal point at his stadium-packed events in 1996, he reported that about 40 percent of participants reacted negatively to the theme, likely leading to the drop in attendance the following year.
.. white evangelical “racial reconciliation” lacked rigor. It focused on building personal relationships between races, not addressing the systemic inequalities that devastate communities of color. This led minority evangelicals to question whether “racial reconciliation” was simply a convenient vehicle for white absolution and, given the long history of white oppression within the church (using the Bible to justify slavery, supporting Jim Crow segregation, condemning the Civil Rights Movement, to name a few), to what exactly were they “reconciling” in the first place.
.. “For those of us who have been doing this for a while – making the circuit, speaking to crowds – it almost feels like it was all for nothing,”
.. “It was a blatant ignoring of everything we’ve been trying to teach for decades now. Maybe I was being naive; I thought after the election people would have a little more remorse…this is white evangelicalism revealing itself in ways that are deeply dysfunctional.”
.. these groups never invited her to create something that actually corrected the problems she called out; they listened to her critique and they thought that was enough.
.. While Johnson believes that folks in her circles “didn’t necessarily vote for Trump,” they are part of a larger culture that made widespread white evangelical support for Trump possible. By staying in this environment, she hopes to attack one of the root causes of this problem: “An impoverished theology where people don’t understand a ‘God of the oppressed.’”
Whereas, “as black folks, we’ve always had to hold onto this God of the oppressed…a God who interacts with the systems around us.”
.. If anything, white evangelical support for Trump has prompted a “big ideological shift” in her work, from an interest in producing “do gooders” to a generation of Christians willing to work for the liberation of other people.
.. “everyone is reconsidering whether or not they want to remain under the moniker ‘evangelical,’” including minorities, white people, the young and the old, “because the word ‘evangelical’ has been truly hijacked by a movement to maintain the political, economic and social supremacy of whiteness.”
.. her desire to reclaim “a movement that was about the coming of the Kingdom of God and the flourishing of the image of God on Earth,” as well as the release of the image of God from captivity
.. For those staying, they must contend with a dominant white theology, shaped in the cauldron of privilege, which suggests that a successful life springs from an individual’s good, moral choices alone. It fails to recognize how unfair policies and societal structures harm the economic and social wellbeing of those subject to those systems.
Those who stay must also contend with a politicized evangelical movement fundamentally shaped in the late 1970s by a desire to preserve segregation. As documented by historian Randall Balmer, the religious right galvanized evangelicals into a political movement when the IRS threatened to revoke the tax exempt status of racially discriminatory Christian schools. Today, evangelicals of color staying to “combat racism from within” are working against a deeply entrenched culture.
.. But even if a demographic shift seems inevitable, the question is: will the power shift be inevitable? Do white evangelicals have the capacity to share power at scale?
.. baked into the culture of evangelicalism is a distrust of non-evangelical voices, even those who have been doing the work of social justice for decades. But the threats of this new administration might change all that.
.. George Mekhail struck an invitational tone in an attempt to “figure out this guy’s deal.” Sure, George felt “humiliated” by the man’s insistence that his hat made him look like a terrorist, but what could he say? Only a white partygoer could rebuke the man because, “as the brown guy in the room, I can’t be that voice [without coming across as] the agitator.” In a final act of submission, George yanked the beanie off his head and asked, “There, is that better?” The man took a good look at George, his youthful brown eyes, his thin trail of a beard and his short black hair unwinding from hat head.
“No,” the man replied. “You still look like a terrorist.”
.. George decided to leave evangelicalism, though he remains firmly in the Christian tradition, working to hold the faith community to a higher standard.
.. Ambiguous church policies hurt congregants, George argues. For example, most churches claim to “welcome everybody,” but quietly hold policies that exclude particular communities. For the gay person who devotes his life to a church only to discover years later that their pastor won’t baptize him or marry him, “just create[s] so much humiliation and shame
.. Demand clarity without judgment. He’s not trying to convince anyone to change their policies, even if he disagrees with them
.. His long-term vision includes a database that houses the policies of churches. “If we can do that, then we let people vote with their feet.”
.. George, who has lately been asking, “if there is anything redeemable about evangelicalism.”
“I think evangelicalism is the empire that’s about to fall,” he says. “It needs to be dismantled because it’s too powerful and it’s all about money.” Rather than centering the needs of the marginalized and justice work, George sees a toxic faith system that platforms capitalism, unsustainable growth, a prosperity narrative, flashy services and pastors who hang with celebrities. To George, “everything” is at stake.
“We’re at the part of the story where Jesus goes into the temple and flips over tables.”