I am told that there are three kinds of cultures in the Western world today, each with its own “bottom line”:
- political cultures based on the manipulation of power,
- economic cultures based on the manipulation of money, and
- religious cultures based on the manipulation of some theory about God.
These three cultures are based on different forms of violence, although it is usually denied by most participants and hidden from the superficial observer. Evil gains its power from disguise. Jesus undid the mask of disguise and revealed that our true loyalty was seldom really to God, but to power, money, and group belonging. (In fact, religion is often the easiest place to hide from God.)
Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated a new social order, an alternative to violence, exclusion, and separation. Jesus went so far as to promise us this alternate reality. It is no fantastical utopia, but a very real and achievable peace—by the grace of God. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God. It is the subject of his inaugural address (Luke 4:14-30) , his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and most of his parables. Indeed, it is the guiding image of Jesus’ entire ministry. Most Christians glibly recite “Thy kingdom come
.. Jesus was killed for opposing the religious and political powers of his time. “It is better for one man to die for the people” (John 18:14) than to question the bottom line that is holding the whole system together.
When Christians accept that Jesus was killed for the same reason that people have been killed in all of human history (rather than because he walked around saying “I am God”), we will have turned an important corner on our quest for the historical Jesus.
.. He was rejected because of his worldview much more than his God-view. Yet these two are intrinsically connected. This now and not-yet Reign of God is the foundation for our personal hope and our cosmic optimism, but it is also the source of our deepest alienation from the world as it is. We are strangers and nomads on this earth (see Hebrews 11:13). Our task is to learn how to live in both worlds until they become one—at least in us.
Once again expressing hostility toward entire groups of immigrants, he further damages American political culture.
.. The president of the United States should not, by word or deed, communicate that he is hostile to or disdainful of entire classes of the American population. It doesn’t matter if such divisive rhetoric helps him win elections, nor if the reaction of his opponents is often overblown. As president, his obligation remains the same: Make your case without demonizing whole groups of people.
This shouldn’t be difficult for conservatives to understand. It’s an argument they’ve been making against Democrats for the better part of a decade. It’s the argument against identity politics.
Virtually every engaged conservative knows the term “bitter clinger.” When Barack Obama spoke at a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008 and offered his amateur sociological assessment that some Americans become “bitter” about social change and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” conservatives didn’t hear dispassionate analysis. They heard contempt.
.. Among the terrible effects of negative polarization is the widespread perception — often created by presidents and presidential candidates themselves — that a president governs for the benefit of his constituents alone.
.. Indeed, in the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” comment and her declaration that Republicans were her “enemies,” millions of conservatives were motivated to go to the polls. (Remember “charge the cockpit or die”?)
.. First, if you’re spending your time defending the notion that some countries are truly bad places to live, you’re missing the point entirely. Of course some countries are worse places to live than others. But Trump wasn’t talking about which countries he’d most like to visit or retire to. He was talking about which countries’ immigrants should be most and least welcomed by the United States.
.. Second, these comments must be understood in the context of Trump’s relatively short history as the country’s most visible political figure. From the opening moments of his presidential campaign, Trump has made sweeping, negative remarks about immigrants from third-world nations.
.. Even when he qualifies those remarks (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people”) the qualification is weak.
.. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out this morning, the president’s businesses have been credibly accused of racial discrimination, he claimed that an American judge couldn’t do his job fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, he delayed condemning David Duke as long as he possibly could, and after the dreadful alt-right rally and terrorist attack in Charlottesville, he went out of his way to declare that there were “very fine people” on both sides. One doesn’t even have to delve too deeply into Trump’s alleged comparison of Norway with the “sh**holes” of Africa to understand why a reasonable observer would believe that he has problems with entire classes of Americans, immigrants, and citizens of other nations.
.. But it’s just as ridiculous for conservatives to pretend that the outrage over Trump’s comments truly centers around his assessment of Haiti and Africa when it clearly centers around his assessment of Haitians and Africans.
At this point I simply can’t see how a conservative could look a concerned third-world immigrant (or descendent of a third-world immigrant) in the eye and assert that this president judges them fairly and without bias. The intellectual and rhetorical gymnastics necessary to justify not just Trump’s alleged comments yesterday but his entire history and record of transparent hostility to certain immigrants are getting embarrassing to watch. Some of his comments may “work” politically — divisive comments often do — but that doesn’t make them any less damaging to American political culture as a whole.