Monday, August 1, 2016

William Imboden on Trump, Christians and the 1930s

There is something of a media parlour game going on at present.  As Donald Trump's authoritarian leanings become more and more apparent, it's tempting to ask if our American friends are going through a Weimar moment, or wonder, hopefully, if their democracy is not too vitiated to withstand Trumpism.


William Imboden, a US national security scholar, today offers a perceptive analysis of how the political and social trends of the 1930s imbues our present moment.    Rather than identify Trump with any political figure of that era, Imboden writes that DT embodies the ethos of that time, when the "very values and institutions of democracy, capitalism, and a peaceful and stable international order themselves faced a crisis of public trust and legitimacy".


I found Imboden's theological analysis of the present danger for people of faith to be especially salient.   His identification of US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as an advocate of robust resistance to evil as a guide for the Christians today is interesting and makes me want to read Niebuhr again.  Here is an excerpt of Imboden's argument about the temptation lurking in Trump's appeal to some Christians.


In a man who proclaims Christian faith yet boasts never to have asked God for forgiveness of sins and displays little knowledge of the Bible, many observant American Christians find themselves perplexed. Political commentator and devout Christian Pete Wehner has distilled the essence of Trump’s theology into a perverse worship of power. As Wehner wrote recently, in Trump’s mind, “a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and above all to power. He never seems free of his obsession with it.” He then quotes Trump’s remarks to a group of evangelicals:
And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: If you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.
As Wehner points out, Trump’s obsession with power is inimical to the Christian Gospel, which proclaims the paradox that only in our weakness can God in Christ redeem us and make us strong.

Read Imboden's whole piece here.   It will take you a few moments, but well worth it.
MP+

5 comments:

Richard Griffith said...

The reason we're perplexed is because the other candidate appears even worse!

Richard Griffith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Peterson said...

Thank you Richard Griffith. I assume you are not a bot, even though you don't seem to have been interested in reading the article in question in this post. I find your comment interesting, and would like to know what you mean by worse, considering that no one has questioned HRC's stability (Robert Kagan, WAPO https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/there-is-something-very-wrong-with-donald-trump/2016/08/01/73809c72-57fe-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html) or that he is a danger to the republic (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/opinion/worthy-of-our-contempt.html?emc=edit_th_20160801&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=55545204). Perhaps worse simply means "a Democrat"?

Pat G said...

Trump worships at the temple of Donald. He'll wrap himself in faith - any faith - as long as it furthers his aims.

I must take a minor exception to part of Imboden's piece. From the non-believer perspective, Christianity, especially the fundamentalist strains, still have a strong grip on US culture and society. Where Imboden states that Christians are seeing a loss of power, other observers see the opposite citing things like the "In God We Trust" initiative and governmental support for purely religious projects such as the Ark Experience. Maintaining the basics of the First Amendment is a full time activity for some US atheist groups.

What I think can be agreed on, is that some strains of US Christianity feel that they are under attack by an increasingly secular culture and, to be blunt, Islam. While not justified, these feelings lead to fear and fear is the currency Trump uses so well to buy his followers support.

Dark times are ahead for our southern cousins and I fear, the world.

Matt said...

Excellent article Mike. I learned a lot from it and will now have to chase down some reading on many of the leaders mentioned in if. The 30s was definitely a tumultuous time for America and the world and many of the issues faced then clearly resonate today.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.

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