To watch the news these days, you’d think that President Trump’s army of dissatisfied white Christian people is happily moving its agenda forward, but you’d be mistaken. Hundreds of the ear tickling promises made by Trump-the-candidate are off the table or have been brushed aside entirely by Trump-the-president, and some people are having doubts about their man. This is most readily expressed in the interactive social media discussions among friends. These are truly amazing to observe, and some of those defending the president’s every behavior have reached a level of absurdity not even required before the election. With a 35 percent approval rating, and members of his Make American Great Again team either quitting or getting fired, some people are now suggesting his days as president are numbered. How long his core supporters will cling to the guy can’t be known, but one important thing is being overlooked by the professional observers: the anger for a revolution against the status quo that Donald Trump originally tapped remains unsatisfied. This is only going to get worse. Victims of a film-flam man aren’t likely to buy in again, but that anger is still festering.
My father was a factory worker in the furniture industry in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He operated a router, cutting the same piece for the same furniture over and over again for twenty years as part of an assembly line. He was a working man and a Democrat of the Adlai Stevenson ilk. My father simply could not vote for Republicans, because they represented the wealthy, including the boss, the owners, the managers, all those who got rich on the backs of others, especially labor. “Silk stockings” I recall hearing.
At the annual company picnic, the children of employees were each given a silver dollar, and it was a big, big deal for all of us. They were heavy and big, and they made our eyes pop. We always ended up spending them later, but for the moment, we felt rich. However, those shiny coins were also emblematic of the reality that the people carrying the bags full of them and handing them out were the overseers, and we, as recipients of their largess, were not. When you hold a big silver dollar in your little hand, the mind wanders to what it might be like to hold two. Or three. Or more.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 “Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor.” ESV
My father even disliked Gerald Ford, the local boy who became president in the wake of Watergate. Ford came from East Grand Rapids, considered the other side of the tracks from our modest means. Ford’s policies were not Nixon’s, because his favor came from a different sort of Republican ― the business elite and their
desire need to advocate for wealth and more wealth.
This disgust with the rich is now gone from our culture. It’s been replaced by a sinister form of dangled carrot envy that shouts, “The liberals have robbed you of your chance at the good life through the tyranny of the minority, so all you have to do is vote against them to get back what really belongs to you.” This forms a fascinating paradox for the people who elected Donald Trump, because there simply aren’t enough bodies in the one percent to elect a candidate anywhere. You must have working class people included, and that remains the biggest mystery of the Trump phenomenon. How do you get people like my father to vote WITH those above you in every status measurement? It’s actually easier than you think. You tell them that it’s not the fault of the rich that you sit in the have-not cabin; it’s those damned liberals. And so discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it, and that’s the trade-off for those who swallow the dangled carrot. The more you have, the more you need, and the one percent knows this paradox well, and they exploit it to keep the scales balanced in such a way as to favor their trickle down imaginings.
Television reality shows pay their stars well, so even “realities” like the Jersey Shore, a Louisiana swamp, or a small town in rural Georgia are skewed by those with money in their pockets. Then there are the Kardashians. Endorsement deals featuring reality show “celebrities” create a wannabe sub-culture that mimics the wealthy in ways that contribute to the envy of one’s neighbor. Think not? Spend a little time wandering around Instagram asking who’s getting paid for promoting what? How much of the debt in our culture comes from young people trying to emulate those they see on TV or online? Johnny has that car, so why not me? It doesn’t matter that Johnny was given the car to promote sales to you.
This is the self-centered cultural core that we explored at The 700 Club to raise money and channel this discontent to the Republican Party. It’s all in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP. Any person who will dance and kick with arms raised in church, speak in tongues, fall to the floor “in the spirit,” lay hands on the sick for healing, and generally give themselves over to a public display of emotional worship in unison with others can easily be convinced to step outside reason on matters of conscience, economics, and politics. We taught that wealth creation was a holy calling, because wealthy Christians could then use that wealth to help the poor and the afflicted. Since they were busy people, however, we offered to “help” them do their duty by using their money for them, which encouraged their participation in funding everything that was CBN. We also regularly encouraged viewers to test God with their offerings, which tapped that core of envy while filling our coffers with tax-deductible contributions. It was a heady time for us indeed. We were changing the world and doing it for good, we thought.
But envy unsatisfied is frustration, which is a three-syllable word for anger, and absent an outlet, anger is shoved inside to reappear when frustration’s targets can be identified as liberal thieves out to steal everything that’s ours. It didn’t matter if this was true or not; it only needed to appear to be true, for such is the power of television’s version of mass marketing.
The problem with anger is that it can redirect energy away from truth. Resentments always color one’s existence, because the narrative can only present a skewed reality. Resentment also directly connects us to the past, where we are simply unable to fully enjoy all that exists for us in the present. So, to paraphrase Pascal, we never live, but we hope to live, and in so doing it’s inevitable that we will never be happy. This is neither God’s best for us, nor His plan. We are simply unable to live life on Life’s terms so long as we are bolted to the past (or the future). We paint ourselves as victims who deserve better. However, the best a victim can do is survive, while those willing to embrace life fully are free to win. This is my choice daily.
The idea that the haves should govern the have-nots is straight out of the colonialist playbook, the outcome of which is only good for the conquerers and the rich people who write the rules. This is the gift of civilization for those in charge. Ron Sider, writing for Christianity Today (The Holy Calling of Wealth Creation Isn’t So Simple), says this about a new document from the Lausanne Movement and Business as Mission Global called “The Wealth Creation Manifesto,”
While this manifesto is reflective of important biblical themes, it ignores others and ultimately fails to provide the balanced wisdom and guidance so urgently needed on this important topic.
Here’s the deal. There is an Evangelical Christian belief that the Bible calls for men (and women?) of God to be the keepers of wealth in the community, because, apparently, we’ll follow certain righteous mandates and make sure everybody is treated from a fair economic perspective. Mr. Sider does a brilliant job of deconstructing this, and I wish I could simply copy and paste the whole thing. Here’s just one paragraph:
Any manifesto that celebrates wealth creation without also acknowledging the ways wealth creation can be unjust is an inadequate representation of central biblical themes and current realities. The Bible continually stresses God’s special concern for the poor and the importance of just distribution. The manifesto does insist that “wealth hoarding is wrong, and wealth sharing should be encouraged,” but this does not come close to dealing realistically with the astonishing, unjust concentration of wealth that exists today.
So here we sit ― with right-wing Christians having elected a man who promised to assuage their anger by “Making America Great Again.” However, that’s not happening and is not likely to happen given the policies and promises provided to make it so. This is the open window through which President Trump’s opponents ― whether Republican, Independent, or Democrat ― should enter in order to make a difference in coming elections. The anger is still there. The envy is still there. And certainly the selfishness isn’t going anywhere either.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.