Like many Americans, I’ve reached the point in the election cycle where I’m having to actually consider what a Trump presidency would look like for the country – a notion that most of us laughed off just a few months ago. It’s a disturbing prospect.
Something that I’ve found fascinating in all of this is the general public response to Trump’s candidacy thus far. I try to follow a wide range of news sources and thought leaders – some are pretty liberal, some are pretty conservative, and a few fall in between. In the past week or so, there’s been this funny little trend, where commentators are struggling to determine how Trump’s gotten so far, and why he’s doing so well. It’s funny to me because people from all over the spectrum seem to agree that a Trump presidency would be terrible – it’s almost always treated as some looming potential disaster – and now they’re trying to figure out why this bad thing is happening and how we can stop it. The theories are varied, conflicting, and definitely interesting. But I come away from all of these articles (but especially the ones written by and for conservatives) with the same question: if a Donald Trump presidency is so obviously bad for America, then who on earth is voting for him?
Finally, I investigated – i.e., I literally Googled that question. Again, theories abound, but I did find a few statistic-laden articles that were really helpful. The New York Times had a particularly helpful account, which basically said what many of us were already thinking: when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity, Donald Trump’s supporters are statistically more intolerant than other Republicans (and presumably most Democrats).
The data is startling: compared to the other candidates’ supporters, Trump’s are more likely to support banning Muslims from entering the US, support making Islam illegal, believe that whites are the superior race, and – get this – disagree with the Emancipation Proclamation. Most startling of this all is that this isn’t necessarily an indictment of Donald Trump himself, but of Americans as a whole. After all, the people who support him aren’t in the margins anymore, but are instead emerging as a powerful voting bloc. The aforementioned Times article summarizes this well: “it’s worth noting that (Trump) isn’t persuading voters to hold these beliefs. The beliefs were there – and have been for some time.”
The purpose of this rant isn’t actually to point fingers at Republicans, or Trump supporters, or even bigots. Instead, I have another theory to throw into the pile.
Right now, the church is in the midst of Lent, the season where we turn our gaze inward and examine the darkness within our own hearts. During this time, we’re called to acknowledge and wrestle with the sin that’s so deeply entrenched in ourselves, our families, our institutions, and our world. Normally, when something goes wrong, we look outward for the cause, point fingers, and find weakness in structures or systems. But during Lent, we try to consider the part that we as individuals play in the problem, and repent. For the purposes of this argument, let’s call Lent an annual wake-up call, a reminder that we aren’t as good as we think we are.
Donald Trump’s success is surprising and perplexing. But why wouldn’t it be? We’re always surprised and perplexed when things go wrong. We don’t have an answer for violence, or disease, or poverty, or even our own shortcomings. We have a grand vision for how things ought to be, and when reality doesn’t measure up, we find ourselves disappointed and confused.
Americans have a nasty habit of feeling superior. Case in point, Trump’s tagline is “make America great again,” but I suspect that many, if not all, of the candidates and voters want this. Which suggests that Americans believe that our country is, or was, or ought to stand out as great amongst all others. Trump’s success so far is a wake-up call in itself, like a large-scale Lent: maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are. Apparently, as a country we’re actually more racist and fearful than we thought we were just a few months ago, when people laughed at the thought of him actually standing a chance. The land of the free might just be okay with building that wall. The home of the brave is actually pretty scared of Muslims.
Again, the “we” I’m referring to isn’t just Republicans, or Trump supporters, or even bigots. Since it’s Lent, I have to be honest and recognize that all of us – starting with me – play some part in this mess.