“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world”. Socrates.
Why has Donald Trump been elected president today?
That’s a question I’ve seen asked time and again on social media this morning. I’m not an expert in American politics, and the reasons for Trump’s rise to power are complex. But there is a subtle factor in his success that isn’t unique to the USA.
Across the Western world, privileged people are feeling disempowered. Those who have always done well, socially and economically, suddenly find themselves feeling hard done by.
There is a mistrust of the establishment and a suspicion of institutions. We can speculate on events of the past decade that have fed this ill feeling.
A vote for Trump, or (in the UK) for Brexit, or UKIP or Corbyn is, for some, an anti-establishment protest vote. Here are people or movements, set slightly apart from the establishment, who promise a voice to those who have been told that they are voiceless.
(This in itself deserves some unpacking. What has gone so wrong that those who have most privilege, most opportunity, most wealth, feel like they actually have least? What about those who are truly voiceless: victims of violence, racism and trafficking, asylum seekers, those who can’t afford to eat or stay warm – who is giving them a voice?)
Amidst the fear and anxiety and disempowerment appears a man who can promise to make all our dreams come true. He hears these narratives of disappointment and disillusionment, and he tells a winning story. The shady tycoon plays the part of fairy godmother. What does he offer that is so attractive that it sells to the USA a man so otherwise repulsive?
These quotes are from his victory speech this morning:
Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division, we have to get together.
I will be president for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.
We will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream.
Every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world.
Nothing we want for our future is beyond our reach.
We must reclaim our country’s destiny and dream big and bold and daring.
While we will always put America’s interests first, we will deal fairly with everyone.
Sounds pretty good right? The perfect remedy, in fact, to fear and anxiety about the future. The people will come together. Every man and woman will be encouraged to reach their full potential. No one will feel forgotten any longer. Jobs will be created and wealth generated. America will be safe, secure and successful. The dream will come true.
But these words are the first bricks in the wall that will shut the privileged in, and everyone else out. There are no bridges promised here. Here is America saying me, me, me. In Trump’s references to international relationships he made it clear that any such relationships would be on America’s terms:
We will get along with all other nations [pause] willing to get along with us.
Watching this speech live, Trump’s pause was deliberate, manipulative and threatening.
This is a fairly tale that feeds fear and denies America’s responsibilities as citizens of the world. It reassures the disempowered by offering them safety and security at a cost that they won’t have to pay. America’s dream becomes the world’s nightmare.
There has to be another way. What story can people of faith – the everyday theologians on the ground – tell, to counter these narratives of fear and the fairy tales that promise all and deliver little?
One of the greatest challenges facing faith communities this century is the rise of religious and political extremism. I heard Rowan Williams speak recently about how the Desert Fathers and Mothers – the theologians of 2000 years ago – were “thinking through what it means to live as a guest in God’s world”.
Here is the seed of a radical theology of hospitality. We are not citizens of our nation, but of the world. And this is not our world, but God’s world. God is the host, and we are his guests. The people we hate are his guests too. You and I, Donald Trump and the jihadist fighter – all guests of God.
How does this begin to reshape our narratives of fear, anxiety and disempowerment?