Trump and autocracy vs faith

The last blog I wrote, some two months ago, concerned Donald Trump appearing in front of the ‘Church of the Presidents’ holding up a Bible. It was a highly orchestrated moment; shortly beforehand, police were ordered to clear away Black Lives Matter protestors with stun grenades.

It was a strange moment, perplexing and infuriating.

The memory of it has stayed with me.

Recently, I downloaded ‘Surviving Autocracy’ a book by Masha Gessen, which interrogates Trump’s Presidency in terms of an evolving dynamic of autocracy. The notion is profoundly disturbing.

I find the insights offered in this work both revealing and helpful. Gessen’s insights also point to, likely unwittingly, an essential dimension of Christian faith.

I have frequently struggled to figure out why Trump’s antics engage so many people, and more particularly, why they can’t see through his bluster.

Gessen offers this arresting insight: as an aspiring autocrat, Trump’s intended audience is himself, not primarily his base but himself.

That makes him a narcissist, but there is more.

Part of Trump’s strategy involves denigrating and showing contempt for the very institution of government of which he is the head.

Gessen claims that the political apparatus of functioning nation-states requires ongoing acts of good faith in the structure and purpose of government, regardless of its political colour.

And this is precisely what Trump refuses to do.

He offers no act of faith in anything other than himself.

To use slightly dated language, he is shameless.

I fear it is this that attracts many of his followers.

These days, shame is perceived unfavourably; however, it does have a positive aspect. It’s a forceful, internal recognition that there is a larger frame of reference to which everyone is bound.

Trump appears to experience no shame, likely because his world and his reality end at the outermost layer of his skin. Beyond that, he has little interest.

Trump’s tactics represent a devastating rupture in the long-held notion that others matter, to use religious language, that you should love your neighbour as yourself.

The golden rule presupposes the ultimate act of good faith: others matter as much as I do.

Further, relationships that exist between people matter as much as the individuals involved in them.

The realm ‘beyond each individual’ is the realm of God, as much as it is the realm of building community and politics.

Regardless of a leader’s professed beliefs, what we look for, and need, are leaders profoundly committed to and concerned for this realm.

When they act for its welfare, they promote a world closely aligned with the kingdom of God.

Any leader who can’t see beyond self is unable to do this.