Plato once remarked that the leaders of his ideal republic were as follows: wealthy, educated, and virtuous. Plato believed that the wealthy had access to the education that was necessary to teach the virtues of the polis. Thus, it would insane to let the poor, uneducated masses control the republic; they were simply unable to do so for the benefit of all, neither could they understand the complexities of governance, an understanding that only education could provide.
Fast-forward to today, and we come to our republic, the United States of America, and we see Plato’s plutocracy in action. The rich and educated for the most part control the polis; you cannot get elected without money and/or connections to those with money. Unfortunately, the educated and wealthy in our society are not necessarily virtuous, the key component that is missing from Plato’s governing formula; without virtue wealth and education only lead to manipulative domination, the kind of sickness that has pervaded our politics for years.
But that brings us to another tension in American society; our electorate. Many believe, incorrectly, that the United States of America is a democracy, that the founding fathers intended the people to directly rule the country. Thus, we see the uneducated, poor masses start to feel left out of governance, their elected representatives no longer (if they ever) representing their best interests in Washington D.C. Thus, these democratic minded individuals believe it is time to burn everything to the ground. If Washington D.C. does not want to represent them, then they have no further reason to believe in the republic. The call of democracy often leads to the rise of tyrants, because true democracies account for the will of all the people, not just those who are capable of navigating and understanding the complexities of government.
Enter Donald J. Trump. No one really likes him; they think he is a horrible human being who has an ego that makes the biblical Nebuchadnezzar blush. The man has no character, no morals, lacks good judgment, says openly demeaning and racists things against various citizenry of the United States, and stated publicly last night that if he wins he will put his rival into prison. That last sentence more reminiscent of Soviet Russia than any other modern presidency except maybe Richard Nixon. To my amazement prominent evangelicals such Robert Jeffers and Franklin Graham have flocked to support his rise to prominence in the Republican party. Then this past weekend, video was revealed where Trump was talking about kissing and groping women; something that is tantamount to sexual assault. Need I go on?
Oh, by the way, let’s talk about the Republican party for a moment. The Republican Party has always been a party of the elite, much like the Democrats. They have manipulated poor, white, working voters much in same way that Democrats have manipulated poor, black, working voters. Sure the tactics have been different, but the results have been the same. The Republican Party has always been more obviously for the wealthy than the Democrats have in modern times. Thus, the populist uprising of Trumpites brings them no glee or satisfaction, as for the longest time they were able to use this group’s ignorance and sometimes racism to obtain power. But now they are no longer content to hear the rhetoric, and they have put forth their own candidate. A man, who though wealthy, is as much a bull-in-the-china shop as they are. In many ways, this was a hostile takeover of the Republican party by its base, and Republican leadership is reaping what it sowed. Many of them are horrified by Trump, and cannot stand what he represents. He is not a conservative or even a moderate, he is a liberal with a very populist bent who wants people to think he is the next coming of Jesus Christ. This has put people like Paul Ryan in a character bind, which unfortunately he forfeited when he backed Trump’s nomination. I do not like him very much, but I respect Mitt Romney a whole lot more for his steady stance against Trump; he even came up out and made a speech marking the dangers of Trump’s candidacy. But Romney is an elitist, and his call was mostly ignored. Trump goes against what the Republican party has stood for over the years…and yet for the “sake of the team” they are grinning and bearing it. You can think the insufferable Reince Priebus for that.
And now the Democrats, who should have this election handed them, along with Trump’s proverbial head, on a silver platter and yet cannot seem to cut it off. The Democrats too have had the stirrings of a different kind of populism on the Left; their base flocked to Bernie Sanders’ rallies, but they didn’t go and give him the voting support he needed to win. These individuals were also grossly ignorant of how our republic works, trying to push for such sweeping changes in one presidency that would the whole system into shock. But he lost, and thus, there is a large part of the Democratic Party that is begrudgingly voting for Hillary Clinton. Clinton is probably the worst candidate the Democrats could have put on the ticket. Yes, she is smart, yes she is qualified, and yes I think she would do a decent job as president; however, she is fraught with the perception of wrongdoing and scandal…plus she has the tendency to choke in the last hours of the campaign. During the debate last night it was frustrating for me to see her inability to put Donald Trump away. This is supposed to be her election, if put against any of the other Republican candidates (except maybe Ted Cruz), she would likely have been taken down by now. But she has Trump; all she has to do is not say something stupid and let him self-destruct…but she can’t help but make matters worse for herself. She made a comment two weekends ago about millennials that once again put her in hot water with the Sanders’ supporters, many who are millenials. Last night’s debate was disappointing, because all she had to do was go after what is already apparent: Donald Trump is terrible human being and has no place being the leader of the free world. When she had the opportunity to close down the Donald, she did not take it and so keeping the possibility that he will actually hang on and win this race.
Trump is quite possibly the worse human being to ever be nominated as president, but Trump stands for the downfall of the Washington Elite, whose main spokespersons are people like the Clintons. The Trumpites of the Republican base, people who have voted Republican who are not truly Republicans, do not want to compromise and they do not want to play nice; they want to burn the whole thing to the ground.
They want to end the republic.
Now mind you, I did not say they wanted to end the United States; no, they want to end the republic. For the longest time this nation has been ruled by its elected representatives; “We the People” means the people we send to represent it us. If we wish to change the government, we have to take the responsibility to send people who are knowledgeable and virtuous (in a meritocracy education is more widely available to differing classes, so being wealthy is not necessarily a requirement in our context) to govern on our behalf. As I have said before, our government is a reflection of ourselves…and if that is true we are imploding fast. Unable to compromise, and with few champions to stand up for the oppressed, the majority uneducated, ignorant part of the electorate wants a savior to get them want they want. Trump was one side of this uprising, but Sanders was the other side. Two groups of increasingly polarized individuals who are finding it harder to live next to each other without resorting to hatred and violence.
Abraham Lincoln, quoting Jesus, said that a house divided cannot stand; it is one thing to disagree on how the system should work; it is entirely different thing to try to tear down the system. When one-half of the country still believes the system can still work and the other half wants burn it to the ground and build something else, it is clear that there is a lot more at stake in this election than at first meets the eye.
Evangelical leaders have tried to say that the Supreme Court is more important than anything else, whether that is the protection of religious freedom, or the overturn of Roe v. Wade or same-sex marriage. I feel like these are unhealthy pipe dreams; Evangelicals willing to sell their souls on other issues to ensure their own morality continues to be forced on an unbelieving populace. It is one thing to state our views and try to influence policy, it is quite another to use government as a means of making the kingdom of God physically rule over the kingdom of man before it is time. I believe this to be incredibly short-sighted and using the law as a shield to prop up belief. Convictions are those we stand on whether we are persecuted for them or not; in my view many who are advocating for us all to vote for Trump are simply afraid of the cost they may have to face, a cost that is shared disproportionately with brothers and sisters around the globe.
In my mind at least, Trump and his blinded-by-hate supporters, are more dangerous to the stability and continuance of American democracy than anything Hillary Clinton did or did not do while Secretary of State. Trump’s supporters, for the most part, are just as incoherent, rambling, and uninformed as the candidate is. Now, that is not to say that Trump’s followers do not have legitimate complaints against the republic; they do. Many of Trump’s supporters were in manufacturing, or were laid off by petroleum companies, or are miners hurt by coal’s demise. Something should have been done to help these communities move on and transition; clean energy does not necessarily mean a better livelihood for those who work in the oil fields or the coal mines. Cheaper products and rampant consumerism comes at the price of American manufacturing jobs; at least on the large scale. It is not these people should not be helped; they should be helped just as much as the people stuck in a cycle of poverty in the inner city. But rather, it is simply that they do not want to take the time to truly understand what is going on in our country and in the world; they would rather rail and complain about their plight than to constructively elect good representatives to fix it. That is not even democracy; that is mob rule, and the founding fathers created the government in such a way that it would not succumb to such sudden populistic fervor.
Unfortunately, Congress has been deadlocked; the tension between elite conservatives and elite liberals have caused legislation to come to a grinding halt. It started with tenure of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and then extended into the tenure of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, and even now with Paul Ryan. The governing elites have come to a wretched stand still, so much so that normally sensible people would risk putting a Putin-esque tyrant in the Oval Office, rather than deal with Hillary Clinton’s “more of the same.” But this greatly misunderstands the way that the founding fathers intended government to run; they purposely designed the republic and its three branches to make progress and change slow. Sudden shocks to system could bring instability and bring down the government.
I write all of this because I want to make the case that Trump and the majority of his supporters are more arsonists than populists. Trump does not believe in the rule of law; he has used many bankruptcy and tax loopholes to avoid the penalties of bad business deals and mistakes. He has said that when you are a celebrity you get to do whatever you want to women, sounding strangely “Cosby-esque.” All that matters to Trump is that his name is plastered across the White House lawn. He repeatedly threatened the press, especially when they expose just how much he and his cronies live in the land of puff the magic dragon. He has threatened to use the Department of Justice to potentially jail his political adversary. His very rise has empowered bullies, thugs, and other less desirables to act on their base impulses for the sake of not being “politically-correct.” He takes from the Brownshirts playbook so much that it is eerie, and truly scary. The American government is solid and there are many checks and balances, but it is not tyrant proof. Those who think that Obama or Bush abused their political powers…you have no idea what you would inviting if you voted Trump in the White House. There is such a thing as martial law, and if you think for one minute that Trump would not find a way to do it…you are sadly mistaken. One terrorist attack, one BLM rally that goes south, one disaster…and say hello to your new dictator. Don’t think it can happen? Ask the Roman Republic.
We may have November 8 circled on our calendar, but we need to circle November 5th and watch “V” for Vendetta…because if we are not vigilant it can happen here. Then not only will religious freedom be lost, but all other freedom as well.
I do want to end on a positive note, however. My church is going through the book of Daniel, and there is a phrase that is repeated often within the book itself:
“The Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
At the end of the day, our problem as Christians is that we have put too much trust in a system, in a constitution, in a political theory or party. Our government is flawed, and will one day either erode in the sands of time or it will be brought to kneel at the feet of Jesus. It is not permanent, and it will not endure forever. Education, though beneficial and certainly helpful, will not save us. Hard work, though also beneficial and helpful, will not save us. Worshiping the government as a god is just as much idolatry as worshiping ourselves as god. We think we would do better, that we would make the right choices…but we fail to see our own blindness and need of dependence on God. Our only hope has always been that the crucified Jesus is also the resurrected Christ, the Son of the Living God. Without that hope, all else in this world is surely lost.
Yes the republic may fall; my pleas and the pleas of others may also fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. But at some point we have to stop protecting ourselves and start loving our neighbor and serving our communities in ways that honor Jesus. If we are called to government, we do it realizing we are ultimately a servant of God and that we must seek to govern in such a manner, but we do not put any trust in the government. We are a people who are a part of an eternal kingdom, ruled by infinitely wise and benevolent king who refuses to leave the world in the state that it is in. Until then, our hope must be in the person, work, and mission of Jesus. Our eyes must be opened in scripture, prayer, and in our works; we must be pointing people to the Father and not ourselves, like or example, full of grace and truth.
God is sovereign over the kingdoms of the earth; and he gives them to whomever he wants. Let’s pray that he will give it to the right person. It is my personal conviction and belief that the right person is not Donald J. Trump, and I hope that this will be your conviction as well. Let us seek and strive to build up what God has entrusted us with, and not in a fit of rage and impatience tear the whole thing down.
Grace and Peace