1. I remember when men I trusted and respected said Obama would never win. I was confused by their confidence. I remember watching Obama’s speech right after the news had broken about his former pastor’s inflammatory sermons. I remember because I watched him deliver that eloquent, soaring address from a hospital room in South Carolina. I told my wife then that I didn’t think there was any way he could lose. Then he won, twice. I still trust and respect those men, but it was one of the first times I noticed how sometimes it’s hard for even really good, well-meaning people to see what other people see or hear what other people hear. Michael Moore and about a dozen other people in the universe saw what most folks couldn’t see or fathom leading up to this election: Trump will win. But that blindness and deafness doesn’t just vanish the day after the polls close. No, it is still plaguing our nation.
2. At some point over the last couple of days, Peter Thiel made the sharp observation that “Media took Trump literally, but not seriously. His supporters take him seriously, not literally.” And the point could easily be applied more broadly than just the media: most everyone who hates, fears, and opposes Trump takes Trump literally but not seriously. Or, given the riots, the tears, the outrage at the result of the election, perhaps we ought to say that they are now beginning to take their literal interpretation of Trump very seriously. There’s a thin line separating the hilarity of a joke and the horror of a nightmare. But there’s something important to catch in the second half of Thiel’s point: Trump’s supporters take him seriously but not literally. I believe this is massively important. The hysterical claims that Trump stands for racism, hatred, xenophobia and so on (despite the occasional supporter who really would claim one of those titles proudly), quite simply misses the entire point of Trump. The best example I can think of is my own grandpa, whom I love, admire, and deeply respect. But he never finished junior high, served in the Marines as a teenager, and worked on oil rigs for most of his life. He’s what you’d call rough around the edges on many counts, but he has a heart of gold. Now if you wrote everything down he said and published it on the internet, he’d easily garner many of the same accusations as Trump and his supporters. And not that my grandpa doesn’t need any polishing or refining, but I would adamantly oppose anyone who said he was full of hate or bigotry. A bit crass? Sure. Overly blunt? Yep. Give a damn what people think of him? Not so much. But full of hate? Absolutely not. But the only way you’d know that is if you took him seriously and not literally. And let me be clear, I’m not arguing that Trump has a heart of gold. My point is about interpretation and communication.
3. But if we’re honest, every one of us hopes to be interpreted in the most charitable light. No one wants to be taken literally at every moment and evaluated in a wooden, sterile sense. We want to be interpreted in context. As others pointed out when that revolting recording of Trump surfaced, it’s hard to take all the shock and alarm seriously when the Left cozies up to artists like Jay-Z, of whom I’m only vaguely familiar, but within five minutes of googling found this gem of a song called “Cashmere Thoughts” featuring the following lyrics:
Hah man, you know man, I’m just dealing that hoe money
You know hoe money is slow money but it’s sho’ money
Check this out man, when you run up on your bitch
this this is what you tell her
Stick they hands in they panties, grab that knot
Stick they arm in the car window, drop it like it’s hot
Uhh, I talk jewels and spit diamonds, all cherry
like a hymen, when I’m rhymin with remarkable timin’
Caviar and silk dreams, my voice is linen
Spitten venom up in the minds of young women…
And it goes on if you really want to read the rest… So anybody want to talk about Jay-Z? Should we take Jay-Z literally? Should we take Jay-Z seriously? Why is there no scandal in the media about this song? Why was there no scandal when he performed a benefit concert for Hillary? Because we manifestly do not take Jay-Z seriously or literally. And then we are shocked and dismayed when many of his fans actually do. What? He’s an artist? Ok, so why don’t the graffiti artists tagging cars and buildings with racist and Nazi symbols (allegedly in celebration of Trump’s victory) get a pass? Where is the parallel fear and terror over Jay-Z and the many others who make countless millions off of their misogynist, sexist, abusive language every year? Where are the Facebook posts hyperventilating about Jay-Z’s new album? It’s different? How so? How exactly so? Is it a race thing? I don’t think anyone wants to go there. Then that leaves some kind of cultural thing. And we come back to my point: people want the right to put a context around what they say and do. They don’t want to be taken literally, but they do want to be taken seriously. They want to be interpreted in the best light of their cultural context. That doesn’t exonerate Jay-Z or Trump in the slightest, but one of those men has apologized for what he said one time. While the other continues ‘dealing that hoe money’ unabashed.
4. Despite the fact that the polls have made it absolutely, crystal clear that the reason Trump won is because Hillary didn’t get the votes that previous Democrats got, many liberals are blaming “white America” or “racist America” for Trump’s victory. But truth be told, in those key rust-belt swing states where Trump won, the data shows that those same counties voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Racist? Hardly. In fact, Trump received less of the white vote than Romney and more Black and Hispanic votes. Overall, Trump received a million or so less votes than Romney, and Hillary received 6 some odd million votes less than Obama. That’s the facts, ma’am. But there is an important lesson here: there is a lower, working class segment of the population that wants to be taken seriously not literally. Just like everyone else. The Christian Church needs to come to grips with that and stop shuddering in horror at their neighbors in rural, middle America, as does anyone else who cares about civility and community at any level. Knee-jerk, hyperventilating horror at the fact that someone could possibly cast a vote for Trump is just as xenophobic and racist (or classist) as anything Trump or his supporters have said. Pot meet kettle. And I’m pretty sure that is the precise object of the Trump movement hatred. They hate the hypocrisy, the elitism, the fact that Jay-Z gets a pass, Hillary gets a pass, while the establishment patronizes and sneers at their brokenness, blaming them and their guns and Nascar and trailer parks for societal ills. They hate that inconsistency, that blindness. And now with protestors in major city streets holding signs that say “Assassinate Trump” and “F— Trump,” exactly who are the ones full of hatred and bigotry? It turns out that it’s a lot more respectable for Jay-Z or Lil’ Kim to brag about grabbing people and violating them than it is for a hillbilly or a redneck to say the same thing. Why the double standard?
5. All of that stands, and yet we can be under no illusions that a civil conversation will solve these problems. There is a growing spider web of fissures in America. As Charles Murray put it: America is Coming Apart. There are cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, racial, religious, and deep moral divides tearing families, communities, states, and the entire nation apart. It’s deeply terrifying and maddening. And the way division works is it plays off of our fears and pain and disappointment. Like a marriage disintegrating, everything becomes loaded and flammable. Everything is escalated. Everything is scrutinized, judged, damned, and weaponized. That look. That word. That tone of voice. That facial expression. Real hurts, real sins, real betrayals turn normal human beings into panicked, suspicious conspiracists. Because they are afraid of being hurt more. But the deep irony of course is that these instinctive defense mechanisms often serve only to escalate and compound the damage. Now in addition to real hurts, real offenses, comparatively minuscule offenses are turned into monstrous acts and often even imaginary offenses multiply exponentially. And follows bitterness, resentment, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, hysterias, manias, depression, self-harm, substance abuse, and a general dissolution of life. America is on this bender, careening between outrages, hysterias, protests, mobs, shootings, and it’s escalating every minute. And my entire point is that you cannot step into the middle of a melt down like this and explain calmly to someone on Facebook or Twitter that they really need to give the other side the benefit of the doubt. That seems insanely insensitive. It seems like you’re siding with their oppressor, their abusers. Everyone’s pointing fingers, blaming others. Talk about triggers. You might as well be walking out into the middle of the Colleseum trying to broker a peace treaty with hungry lions. In other words, there is no human solution to this problem. There is no roundtable discussion to be had when trust has broken down to this point. We’ve been reduced to obscenities and vitriol. All we see is red.
6. I’m a pretty optimistic person for the most part. I think well of people in general, and I’m a natural peacemaker. But to be honest, the current cultural moment is chilling. Not because Trump got elected. Not because a bunch of people are disappointed that Hillary lost. No, it’s chilling because the dissension and distrust seem so entrenched. The fear and the fury seem so visceral, so reactionary and binary, so mad and beastial. Maybe all the newly legalized marijuana will lull the masses into the stupor their overlords hope for them, but I’m honestly not sure the stereotypes are as pleasantly passive as they are advertised. More than one shooter in the last few years had pot in their system while on their rampage. There’s no telling what we’re actually unleashing on our populace. We already have hatred, malice, mistrust, fear, and growing hysteria, what could go wrong if we blunted our inhibitions?
But there is good news. It’s the good news that really only makes sense after the bad news, the horrific, maddening news. This chaos and breakdown of trust and community is a direct result of sin. Sin creates this fear, resentment, hatred, racism, injustice. Ultimately, our only options for dealing with this sin are justice or mercy. Justice is the way of judgment the way of unraveling chaos, the way of civil war, a blood bath, death and suffering for our hypocrisy and mutual hatred. Vengeance and retaliation always feels good but never actually works. The wrath of man never accomplishes real justice. It always ends in terrorism and more abuse. But the way of mercy is the way of the cross. Which means it isn’t the easy way, and that’s because it isn’t the way of pretending away our sin and evil. The way of the cross looks evil in the face without flinching. The way of the cross centers on a good man beaten to a bloody pulp. The way of the cross is justice through the injustice of one mob two thousand years ago. The good news of the gospel is that when Jesus was nailed to that Roman cross all of our evil, all of our injustice, all of the divisions of humanity, all of our hurts, pains, betrayals, and disappointments were taken by Jesus, the Lamb of God. Out of His great love for the world, God allowed the depths of our depravity, our sins, our filth to crush the only innocent man to ever live, the perfect Son of God.
The fact is that people accuse Christians of believing in a Genie, a Fairy Godmother, a Santa Claus in the sky that renders this world meaningless and worthless. And to be fair, many modern Christians live in a way that seems to confirm that suspicion. But in actual fact, the gospel that Paul and Peter and the other apostles proclaimed and sealed with their own blood was a gospel for the world. It was and remains a gospel for nations, for divided nations, for war torn nations. It is good news for broken treaties, for broken marriages, for broken trust, for broken hearts. Sure, you can keep trying to convince yourself that the human spirit will pull through, that some goodness will break out of our dark hearts. But who’s the one who believes in genies now? Christians believe that evil must be dealt with, and that is why the center of our hope is a bloody cross where God dealt out an absolutely perfect justice for every damn thing, so that we might actually receive mercy.
This is why when Jesus was raised from the dead, He could say with all confidence: Behold, I make all things new. This is the only basis for reconciliation of any sort. You can cry, you can march, you can sign petitions, you can run for office, and keep running in that humanistic hamster wheel you’ve been sweating in or you can actually face evil head on without flinching in the cross of Jesus. The cross is the only way to actually not be partisan while not checking out of the culture. And that’s because the cross starts by confronting everyone of us with our own evil, our own sin, our own guilt, our own hatred, our own bigotry, our own lies. And precisely because it deals with us honestly, we can deal honestly, evenhandedly, justly with others. The cross frees us to love fearlessly, to forgive generously, to truly hope for something better.