I admit I have been guiltily enjoying the freak-outs from the left over the Trump elections. I don’t want to enjoy it, I did not vote Trump and don’t trust the Republicans to do anything but serve themselves, but when I see stuff like this:
… I would need a heart of stone not to laugh.
On the other hand my side didn’t win. I don’t know if I have a side anymore, but if I do it isn’t with a notoriously bad business man of porcine character.
Rod Dreher quotes a professor who was anti-Trump but who counseled his fellow professors to not overreact, to look at things from the perspective of Trump voters, and maybe spend more time with family and friends. For his trouble he was called the usual litany of names: racist, sexist, bigot. He says:
I admit I was hurt. But more than that, I was simply amazed that scholars and professors could so quickly descend into a hysterical mob focused on outing thought criminals, and I was left utterly disconsolate about the future of this country’s democratic citizenship. It seems to me that we have passed some sort of terrible Rubicon, and that social trust has been permanently negated.
The professor then wonders if the problem isn’t an inability to look at things from the perspective of eternity:
I taught at a Catholic college, our (priest) president used to joke that the Church moves so slowly because, when your time scale is eternity, you don’t get too bogged down in day-to-day stuff. The line got a laugh, but it’s also eerily accurate. My colleagues on the listserv (and, with a few exceptions, throughout my institution) are universally secular progressives. They have no “vertical motion” in the sense that we have it. This means their vertical motion — because everyone has something they aim toward, some telos — becomes electoral politics, and so each election takes on an eschatological veneer. It is the realm of their salvation and their redemption.
In other words, don’t immanentize the eschaton!
I have three takes on this:
- This analysis fails to take into consideration right-wing hysterics where every Democratic initiative is the harbinger of the Socialist States of America. Within American Christianity itself Millennialism is a recurring curse, a result of the fact that Evangelicals have to reinvent the wheel every generation and forget what happened the last time someone predicted the end of the world.
- The again, conservatives have never melted down like this, at least not in my memory. I can’t imagine conservatives I know collapsing into this curious mix of despair, hatred, violence, and jelly-like quivering.
- Yet again, the rise of Trump is a sign of the decline of the Christian Right which is dying just like the Christian Left before it. Perhaps in the not-too distant future we will see the sort of meltdowns on the right that we are now seeing on the left.
In short, I don’t know.
Let’s change gears.
People talk about Christian Optimism, which sees the world – the material cosmos – as fundamentally good. This is opposed to ancient visions of the world as fundamentally evil, created in error or violence. It is also opposed to the modern vision of the world as neutral, carrying no inherent value (which I think is the real reason why atheism is seen as the modern default position).
That metaphysical optimism is good in its place but we also need to rediscover Christian Pessimism: the world might be fundamentally good but it is also a limited, contingent, and passing good; cultures and civilizations rise and fall; humans are sinful and dumb; politics can’t save you, the kingdoms of man can’t build the Kingdom of God.
The two visions are not opposed, it is the perspective one should be able to pick up just perusing the New Testament. The problem is taking it to heart.
The rise of Trump and the meltdown of the left – comical as these things are – could be signs of evil to come. Recall the Viennese joke from before the outbreak of WWI: In Berlin the situation is serious but not desperate; here… it’s not serious…