Faith leaders shouldn’t predict elections. But our Sojourners team can tell you that when Donald Trump announced he was running for president, I thought he would win the Republican nomination and could run 50-50 with the most likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton — which anyone could win. I knew all the conventional wisdom, and I hoped that I would be proved wrong. But it was an unprecedented year with an unprecedented candidate.
I thought he might win for two reasons:
- Donald Trump embodies the worst of American values — the consummate worshipper of money, sex, and power — which many are attracted to.
- We're at a crossroads of race in America, and I could see from his first speech how Trump was going to use white discomfort and a rapidly changing American demographics to foment anger at others they blamed for their grievances.
It was a perfect storm that elected Donald Trump. It combined flawed candidates and a populist impulse on all sides against a system that truly is rigged — both economically and politically. It showed the skillful turning of economic anger into racial anger about cultural change by a candidate who is and has always only been just a message marketer, with no compelling message from his opponent.
It revealed a media that largely enabled a reality television star instead of seriously covering and investigating would-be presidents for their policies, practices, and character. All of that was assisted by the rise of both fake and fear-based media, which replaces facts with fears and substitutes real journalism with ideological agendas.
At the heart of the storm was clear racial division — where a majority of white voters on every level of class, gender, and even religion, decided that Trump’s racial bigotry was not a deal breaker for them. The distrust now between people of color and white people — including Christians of color and white Christians — is greater than I have seen seen since the civil right movement and legislation of the 1960s.
Of course, the white media’s biggest takeaway is that we should now focus on left-out whites — taking clear precedence over their continued lack of coverage of historically left-out people of color.
Now that the election is resolved, both the media and politicians have moved to “normalize” the president-elect, even if his personality and practices are far from normal. Let’s call this the great Washington “suck up” to power which goes far beyond the peaceful transition of power, which is an invaluable American democratic tradition.
But this is not normal. None of this is normal. Here are just eight of things Trump has done since his election that should be screaming “not normal” at the media.
1. A man who said he was running for the little guy is appointing a Cabinet that is “the richest administration in modern history” according to the Washington Post. The club of billionaires who will govern the country “signal embrace of Wall Street” according to the New York Times. The people Trump excoriated in his campaign are now his economic team, which is in complete opposition to his populist message. What a surprise.
2. The richest president-elect in history has, so far, not promised to refrain from enriching himself, his family, and his company through the presidency, as presidents “can't have a conflict of interest.”
3. A man who openly ran on racial bigotry and made statements that even other Republicans called “textbook racism,” now says he will be president “for all Americans.” Then he appointed Alabama Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as attorney general. Sessions has a long history of overt racism, has always voted against civil rights, and opposes almost all immigration — which sends a clear signal to African Americans and immigrants who were targeted by him in this presidential campaign.
4. Trump appointed Steve Bannon as a senior adviser. Bannon is the former head of the Breitbart News, which has the distinction of being the rising forum for white nationalism. This adviser, who will have the constant ear of the president, was quoted from a private conversation in a story that appeared last week as saying that excluding many black people from voting might be “not such a bad thing.”
5. The president-elect appointed as national security adviser Retired Lieut. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who doesn’t believe Islam is a genuine religion, but a political ideology of hate making islamophobia “rational.” The appointment sent another clear signal to the world’s Muslims, who Donald Trump has said he would ban from the United States — and later seeming to pitch the idea to monitor or even “register” Muslim citizens.
6. The man who will soon have all of our military and nuclear weapons at his disposal, continues to busily tweet at people who annoy him —like the cast of Hamilton, for example, or like reporters whose coverage he doesn’t like, or, y’know, American citizens voicing their opinions.
7. The future president also sends out tweets that just make things up, like the completely baseless claim that “millions of people who voted illegally” denied him the popular vote.
8. Instead of having post-election press conferences like all other president-elects going back at least 40 years have had, and just have more speeches and rallies while continuing to attack the press at them, this one seems to think he can just tweet. Trump doesn’t seem to understand or respect the role of the “fourth estate” in protecting the public interest. The Committee to Protect Journalists even came out with a pre-election statement calling Trump a “threat to press freedom.”
All of these things make the president-elect we are told now to normalize, not so normal actually. But amid the incensing drumbeat of media normalization of a man who — despite promising that all shopping malls will now have to put up signs that read “Merry Christmas” — continually exhibits the opposite of Christian values, what a relief that Advent has come.
Now is the time to prepare for the real Christmas, in the weeks leading up the celebration of what Christians call the Incarnation. The theological claim that sets Christianity apart from any other faith tradition is this: God became like us to bring us back to God and show us in Jesus what it means to be truly human. He is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” entering into history in the form of a vulnerable baby born to a poor teenage mother in a dirty animal stall.
Mary was homeless at the time, traveling with her husband to be taxed by Rome, as a member of an occupied people, oppressed by an imperial power in an occupied deed country whose local political leader, Herod, was so threatened by the baby’s birth that he killed countless children in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ child — whose kingdom he thought might compete with his. All of this political context to the Advent season is poignantly relevant to our own as we also wait for a new political kingdom to come on Jan. 20.
The way our Scriptures instruct us to prepare is not narrowly political, but rather to bring God into our hearts and the world. Advent readies us for the coming of the One who will show us how different God’s priorities are than the rulers of this world and how to live by God’s way in the world — which can indeed be a threat to the rulers.
The meaning of the Incarnation is this: In Jesus Christ, God hits the streets. And preparing for that is the meaning of Advent.
It is theologically and spiritually powerful to understand, especially in the face of our own political context, that the Incarnation came to our poorest streets. Jesus was born poor, later announces his mission at Nazareth as “bringing good news to the poor,” and then tells us that how we treat “the least of these” is his measure of how we treat and love him. That radically defined all of our social contexts clearly revealing the real meaning of Christmas, whatever is on the signs at the shopping malls.
Another explicit message of the Incarnation is that Jesus the Christ’s arrival will mean “peace on earth, good will toward men.” Isaiah predicts him as “the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” Jesus later calls on his disciples to turn the other cheek, practice humility, walk the extra mile, put away their swords, love their neighbors — and even their enemies — and says that in his kingdom, it is the peacemakers who will be called “the children of God.” Christ will end our warring ways, bringing reconciliation to God and to one another.
In a pre-Advent e-mail, my friend Wes Granberg-Michaelson said, “This Advent could be especially powerful. That's because the Advent lectionary and stories are rooted in the picture of impending judgment on an oppressive social order (that's why we get these strange passages of doom and destruction) and the hope that God's dramatic break into the world brings a radically new reign of righteousness and peace (coming out of the Babylonian exile, and making highways of justice level out all the uneven places of injustice and suffering — highways straight, hills and mountains made low, etc.). The Magnificat (Mary’s famous prayer often read at Christmas) could now be sung during protest marches; it's suddenly a perfect fit. So this season, Advent can root our hope in the deepest and most extraordinary promise of all history: Emmanuel, God With Us.”
Let’s finish with Mary’s Magnificat, which indeed could be proclaimed in the streets.
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”