The Revolt Doesn’t Belong To Donald Trump

My own general dissatisfaction with where our culture was heading was perhaps the biggest reason I began studying postmodernism nearly twenty years ago. To me, the important issues of the day were all about our advancing culture and the opposing forces fighting for control of the destination. It was pretty clear to those of us from the Sixties that our dream had utterly collapsed and that self-interest was increasingly the modus operandi of the masses. Following such a shift downstream leads to the whole thing collapsing on itself, and the signs of a revolution were ever-present for those with eyes to see. This is the reason why I view the presidency of Donald Trump as actually an odd form of cultural correction, one that will show us that we’re all in this together.

This is on my mind today, because of a short paragraph in Politico’s insightful story last week about the President’s most influential adviser, the alt-right’s Steve Bannon:

“The West is in trouble. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, and Trump’s election was a sign of health,” said a White House aide who was not authorized to speak publicly. “It was a revolt against managerialism, a revolt against expert rule, a revolt against the administrative state. It opens the door to possibilities.”

Let’s look at this again. It was “a revolt against managerialism, a revolt against expert rule, a revolt against the administrative state.” I have no argument with this, for I believe this rationale is spot-on postmodern thinking. Managerialism is another term for colonialism. Expert rule is what we have when institutions created to serve become the ones demanding to be served in our relationships with them. The administrative state is that of the top-down orchestration (manipulation) of those at street level. So, yes, this is indeed descriptive of the revolution of postmodernism.

However, Donald Trump is on the wrong side of all of this, for he and his methods describe the antithesis of the revolt, an autocrat whose self-interest far exceeds that of mortal men. To the President and his ilk – the one percent – capitalism is the lifeblood of liberty, but in the famous words of John Milton: “License they mean when they cry liberty.” We must always maintain a wise skepticism whenever we hear people at the top hollering about liberty, for there is a vast difference between it and the self-centered grabbing of license.

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary definition of license: 2. Excess of liberty; exorbitant freedom; freedom abused, or used in contempt of law or decorum.

So what are we to conclude?

There is indeed a revolution underway, and it’s against those very things offered by the White House aide quoted in the Politico piece. Donald Trump’s campaign may have tapped that energy, but he is a counterfeit solution – the archetype of what the revolt opposes. The kindest thing that can be said is that his supporters – filled with the spirit of change, but based on their own selfish needs – require a dramatic event that will shake them to the core and shine a light on the real revolt. We all need each other more than any of us cares to admit. We’re all riding the same lifeboat in a universe toxic and hostile to our carbon-based hosts.

That is the essence of the revolt. It is of the people, by the people, and for the people, and it does indeed open the door to possibilities. Moreover, it’s in part about the faith of the people, especially Christianity, a brand that has been hijacked and now represents something highly repulsive to the postmodern mind. It would be foolish to examine contemporary culture without this understanding, for young people especially are fleeing the brand at record levels.

Many of my Christian friends point to 2 Chronicles 7:14 and gleefully apply it to America today in defense of their vote last November. The verse is Solomon’s prayer for repentance in the wake of the completion of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Of critical importance is this portion – it’s God speaking – “then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Applying this to America, however, requires looking past the beginning of the statement: “If My people who are called by My name repent …” So the ancient message is to God’s people, not the separate nation in which they live.

If this message applies to our culture today, it ONLY applies to the very Christians who are pointing their fingers at the culture when they should be looking in the mirror. Regarding President Trump, the old idiom applies: Be careful what you wish for; you may actually get it. This is part of reason I wrote my new book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.

Finally, this (the Trump Presidency) is something we all must go through. There is no above it, below it, or around it. We must go through it. If we do, we’ll come out on the other side better for all that we’ve learned together, for we see through a glass darkly, while history has a clear view.

We must never give up in fighting for truth, for as the aide noted, the door is open for possibilities.

Using the Bible to justify selfishness

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Evangelical Christians were among Donald Trump’s staunchest allies during the 2016 campaign, and they remain a group the President can count on as he implements even the most extreme of the positions he proclaimed would make America great again. Chief among these for Evangelicals are: religious freedom allowing for rejection of liberal mandates such as being forced to serve those with whom they disagree theologically (and socially); the ability to have their children pray in school and be exposed to Biblical absolutes; returning to a culture within which access to safe abortions is illegal, and this despite the fact that the abortion rate is now where it was BEFORE Roe v Wade; eliminating the threat of evangelism from what they view as the false religion of Islam and in the process making sure their neighborhoods will be Muslim-free; and a return to a time when – in their opinion – the voice of Christianity was sought, heard, and embraced as relevant by the culture as a whole.

I remain convinced that this group is the most important to reach with the message of the potential for mischief and danger from an autocrat President of the United States. It also happens to be the most difficult to reach, for their perceived authority comes from a Bible that is taught to them as errorless and to be obeyed by those seeking the promised, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” and a guarantee of an afterlife of heavenly bliss. We will not succeed in efforts to convince this group without attacking certain assumptions they’ve been led to believe are absolute according to Holy Scripture. This struggle is private and behind-the-scenes, because it often takes place in forums not considered by those who view the issues as entirely political. These forums are then passed around for the horizontal consumption by others of their ilk.

Today, I want to delve into one of these private discussions, this one via a simple article on Herman Cain’s right wing website. There are a great many “Christian” blogs and websites, and while many bloggers using that label are not of the political right wing, it is the Evangelicals who make the most noise and speak loudest about the brand. Hence, the battle is entirely with those Evangelicals who represent the political opinions of the far right, which is what writer Dan Calabrese has done in this article headlined, “What does the Bible really say about taking in Syrian refugees?” Here are a few pertinent quotes from Mr. Calabrese regarding the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which he views as wrongly exegeted by those arguing it represents God’s will for dealing with refugees:

“As liberals often do, they take directives aimed at individuals in the Bible and try to make them the responsibility of the state.” He makes the case that, because the Samaritan took the injured man to an inn rather than his own home, he was revealing the wisdom of not bringing a potential problem into his own home. Thus, he reasons, it’s relevant to the discussion of Syrian refugees. Of course, this is Mr. Calabrese’s opinion, his interpretation, not the Bible speaking directly to us, and this, of course, is the problem. The Bible says nothing about the Good Samaritan avoiding danger, so that is an assumption. “As liberals often do” is also a convenient, pejorative, and condescending put down designed to frame whatever absurdity follows as a given, when it’s at best a mere guess.  He goes on to add:

“What the left wants to do in the case of the Syrian refugees is use the power of the state to force an entire nation to welcome people into their midst without any effort to ensure that members of ISIS with evil intentions were filtered out. That’s not compassion. That’s national suicide.” How does one respond to the many assumptions here? One, refugees ARE vetted – often vigorously – so there doesn’t exist a zero-effort absolute when it comes to identifying members of ISIS. Two, the statement assumes that the President’s anti-Muslim initiative WILL effectively rule out those with evil intentions. This is utterly absurd in addition to representing a straw man that serves only to distract, for terrorism isn’t a problem of religion. It’s organized crime and needs to be treated accordingly. Finally, the statement assumes that the matter is black and white, that anything other than a unilateral denial of entry is self-inflicted death. It makes for a good soundbite, but it’s simply exaggerated illogic. But he goes on:

“It would make more sense for them to be resettled in majority Muslim countries anyway, and we can do a lot of things to support that process.” This has nothing to do with the Bible but speaks loudly about the writer’s religious bias. I’m sure the refugees would rather stay with their own homes in their own countries, but each has made a decision that such a proposition is untenable. They seek freedom, not further distress. To which “Muslim countries” would the writer have us divert the stream anyway? Has anybody inquired as to their willingness to participate? How does it follow that their faith has anything to do with where they settle anyway? I understand this absurdity, because it comes from Islamophobic thinking, which is really at the core of Mr. Calabrese’s reasoning in the first place.

The point is this is nowhere near the God I serve, and the interpretation of scripture in this manner is not only without merit; it’s entirely self-centered. It’s redlining on a national scale and against everything for which our country stands.

I’m not surprised at all, however, for what we have here is a generation nurtured on the Gospel of Self. It’s bad enough that we’re naturally inclined in that direction, but this is self preservation gone to seed. Not only that, but it also denies the very power that its proponents claim protects them, and it reeks of the very unBiblical “God helps those who help themselves.”

The scope of the battle over the minds of those so inculcated is enormous, but it’s quite likely the one that matters most.

The People of the Moment

(AP Photos/Bebeto Matthews)

Here’s the latest in my ongoing series of essays:

People of the Moment

This is a long read, but something I feel is vitally important today, so please know that going in. It’s also likely to be quite controversial, because it regards the contemporary “Christian” brand and the desires of many to rid themselves of what that represents. The document isn’t a formal proposal; it’s offered only as food for thought to be used in the broader discussions of the issues presented. I mean harm to no one, especially my many friends who practice the various forms of Christianity available to people today. To me, I’m speaking the obvious, but I recognize that my mind’s thoughts are often very foreign to those who read my work.

Please enjoy. I’m sure I’ll hear back about this one.

Understanding “Alternative Facts”

Here’s a little perspective on the matter before us: Marketers have been lying to us since the days of the snake oil salesman. I’ve told the story before of the TV commercial I witnessed many years ago during the grapefruit diet fad. The ad was for so-called grapefruit pills that would help people lose weight. At least that was the assertion of the creator of the commercial. One scene featured a guy washing a horse who turned to the camera and actually said, “It’s so darned easy, it’s GOT to work!” If the FTC ever wanted to crack down on false advertising (they won’t), it would open the eyes of consumers everywhere.

There are many, many ways for marketers to lie. There’s lying by omission. When tissue companies, for example, sell the same sized box with fewer tissues inside for the same or slightly reduced price as before, they are lying to increase profits while giving the impression of holding the line on consumer costs. Welcome to the world of Madison Avenue and the secrets of mass marketing.

Well guess what? People are slowly catching on to these lies, and they’re sharing their knowledge with their families and friends, some of it via social media. It’s getting harder and harder to get away with such, even though there are still a substantial number of folks who’ll believe that it’s so darned easy it has to work. This is where we find ourselves today with all forms of mass media in the worlds of politics and news.

I have an ongoing study, for example, of events in the Middle East, thanks to my family living in Amman, Jordan. There are publications working to deconstruct the Zionist narrative that has been the public face of Israel since 1948. We all need to learn more about narratives, and especially those that undergird even our most basic assumptions of life, for very often these narratives are propaganda and very definitely false, at least to the point where they deserve regular review and often deconstruction.

All of this is to say that KellyAnne Conway’s “alternative facts” is really a fruit of what’s been taking place for years, that is the struggle of those who need to maintain narrative control in a media environment that questions narrative as self-serving propaganda. This is the beauty of our newly connected universe, for it’s impossible now for an institution (and government is certainly an institution) to maintain its own version of truth at the expense of those at the receiving end of their “service.”

This is going to get much worse in our culture, until we all learn that such falsehoods begin with lying to ourselves. Shakespeare wrote: “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, that thou canst not be false to any man.”

May that day come quickly.

Netanyahu’s ISIS claim

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017. RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s English language videos have long hinted (to Americans) that our shared enemy is ISIS, while almost all of the violence Israel experiences is brought about by its occupation of the West Bank, its dehumanizing behavior towards Palestinians, and the responding attacks by those being “occupied.” So when he claims a knowing form of solidarity with Western governments over attacks by ISIS, those claims ring hollow at core. The Israeli narrative needs an attack by ISIS to validate its position that their fight is against an enemy bigger than the occupation.

This is why it’s not surprising to read that Bibi is trying to connect the deaths of four IDF soldiers over the weekend to ISIS, although the similarity of someone using a truck to ram a crowd of people is much more likely to have been opportunistic. Here’s the way Haaretz put it.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, the ISIS theory is well suited to the message he tried to convey – which is that Jerusalem, like Berlin and Nice, is just another western city dealing with brutal, uncompromising terror committed by global Islamic operatives. As per this message, this force of absolute evil has no motive or rationale, and has nothing to do with the occupation or any other Israeli policy.

The apartheid state of Israel is a bubbling laboratory of narrative control by governing authorities attempting to justify as righteous their provocative behavior towards the indigenous residents of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The nationalist Netanyahu has found himself a staunch ally in our President-Elect, who has promised to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to a spot not far from this weekend’s deadly truck ramming.

If you honestly think we’re helping the situation with such a provocation, you’re just not paying attention to what’s taking place.

 

Israeli soldier guilty…or not!

For the first time since 2004, a member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has been convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Palestinian who had earlier participated in the stabbing of another soldier in the West Bank community of Hebron last March. The conviction of sergeant Elor Azarya was applauded by military leaders who are trying to maintain discipline through a code of ethics, but the big story is the remarkable reaction of an Israeli public that thinks Azarya should not even have been charged. He wouldn’t have had another Palestinian not videotaped the shooting and made the video public. Watch for yourself as Azaria first helps put the slightly injured soldier into an ambulance, then pulls his rifle, and kills the helpless man on the ground.

Azarya’s supporters said he fired in self-defense. Right. Military commanders, however, said his actions were unbecoming of a soldier.

Azarya will be sentenced on January 15th, but he is likely to be pardoned, given the protests by Israelis and statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have one army that is the basis for our existence. IDF soldiers are our sons and daughters, and they must remain above all disputes,” he said. But making no direct mention of the military court, he said: “I support granting a pardon to Elor Azaria.”

This incredible turn of events reveals the extent of anger and hatred towards Palestinians from people who honestly believe the man that Azarya killed “deserved to die” as a terrorist. That the execution was extrajudicial matters not one bit to this mob. But this also reveals how deeply Israeli hasbara has penetrated the very souls of the people who call Israel home and the impossibility of peace in the face of that narrative.

I repeat to my American journalist colleagues that Israel is home to the most remarkable laboratory for the study of human nature and the manufacture of consent that exists in the Twenty-First Century. It is a textbook case of the conflict between narratives in the quest for political advantage and historical validation, and the justified violence of such a conflict. It is not as simple – nor is it as complicated – as you might think, and I challenge reporters everywhere to do their jobs in covering the truth of the region.

Trust me; you have no idea based on what’s published in the American press.