June 12, 2019

TRUMPIAN OR CHRISTIAN:

The War of All Against One: Why Christians Should Not Be Populists (Justin Hawkins--Presented for Delivery at the 2019 Henry Institute Symposium on Christianity and Politics, Calvin College, April 26, 2019, Mere Orthodoxy)

I begin with an intentionally polemical anecdote. On December 7, 2015 - a day that will live in infamy - the presidential campaign of Donald Trump issued a "Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration." That statement said that "Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on." The statement went on to quote Trump himself:

"...it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension. Where this hatred comes from and why we will have to determine. Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life. If I win the election for President, we are going to Make America Great Again."

While the language is characteristically opaque and the standards of evaluation borderline nonsensical, this statement is just one among innumerable instances in American and global politics today where a right-wing leader consolidates a base of support by identifying a foreign scapegoat and uniting opposition against that scapegoat. It is clear that this rhetoric does not accurately depict the nature of the threat it stands against. If it did, then the Trump Campaign may have identified a real threat, instead of a scapegoat.

But the antipathy toward Muslims is out of proportion with the threat of Islamist attack in America. One source noted that of domestic killings in America, "from 2009 through 2018, right-wing extremists accounted for 73 percent of such killings, according to the Anti-Defamation League, compared with 23 percent for Islamists and 3 percent for left-wing extremists. In other words, most terrorist attacks in the United States, and most deaths from terrorist attacks, are caused by white extremists." And it is pedantic to observe that this current form of populism in America has not been attended with warnings about right-wing white extremism the way they have been attended with paranoia about Islamic terrorism. Therefore, the current populist response to domestic violence in America is skewed, and it is skewed in a predictable direction: toward the identification and ostracization of scapegoats.

This populist logic of scapegoating is the subject of this essay, and the main theorist I will use to understand this phenomenon is Rene Girard. Girard's argument, in short, is that populism almost never exists in the world without scapegoating, and scapegoating is not a Christian form of politics.

Posted by at June 12, 2019 6:08 PM

  

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