People walk by an electronic billboard in New York on Nov. 9, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

Discovering the other America we did not know

(RNS) Everything I knew was going to happen did not happen. Everything I understood about America I did not understand. Like most other members of the commentariat, I had no idea what I was talking about. I repent in dust and ashes.

Donald J. Trump understood America better than any other political candidate in 2016, better than any of the minions of commentators who bloviated about him, better than all the learned academics who were sure that America would never elect him to be president.

He knew his customers, and he made the sale, periodically using rhetoric that many of us considered to be immoral and some experienced as personally terrifying.

But he won, besting the entire Republican establishment, Democratic establishment and Clinton dynasty.

It was quite an accomplishment, and whatever happens from here, he will go down in  history for what he has done.

And those who thought it couldn't happen must now face the music.

I had this disorienting experience on Wednesday (Nov. 9). I opened up my New York Times app and felt the shock oozing from the virtual pages. And I thought: The same newspaper that gave Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning on the day of the election is now going to attempt to interpret the news today. Why should I listen to them? What do they know?

And then I turned on NPR on the way to work. And there they all were, with their smoothly modulated voices, attempting to explain what none of them probably anticipated on Tuesday. And I thought: Why in the world should I give any authority to these hosts and reporters? Really, what do they know?

Next week I will attend major academic-professional meetings in which surely more than 90 percent of those present will have opposed the Republican candidate for president and will believe they did so based on all good and noble values. And they will commiserate over drinks with other like-minded academics and everyone will tut-tut over the idiocy of the American public, and everyone will go home reinforced in their righteousness.

Charles Camosy was very wise in observing yesterday the profound dangers of a monolithically liberal higher education culture in which everyone thinks the same way as everyone else and therefore everyone is shocked, shocked to discover that there is another America that does not frame reality in the same way that it does.

The election results show there are (at least) two Americas. Anyone with the faintest interest in this country or in commenting about it had better get to know the other America rather than remain hermetically sealed in his or her own monoculture.

There are three places in my life in which I must engage that other America -- my extended family, my classroom and my church. In those three sacred communities I encounter people I care about and am called to serve who did not view the politics of 2016 through the same prism I did.

As human beings, we all face a basic choice -- whether to remain in relationship with those who voted differently than we did or to cast them into outer darkness for having done something that is from our viewpoint incomprehensible.

As the pastor of a politically mixed Baptist congregation outside Atlanta, I will look out on a sea of faces Sunday and I will know that both Americas are gathered before me. And it will continue to be my responsibility to lead them, drawing on spiritual resources that are far older than America.

I will need to show a way toward a Christian unity that transcends politics even as Christians are always called to bear witness to the way of Jesus Christ.

I will need to plead with them not to break relationships over an election but instead to remain in the conversation with each other.

I will need to project a vision of church as an alternative political community -- gathered for common mission and witness despite all kinds of earthly differences and regardless of the ebb and flow of daily politics.

I will need to call them to confidence in the mysterious sovereignty of God, a concept that, despite all hyper-Calvinist abuses, must still be affirmed by those who take the Bible seriously:

For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations (Ps. 22:28).

My days as a pundit are over. I will never again attempt to predict what is going to happen in this country.

My days of thinking that I might have some kind of influence on affairs of state are over.

I will opine less, and pray more. Here's a start. It's from Psalm 72.

Give the king your justice, O God ... May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice ... May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor ... For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper ... From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.

(David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Georgia. He writes the “Christians, Conflict and Change” column for RNS)


  1. The tagline to this article was, “he (Trump) knew his customers, and he gave them what they wanted.” Well, from the tumultous response he received, lots of others didn’t know they were also his customers until they did some comparison shopping and ended up voting for him in the voting booth!

    Gushee’s quotation from the 72nd Psalm is great. Nowhere does it say this is the job of government, and that’s what Hilliary Clinton would have made of it.

  2. I still do not think it was right to run a campaign based upon hate speech and tacit acceptance of bigotry to get elected to the presidency. The person running the most negative campaign and the most narcissistic candidate in my memory should not have won, but they did. It is not idiocy of the American public but a calculated snow job I think. One in which Trump was assisted by so-called “Christian leaders” who translated their hatred for a pluralistic society as illustrated by Obama and Clinton into a chance to gain power through Trump.

  3. I am confused by the article’s title. What exactly is the America we did not know?

  4. You know what did it Jim? I think the elitist mentality. Hillary with her degradation of his followers.
    I was listening to a reporter on the NBC, and she was saying all of the “uneducated” came out and voted – Hillary’s assertion about Trump followers. I think the US is saying we’re tired of the “aristocrat – elitist” crap and we are just a country.

  5. The one that wrecked the elitist liberal Obama-Hillary machine.

  6. LOL. Okay, I will wait for a meaningful, non-hyperbolic response from someone else.

  7. Conservative evangelicals will be forever tainted by supporting a person who I consider to be the antithesis of a Christian, no, not just a Christian but a person with good character. The Bible teaches us to go forth and “do good” and to love our neighbor as ourself. Trump’s was not a Christian message, but evangelicals stooped to worship Caesar, to sell their birthright for a bowl of stew, to get what they wanted.

  8. I am devastated by Trump’s election. I am a white college-educated semi-professional who lives in a mixed-race, lower-middle-class neighborhood. We have been through economic hell these past 8 years since the previous Republican administration wrecked our economy through fraud. I have multiple chronic illnesses; we wouldn’t have health insurance without the ACA that Trump & Co. want to dismantle. We’ve already lost our current plan from the marketplace and will have to change to something that costs more and provides less coverage. I simply cannot understand how so many people could have voted against their own best interests. I am terrified for my own future and for the safety of our many good neighbors of color and of different religions.

  9. The one good thing about all of this is that we never need to listen to a conservative evangelical on issues of family values or morality. (Not like we really ever should have listened to them anyhow, but now we know it was always a ruse and insincere).

  10. God expected Israel to follow his directives in regards to the poor, widows and orphans. See Deuteronomy 10: 18-19; Jeremiah 22:15; Isaiah 58: 6-7

  11. Although you didn’t directly ask for it, you have my forgiveness Dr. Gushee. Your confession was eloquent, humble and complete.

    “I will need to project a vision of church as an alternative political community — gathered for common mission and witness despite all kinds of earthly differences and regardless of the ebb and flow of daily politics.”

    I think that is important. Everyone needs a place like that.

    One think I’d like to add. There is only one reality, but we experience it differently. There are people lacking adequate health care. There are underdeserving people who receive welfare and there are people who, through no fault of their own (ex. fetal alcohol syndrome) cannot survive without it. Conservation has resulted in job loss. Global warming is real and must be responded to. Many workers have lost jobs and income. POC are treated differently by cops. Etc, etc.

    So. It is crucial for us to learn how others experience such things. How do they respond? Why? Especially, what – specifically – are they afraid of? I suspect there will be more variation in answers than one might guess.

  12. You are one of the reasons I worked to elect Sec. Clinton and other liberals and moderates. There are millions more like you. I won’t give up trying to do the right thing. There are millions more like me. Don’t give up or lose hope. You are not alone.

  13. OK, these OT references do refer to the poor, widows and orphans being taken care of. Then along came this Jesus Christ charcater and put that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of his followers. He even said, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars . . . ” to further highlight this mandate getting carried out by people, not governments! I believe that was my original point . . .

  14. When the Hebrew prophets responded to objective moral evil they did not call for an understanding of the ‘other side’. Given the morally reprehensible character of Trump and what he stands for, I think evangelicals who support him must be called out and challenged. However I recognize that this is very difficult in our cultural context…especially for those in local church leadership. However as Charles Blow argues in his NYT editorial today (‘America Has Elected A Bigot’), we have an obligation to resist this evil…even though (or, perhaps precisely because) it is has so much support within the evangelical church.

  15. Ah, those deplorables! You should feel deeply proud to be so far above these ignorant, misguided people. I nominate you as a Super Christian (if you genuinely understand the meaning of the word).

  16. So how is it that the Clintons, with their decades of slip-sliding, beating the system and ignoring standard ethical practices, live up to your Christian standards?

  17. The way you characterize other human beings leads me to believe you lost your soul long ago. What a self-righteous little person you are.

  18. I still think they have done better with charitable giving and other things than Trump has done, despite their faults.

  19. I thought Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets. I do not think government is supposed to ignore the less fortunate in society by not addressing their needs. I hope that is not a Trump ideology or this country is in serious trouble. Private giving will not make up loss of government programs..

  20. Well, Linda Daily has provided you with just such a response. Feel free to read and think seriously about it, as I did.

    But don’t you ever forget — there IS another America out there, one that you apparently ignored and/or looked down on, just like Hillary, the national media shills, and all the liberals clearly did.

    That unknown America, the one you liberals ignored and/or laughed at, has now made sure that the liberal standard-bearer Hillary Clinton, will NEVER take over the White House. Libbies got smooshed in 2016.

    So try getting to know a few people (including Christians) from that unknown America. Ask why they voted against Hillary. Ask why they voted for Trump.

  21. Precisely. We have known for a very long time about the large majority of the evangelical church which has embraced a right wing ideological perspective.

  22. They are the kings of truthiness, which we’ve been witnessing for decades. Something is true if you repeat it as true so much, people start believing it is actually true. The nice thing is, no facts can undoe a truthy claim, because something can’t be wrong if so many people believe it or “it feels right”. It’s so true, you just know it is, and how can it be any other way? Everybody else is wrong, because I’m not.

  23. Congratulations to some of those commenting for being willfully ignorant of one of the primary morals of Dr. Gushee’s post and voluntarily remaining firmly inside your respective echo chambers. Comments and words such as “their distorted views” and “deplorable” belie any intention of contrition or attitude of cooperation with people you do not understand. Yes, defy evil, hate, violence (in word or in deed). But, do so without elitist condescension. And certainly check the core of your own anger, hate, and violent thoughts and words beforehand.

  24. But there is no reason why it should not, and do it more efficiently. The primary requirement is that people put their trust in God and not government. I do not deny that government can play a legitimate role, but if people will seek God for guidance sincerely, surely He will answer. He may use government to meet some of those ends. But there are certainly significant numbers of very wealthy people (including those in the church) who need to reconsider their own priorities and obligations.

  25. The way Dr. Gushee describes the meetings with “major academic-professionals” he plans to attend next week suggest that his time would be better spent if he stayed at home.

  26. Maybe you could get to know a few people who voted for the candidate who received the majority of the popular vote.

    There might be a few at your Thanksgiving table.

  27. Yes she did. I was happy to get that thoughtful response (you know without all the name calling and meaningless hyperbole). There were definitely disenfranchised people out there. Bernie had some great things to say about that yesterday. Unfortunately, those who felt disenfranchised and turned to Trump, were convinced by a politics of fear and hate. (I doubt any of them could name a Trump policy that would really help them. The wall? The banning of Muslims? Reversing gay marriage? What other policies are there really? The tax proposal definitely does nothing for a disenfranchised American!).

    I know many Christians, but only a few who voted for Trump have remained in my circle. I am a very friendly open minded person. When those who voted for Trump found out I was more liberal and especially when they found out I was gay, they no longer talked to me. Very nice people 🙂

  28. Lady……………….You are a mess. To associate Trump or Trump supporters with “white supremacy” clearly labels you as mentally ill. Take a pill!!!

  29. Publicpersona — it is impossible to break through the “liberal mind”. But I enjoy you trying. 🙂

  30. Mr. Gushee,
    You and Mr. Camosy seem to have overlooked all of the people who argued vehemently against Trump’s rhetoric, who campaigned against him, who thought that he represented a serious enough threat that they should speak up, almost as if they thought he stood a chance of capturing the popular vote (which he actually didn’t). That doesn’t sound like a “monolithic” culture. People that are unaware of your “other” America wouldn’t behave this way if they thought that nobody was going to vote for him.

    You also both forgot to state that people who made the predictions they did were based on models that didn’t have complete polling data and have a certain margin of error, even under the best of circumstances. Blaming people for trusting their models is like blaming conservative Evangelicals for coming to the conclusion that homosexuals are misguided or antisocial: not a fantastic one, but understandable given the weak source material.

    It seems that a lot of the consternation concerning predictions and post-analysis can be understood as a failure to grasp statistical modeling and a propensity for making blanket statements about groups of people (something you are still doing in this article). This sounds like an argument for better education in statistics and humanities, something I can say that I never got in my last 15 years as a blue-collar worker.

    While Mr. Camosy makes an excellent recommendation that academic cultures should expand to include more analysis of underrepresented cultures, the rest of his article is simply chewing out academia for sins which can easily be laid at the feet of anyone in this country. Check it out: it would be simple to replace “liberal academic” with “conservative blue collar worker” and his argument would make the same sense.

    The fact that you and Mr. Camosy are bemoaning the mistakes you made is something I have not seen on any of the websites serving Trump followers. The people in those insulated bubbles are not preaching, and never have, that their ignorance and inability to predict the actions of populations whose worldviews are opposed in some way to theirs is something that needs addressing. In fact, the things that are said on those websites make my blood chill, a crystalization of the hatred that so many accused Trump of. And, while I’m sure many of the progressive websites are spinning apart with people combusting in a fury of political turmoil, more moderate websites, such as this one, are trying to make PROGRESS through conversation. Websites like this serve liberal progressives, such as myself, who realize that there is a need for nuance.

    TL; DR:
    Learn how statistics actually works and quit throwing progressives under the bus in the effort to “tear your garments and beat your breast” over something that your political foil would not do in your situation: namely, be introspectively critical.

    Noticing the log in your eye does not remove the splinter from your neighbor’s.

  31. Wednesday 11/09/16. It is a day that either changes what you believe, or affirms what you believe about yourself. True for anyone who would consider them self evangelical, 81%er and 19%er alike. It is a great for vision, it is a great day to hear with new ears what has been said for so long. It is a great time to understand why customers complain. It’s a new day, and the road OUT of Damascus hasn’t been this well marked in 2000 years. Find a new ass to ride out of town Donald is going to be tired up for awhile.

  32. Agreed………………as if “Clinton’s was a Christian message”. What a joke. I’ll venture to guess that the majority of those who voted for Trump, was simply a vote against Clinton. I reently moved and was unable to vote. But IF I voted, it would have been for Trump……..but not FOR Trump. My vote would have been a vote against Clinton. Period.

    The whole system at the Federal Level is totally and utterly corrupt……..btw. All of them need to go. But that is a discussion for a different Post.

  33. Linda’s Definition of Supremacy = White people interested in protecting and securing the future for White children.
    But …………..she loves the likes of LaRaza. Or the NAACP. Or the ADL. But when White people gather…………………….Supremacists! Racists! KKK!

  34. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is an example of charitable givers. Their money has made a difference. Many voters were too impatient to peel away all the layers and complexities of the Clinton Foundation, which, reportedly, paid for Chelsey’s wedding. (Reliable source – liberal, in fact). The Foundation is just one facet of their endless corruption, greed and bloat. Ivy League degrees and $15,000 pantsuits don’t necessarily equate with ethics and class. The Clinton greed is not new – and certainly not news. Don’t be so naive to believe everything you read and hear from media.

  35. Sure thing. It is just too advanced and fine-tuned for us to grasp. They actually believe media when they say conservatives don’t believe in science. They lack a sense of humor, and that’s too bad – because they’re pretty funny.

  36. Good advice Kyle. But that won’t change the fact that Hillary Clinton, Hillary’s supporters, and nearly all of the national media, flat-out ignored and/or flat-out smirked at a whole lotta Americans. And that mistake resulted in having to pay a totally unexpected PAINFUL price for their error.

    Hillary herself, will never again have a shot at being president. She’s outta the White House (after all that hard work she did to try to win it) for the remainder of her life. Very high price to pay for her error.

  37. Your measured tones and willingness to listen make this your best column, IMHO.

  38. I hope David Gushee will now turn his attention to those who are already being “targeted” by Trump’s supporters: minority children, Muslims (women in particular), Latinos, black people, and LGBT’s. Just today 129 freshman black students were targeted by Trump supporters who gained access to the Penn State system and sent vile racist messages to them. It’s happening all over the country. It’s not a coincidence that the very people that Trump demonized while running for President are the ones that his supporters are now going after from coast to coast in the days following the election.

    We’ll also be watching to see if Evangelicals remain silent on the attacks going on across the nation or if they condemn them. Given that Evangelicals (and the NAE) remained silent while Trump demonized all those people groups during the campaign, I wouldn’t hold my breath on them condemning what’s going on now.

  39. Sound advice, but often not followed even by the very best and most willing.

  40. A claim about a liberal website conveniently lacking a citation.

    You are right. Don’t believe everything you read and hear from media, or from people who post on it,

  41. Where did this come from?
    This comment and what it represents is one reason there is such an enormous divide today. Politically, I’m an independent. I voted for Gary Johnson because I could not bear to vote for the major-party sub-standard candidates. You assume I’m a white supremacist, so maybe I should assume you are a black supremacist.
    As someone who has worked with minorities all my career, as well as in volunteer positions, I have mentored young careerists, interns and students (white as well as black and other ethnicities). However, I will not make the same kind of assumptions that you have made about me. I don’t know you, but I can be led to understand you are upset.

  42. What if I told you that I am Muslim,that I am not looking for a politician who honors Christ?
    But I am now “the other side?” In other words, I am “The Other?”
    Truth is, I am a Christian and have been all my life.
    The other truth is that I have seen very little in President-Elect Trump or Mrs. Bill Clinton that honors Christ. Ms. Daily, it’s politics here – not Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. But because Trump will soon be our president, I will say that I appreciate the way he has spoken for millions of people who believed they had been forgotten (the people Mr. Gushee apparently did not know existed). If you followed any of the election outcomes, then you know this includes a larger percentage of minorities and women than pollsters had ever predicted Trump would attract. That’s about the best I can do. Why don’t we wait and see how Mr. Trump performs as president? That should show us who he really is.

  43. Maybe Ms. Astle, different people have different interests. Would you agree this could be true?
    For the record, President Bill Clinton signed a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. It had been around since the Great Depression. It separated commercial and investment banking, but with a sweep of his pen, then-President Clinton wiped away that important slice of history. Earlier in his administration, the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act was revived. This made it possible for people who couldn’t necessarily afford their mortgage payments to buy homes anyway.
    And so President Clinton and his administration planted the seeds of the 2008 economic meltdown.
    Furthermore, the economy had begun to tank in the last year of Mr. Clinton’s presidency. Mr. Bush inherited a weak economy. Don’t misunderstand me – I did not approve of most of Bush’s presidency. He did, however, inherit the results of some terrible decisions of the Clinton years. There were others, of course, as almost everybody who was alive in the 90s will recall..

  44. Ah, those “Others.” You mean you don’t love them?

  45. WikiLeaks, via my Facebook news. Hey, Google it – don’t rely on my word. In the meantime, another spill of emails reveals how Chelsey’s husband apparently used the Foundation as his personal bank for some business-related financing. Google that, too, although I can’t recall the last name of the lucky man who married into that family.

  46. Ms. Daily, do your homework. You, the author and a few others need to leave your bubbled lives and look around you. Look and observe. Don’t make this about me. It isn’t, any more than it is about you.

    Return to the subject of this article and reflect on the millions of people in this affluent, educated country who have become “The Other.” Few even knew enough about them to criticize them until Trump became a serious presidential contender. In the case of this author and some commenters here, many were unaware of them until Trump won the election. Take the time to read Hillbilly Elegy, then pray. The radical Jesus I have come to know represents all of us, even those who don’t believe in his magnificent power to transform lives. He loves the little people – of all colors – and he also loves those who have created wealth that, in their best moments, will share with those who are in poverty.

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