David Gushee: Christians, Conflict and Change Opinion Politics

Three different ways to resist Trumpian nationalism

At the US - Mexico border

There is only one way to defend most of new President Donald Trump’s many moves in his first week in office, but it is powerful. Whether it is the Wall, or shutting down refugee resettlement, or building the pipelines, or pressuring companies to keep jobs here, or pulling out of international trade pacts, or even toying with torture again, all can mainly or only be defended as a means to “put America first.”

As such, many Americans find at least the general direction of what Trump is doing to be compelling. After all, isn’t it the job of the American president to wake up each day asking what he can do to advance American self-interest? The very fact that Donald Trump was elected on precisely this platform, or at least, this persona, speaks to its appeal.

Ever since there were peoples, and nations, such claims to patriotic duty and national self-interest have been among the most powerful in any leader’s arsenal. It is a fearsome challenge to overcome the power of patriotism when deployed by a ruler of some rhetorical ability, aided by the trappings of power.

Those who are unhappy with some or all of the new president’s moves have three basic options in front of them for their critique.

  1. They can critique his actions on the basis of an alternative patriotism, a different vision of what is actually best for the nation, either policy by policy or as a whole.
  2. They can make their critique on the basis of transcendent values that they believe are being violated or will be violated by the president’s policies.
  3. They can make their critique on the basis of their commitment to a different primary community, one that matters more to them than the nation-state called the United States of America.

These paradigms can be aligned, but not always easily. It strikes me that the first and second strategy can work together, the second and third can do so as well, but the first and third may be incompatible.

In any case, if effective resistance is going to be mustered, advocates of each of these approaches are going to need to raise their game. Let’s consider each for a moment.

The alternative patriotism paradigm is the one that Barack Obama was already attempting to deploy before and after the election of Donald Trump, and that Hillary Clinton attempted during her campaign as well.

Here the assumption is that every American is and should be committed to American well-being and national self-interest, but the question is how best to get there. The reigning paradigm on this side has been that the United States is best served by being wired into global economic, alliance, and governance relationships and playing by shared international norms, that our long-term best interest is served by being open rather than closed to the rest of the world, and that showing a compassionate face to the world better reflects who we really are as a people and engenders goodwill toward us.

Many are persuaded by this alternative patriotism, but it didn’t quite win in 2016 and it may settle in for a long eclipse. On security policies, the great challenge is persuading fearful people that advocates of this alternative patriotism are sufficiently serious about national self-interest, especially on security and economic concerns.

The transcendent values strategy is to say that U.S. policies should reflect values that many of us believe in at the core of our being — such as tolerance, inclusion, ecological sustainability, hospitality, care, mercy, and justice. These values, we say, matter more than other, more parochial values, including the mere value of national self-interest.

Again, this strategy is compelling to those who actually believe in these transcendent values, but it is a heavy lift (especially in times of fear) to get a majority of fellow-citizens to agree. Either adversaries say that such values are inapplicable to the (threatened) nation-state, or they redefine and/or reject the values altogether.

The alternative community paradigm is the most radical. Adherents of this paradigm grant that nations are inclined naturally to advance their self-interest, but then say that their particular community of people simply does not believe that the nation is their primary community.

For some, their alternative primary community might be defined by another identity marker, such as national origin, immigrant status, gender, or race. For others, the alternative community is religious. If your primary identity is, say, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, then your primary commitment is to follow his Way, not to advance any nation’s self-interest.

While I am attracted to all three approaches, this last paradigm is where I stand most fundamentally. My primary identity is as a follower of Jesus. My primary community is with others thus committed, wherever they may be found here or around the world.

I believe that Jesus’ Way, as embodied in his life and communicated in his teachings, is authoritative for me, and that this is simply the commitment that I made when I committed my life to Christ.

I believe that Jesus’ Way does represent a set of transcendent values and does at least inform an alternative patriotism. This makes deep and strong alliances of resistance possible even with those who do not share my faith.

And I strongly believe that mere nationalism is a permanent spiritual threat, primarily as a seduction, to those who claim to be followers of Jesus. I believe we are watching much of that seduction unfold among American Christians today. It is not the first time. The temptation to confuse nationalism and Christianity is as old as Christendom.

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David Gushee

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  • “They can critique his actions on the basis of an alternative patriotism, a different vision of what is actually best for the nation, either policy-by-policy or as a whole.”

    So … “Nationalism isn’t wrong, this just isn’t the right nationalism!!” Terrible message.

    “They can make their critique on the basis of transcendent values that they believe are being violated or will be violated by the president’s policies.”

    So … “Nationalism is only wrong when it interferes with my moral standards!!” Terrible message.

    “They can make their critique on the basis of their commitment to a different primary community, one that matters more to them than the nation-state called the United States of America.”

    So … “Nationalism is bad because I prefer a different national group to the one helped by American Nationalism!!” Probably the worst message here.

    Nothing about nationalism just being wrong in-and-of-itself??

  • I believe the last paragraph covers that Eddie. I find it a powerful indictment of this religious problem, the very thing Islam is violently grappling with at this very moment.

    “And I strongly believe that mere nationalism is a permanent spiritual threat, primarily as a seduction, to those who claim to be followers of Jesus. I believe we are watching much of that seduction unfold among American Christians today. It is not the first time. The temptation to confuse nationalism and Christianity is as old as Christendom.”

  • The “anti-Christian culture” of the Benedict Option is usually applied to progressive/liberal ideals. I wonder if the same label will be applied to Trumpism.

  • “Alternative community paradigm” is a New World tradition: the Puritans; the Amish; the Jamaican Maroons; the Mormons; Indian Reservations; the Southern Baptists, circa 1845; etc.

  • May I also offer a fifth way? (My fourth way is contained in a comment below) The fifth way would be to move to Cuba! Oh, wait! The Cubans are strong nationalists too!

  • Political, religious, and economic thought all boils down to sex, drugs, and money.
    Second place is the first place loser but a peek is worth ten free market estimators. Reverse auction bid results can be turned into a low bid equation with a variance that looks something like this:

    Low Bid = (95% -1% times the number of bidders) times the
    average bid

    Companies, individuals, and countries play free market
    basketball on a diving board because an individual or organization can’t maximize their profits if they hit more often than the dummy. Since free markets come to an equilibrium between four and five bidders, a 5% drop in price is usually enough to jump to 15% higher overall hit rate. Government is a slam dunking monopoly that has proven to be 20% more expense than the free market. Socialism, Fascism, Marxism, Statism, etc. is four scarcity leaps backwards and corresponds with Carman’s and Kenneth’s findings.

    A Harvard Professor and previous President of IMF wrote a
    book called “This Time is Different” . Carman Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff studied fiscal crisis in 65 countries over 500 years. 1% GDP reduction in taxes increases private sector 3% in GDP. 1% GDP increase in Government Spending deceases private sector 1.2% GDP with a -0.2% change in GDP. Obviously a great deal of government debt can put a country at significant interest rate risk.

    If we go from a 38% tax rate to 20% tax rate with a balanced
    budget the private sector will grow from $11 Trillion to over $16 Trillion. Tax revenue won’t decrease 48%. Tax revenue will only decrease 24%. Half of Washington won’t have to go on a permanent vacation, only one out of four.Employment will increase 25% so displaced bureaucrats will have lots of new opportunities to contribute to society.

    If we get down to a balanced 10%, $20 Trillion – more than a
    60% increase in jobs if half of Washington goes on a permanent vacation, each dollar earned buys ($0.90/$0.62) 45% more, and hard America becomes a soft warm
    place.

    John Nash’s beautiful mind recognized the importance of
    interactions in which the results of one person’s choices depend not only on his own behavior but also on the choices of another person. There is a related game called Ultimatum. You and your partner split $10. Less than $3 deals disgust and anger. The dealer has a pulpit.

    The Laffer effect is no joke. Charles Adams, an international tax attorney and historian, wrote books on taxes. Once tax rates rise above the disgust and anger point, the expected extra tax revenue never shows up. A flat tax system is part of Constitution. Everyone has to pay taxes to keep as many people’s tax rate below the disgust and anger tax rate or make sure an overwhelming majority is disgusted with high taxes. Free market innovation boils down to a desire for players to hit a third of their shots.

    Dealers can routinely get an $8 to $10 deal by getting his or her partner work for a $3 to $5 deal. With each $3 to $5 of earned success the partner becomes a dealer that turns the $3 to $5 deal into $6 to $8 of earned success. Turning $10 into $13 is a win-win systemic solution that creates good people, great outcomes, and durable trust but when it rains, rainmakers show up and turn everything to dirt.

    There will always be zero-sum losers who just accept less
    than $3 deals and think the key to success is being an abusive dealer. A $7-$3 deal isn’t better than a $6-$4 deal because $7-$3 deals turn into $6-$2, $5-$1, and $4-two bit deals. Rainmakers turn everything to dirt because they feel
    entitled to $7up and someone else has to pay for the diet $7up.

    Obama and company’s overall 30% to 40% tax and spend
    policies have systemically increased the public sector by 25% and eliminated 10 million private sector jobs. Present day Switzerland, Russia, and much of Eastern Europe are 15% tax and spend countries.

  • Aaah. It’s always amazes me how even the slightest shift in perspective can provide a different scope to one’s viewpoint. From the examples you have cited, it is possible for me to view the phrase in a different light. Thanks for the nudge.

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