Tens of millions of Americans were shocked to their core by the unforeseen, unprecedented, and turbulent presidential election of 2016.
Pollsters and pundits found their forecast models, based on previous, more traditional election cycles, were inadequate to forecast or even understand the social and political upheaval Americans experienced in 2016. Even large numbers of President’s Trump’s supporters were surprised by his victory.
Even more shocking for many have been the divisive rhetoric, demonstrations (sometimes violent) and vows of complete resistance to President Trump and his new administration commencing before his inauguration. Polls show that perhaps 35% of Americans are committed to total “resistance” to President Trump and his administration, with millions of American citizens dedicating themselves to making America “ungovernable” during President Trump’s tenure. As of mid-week, Trump has the fewest number of confirmed cabinet appointees since George Washington.
Such vehement rejection of the people’s verdict at the polls and such widespread disregard of the tradition of the losing side being the loyal opposition until the next election cycle have caused great concern among American citizens across all positions on the political and socioeconomic spectrum.
The prominent social and political commentator Dennis Prager, surveying the turbulent scene, penned a much noted and quoted opinion column declaring that “America is currently fighting its second Civil War.”
While I share Prager’s concerns for the threat current events pose to the health of our society and its political system, I believe his comparison of the current conflict to the American Civil War is flawed. The Civil War was primarily a conflict between different regions of the country over the abhorrent institution of slavery (other issues were involved, but without slavery there would not have been a war). There were very few Confederates in Michigan and even fewer Unionists in Mississippi. Only in the border regions of Maryland, western Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas was the Civil War actually pitting brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor.
A more accurate historical analogy is the American Revolution, where Americans were truly pitted against each other, Loyalists and the Sons of Liberty, from town to town, and hamlet to hamlet, all across the thirteen former colonies, now nascent states, all along the eastern seaboard. What I fear we may be experiencing is a second American Revolution.
What progressive forces have been seeking to do, from the Olympian heights of the various American business, political, academic, media, and entertainment elites, is to perpetrate a second American Revolution — enshrining secularism, socialism, globalism and multiculturalism as the regnant values in American culture.
This revolution gathered significant steam during the Obama presidency. President Obama’s attempts to press this revolution well beyond where millions of more traditional Americans were willing to go eventually provoked a profound reaction embodied in the unlikely figure of Donald Trump.
Walter Russell Mead, who perceives Donald Trump as a Jacksonesque figure, argues that “Jacksonian populists … carried Donald Trump to victory on the back of anger about immigration, economic competition with Mexico and China and Islamism.”
Mead sums up the political dynamic driving the 2016 election cycle: “President Obama never did well with Jacksonians – nor did he show much sign of wanting to. His remark during the 2008 primary about Americans who ‘cling’ to religion and guns betrayed a disgust with Jacksonian America that President Obama has done little to hide while in office. His indifferent response to terrorism and amnesty for illegal immigrants confirmed Jacksonian suspicions. Meanwhile, Democratic pronouncements about how the multicultural Obama political coalition was rendering white America politically impotent sounded to Jacksonians as nothing less than a declaration of war on them and their values. In 2016, they retaliated by putting the rawest Jacksonian into the White House since Old Hickory himself.”
Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, as former President Obama’s helicopter lifted off to leave the nations’ capitol, Brit Hume, Fox News senior political analyst, discussing President Obama’s legacy, suggested that the former president’s legacy could be summed up in two words: “Donald Trump.”
He was right. Without President Obama’s leftist overreach a Donald Trump presidency would not have been possible.
Consequently, we are now in the midst of what may be a second American Revolution in which the more traditional Trump supporters are promoting a Loyalist Tory counter-revolution. The consequences of such a Titanic cultural struggle could be profound.
We now face a situation in which implacable opposition to the duly elected government is rapidly eroding respect for all government authority and for the political process itself.
Because it has almost always been part of the furniture in our society, Americans often don’t realize that the rule of law and respect for the democratic process itself is a rare and fragile treasure in this world, and such criminal and lawless behavior can seriously damage it very quickly.
Given the deep, cavernous fissures that have surfaced in American society, Americans of every political stripe must commit themselves to civil behavior. Unity is probably not attainable at present, but commitment to civility and to abiding by the rule of law and the results of elections are desperately needed at present.
The current divisiveness, inflamed and enhanced by the internet and social media, is creating a feedback loop where radical behavior and rhetoric on the left provokes strong reaction on the right, and on and on it goes, radical acts and rhetoric begetting opposing radical acts and rhetoric.
Sooner than most realize, the center ground of discourse and compromise begins to erode both from the left and the right, and the middle of the road becomes more and more narrow until it is a single lane highway with no shoulder and people standing on the road are attacked by an incessant cacophony of left and right criticism. When the losers of an American election refuse to accept the legitimate results until the next election cycle, it undermines the system very quickly.
So what can Christians do? As I said earlier in The Christian Post, Christians must remember that we are first and foremost citizens of our Father’s Heavenly Kingdom. Our ultimate allegiance and duty is to our Savior and Lord. Second, we must pray for the president and all who are in authority as we have been commanded to do, remembering that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it withersoever He will” (Proverbs 21:1).
So, having been vertically reconciled with our Heavenly Father through His Son and our Savior, we have been called to be witnesses to and examples of that vertical reconciliation. Furthermore, having been reconciled to our Heavenly Father, we are called to “the ministry of reconciliation” (both vertically with God and horizontally with each other) and “ambassadors for Christ” and His ministry of spiritual reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19-20).
Perhaps our nation has never needed our ministry of reconciliation more than at present.
Elections have consequences. The American people have collectively decided that they believe some policies are more prudential than others. That still leaves common ground based on civility and a fundamental understanding that we can disagree without being disagreeable and questioning each other’s faith, patriotism, or motives.
We must resolve to be salt and light in this flammable environment, seeking to preserve the middle ground where compromise and understanding can be fostered. Otherwise, as the ground for compromise and understanding erodes, people will be inexorably drawn to the intransigence of the left or the right.
We have been called to be peacemakers. May God help us as Christians to fulfill our calling. To paraphrase the late, great Winston Churchill, let us, as Evangelical Christians, so now conduct ourselves that if God allows America to exist another thousand years, historians will look back and say, “This was the finest hour!”