The Election of Donald Trump

March 15th, 2017

Understanding the president’s reality: A psychoanalytic contribution to public life

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Edvard Munch, "The Scream," 1895It would not have taken long for French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan to realize that President Donald Trump has a paranoid vision of the world. This does not mean that President Trump is insane, but rather that he has never left the mental space we all inhabited as toddlers and that we have never entirely forgotten. A glimpse of this place comes vividly to mind when we feel insanely jealous, dismissed, or ignored. But most adults no longer live here day in and day out, because the love we took in as children is usually strong enough to help us fashion an image of ourselves that we can rely upon when we feel challenged . . . .

The paranoid structure is not foreign to us because it is a rigid, simplified, and distorted version of the ordinary way we see the world. In that sense President Trump’s behaviors, discourse, and actions are not as erratic as they appear. They follow a logic that we are equipped to understand.

December 20th, 2016

Religion and the new populism

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Light trailThe push for stronger cultural identities and political borders in the new populism is inseparable from the general concern about Islam and immigration. Most of the new populists are promoting a one-sided criticism of Islam. This is connected to the public fears of terrorism, angst about Sharia, the status of women in Muslim communities, demographic tensions (aging European populations with lower birth rates and younger immigrant populations with higher birthrates), and issues surrounding the social integration of immigrants. In this context, talk about the Jewish and Christian heritage of the West has reemerged in secular Europe and in the United States as an alternative identity-forming heritage. . .

In light of this religious and political discourse today across the Western world, there is a need to have an open discussion about this idea of the Jewish and Christian heritage of the Western world. While some are using this concept to exclude others, the religious heritage of the West can actually be a positive resource for multiculturalism, peaceful social integration, and humanitarian aid.

November 7th, 2016

On “beyond Trump”: Evangelical politics, born again

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MercyMe by Flicker user susieq3cSurvey data indicates a growing generational split among evangelicals, with the younger generation supporting a range of left-leaning policies that their parents and grandparents vehemently opposed. These young evangelicals are interested in environmentalism, alleviating global poverty, fighting the AIDS epidemic, and supporting LGBT rights, while continuing a generally conservative tack on abortion, national defense, and capital punishment. Although, even those core issues are sometimes thrown into question. Furthermore, young evangelicals are more ethnically diverse than previous generations, which also works to shift their politics to the left on most issues.

Historically, this is not a surprising shift, as the story of evangelical America supplies ample precedents for an evangelical leadership that throws their weight behind leftist causes: “the old fashioned gospel” of the Gilded Age; the “social gospel” of the Progressive Era; and the political preaching and religiously-infused activist rhetoric of black evangelical pastors during the civil rights era. Furthermore, since the 1970s, the dominance of the Christian right has always been countered by progressive evangelical denominations and organizations, such as Sojourners and Messiah College. While the forces of the evangelical left will not reach a critical mass in this week’s election, it seems inevitable that they will make their presence known four years from now, if not in earlier congressional and local races.

November 7th, 2016

Trumping reality

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The Unblinking Eye | Image via Flickr user Darron BirgenheierWhy those who support Trump do so can be captured by perspectives on income, not income itself; by perspectives on race and immigration, not by racial identity; by a sense that everybody else is wrong for the job, even if he is not quite right for it. Consider: 63 percent of Trump voters favor revoking birthright citizenship (compared to the 51 percent in the overall Republican National Committee (GOP) electorate). Sixty-six percent of Trump supporters claim that President Barack Obama is a Muslim—twelve points higher than the overall GOP figure.

These perspectival shards press us to think about what organizes groups to adhere to ideas that seem senseless to those outside the group; to observe, as well, the fear of those groups. They press us to think, among other things, about religion.

October 4th, 2016

Why do evangelicals vote for Trump?

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Image via Flickr user Quinn DombrowskiThere are various interpretations of Trumpism on offer. Reading it as fascism explains its appeal to the white nationalists of the “alt-right.” Reading it as populism explains its appeal to a white working class fed up with the “Washington establishment.” And reading it as authoritarianism explains its appeal to voters with authoritarian personalities. These interpretations are not necessarily wrong, but they do not explain Trump’s appeal to evangelicals qua evangelicals.

So, let me propose a different interpretation. On this reading, Trumpism is a secular form of religious nationalism. By “religious nationalism,” I mean a form of nationalism that makes religious identity the litmus test of national belonging. By “a secular form of religious nationalism,” I mean one that strips religious identity of its ethical content and transcendental reference. In Trumpism, religion functions mainly as a marker of ethnicity.