When I last wrote on the American election after Super Tuesday, Trump had just solidified his lead in the Republican nomination; since then, Trump has displayed surprising resilience despite an increasing number of gaffes and blunders from him and his campaign team, including several during this convention. He has somehow managed not only to weather major world events such as Orlando, Brexit, and Dallas that have exposed his ignorance, but to actually increase his portion of the popular vote and his chances of winning the general election in November.
I do not think that it's worth my time (or yours, for that matter) to attempt to recount how we got to this point; rather, I want to deal with the major issues that I am continuing to encounter as I navigate this new political landscape. The three main issues that I have seen arise in the past month and through the convention have been the relationship between Trump and Evangelicals, the way in which the media is perceived, and the pattern of character attacks on Hillary Clinton.
On Trump and Evangelicals
I expected that most Republicans would eventually find a way to rationalize their support of Trump, though few have been as painful to see as Paul Ryan's capitulation to his party's choice, endorsing Trump even as Trump was embroiled in an abhorrently racist attack on a federal judge. I have been heartened by the fact that many significant Republican figures have either deliberately not endorsed or have openly spoken against Trump, but I have considered that to be a losing battle for a long time, and one that does not particularly matter to me personally, as I would certainly be a Democrat were I to be an American citizen.
The much more personally disconcerting development of the past two months has been the way in which several prominent Evangelicals have publicly contorted themselves in order to support Trump as the nominee. Trump named his Evangelical Advisory Board a month ago, and although I acknowledge that not all 25 members have publicly supported Trump, many of them have, and I cannot imagine that it would be palatable to have a decidedly anti-Trump voice within that group.
Trump's pick of Mike Pence as his VP seems only to have emboldened the Evangelical support of Trump further, and the policy that the Republican party is officially endorsing is arguably capitulating more to social conservatives (a group which happens to have a significant overlap with Evangelicals) than any Republican platform in recent memory. The whole picture is very bleak for those of us who identify as Evangelical Christians but who do not find ourselves in agreement with either Trump or the Republicans in general.
There are prominent Republican Evangelicals who are not supporting Trump - primarily Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and author Max Lucado - but there are far more voices within the Evangelical wing of the church who are encouraging their parishioners to support Trump. As one article commented, rather than religion affecting politics, politics has now infected religion. I perceived the tension between the two through the last few American elections, but I think that there was at least some reasonable space for dialogue and for arguments that Christians should vote Republican as a moral imperative in the past; with their support for Trump, I do not see how these Evangelicals have twisted themselves around to this point of view.
I'm really worked up about this issue in particular because it equates a particular political viewpoint with a faith viewpoint without room for dialogue. It alienates people who disagree with either of those two assumed perspectives, and it forces people to have to choose between their church and their conscience. It causes dissension within the church, and it makes people leave when they feel like they do not belong. It makes the church complicit as a political entity, and I believe that one of the core things that Jesus taught was that the church should have a perspective that goes beyond our political spectrum.
I know I probably should not be as disturbed by this trend as I am, particularly since I am Canadian and therefore not directly affected by what happens in American Evangelicalism, but the same thing happens north of the border. I experienced it directly in the last election with others implying that the Conservatives are the "Christian" party, as opposed to the "godless heathens" of our more center or left parties. I am tired of being judged for having my church and my political conscience be at odds with one another, and I can foresee a future in which, like many other Millennial Evangelicals before me, I will feel forced to make a decision between the two - and it's not going to be in favour of the Evangelical church if that happens.
On the media
One of the arguments that I have repeatedly encountered in my discussions is the point that I am hearing only what the media wants me to hear, and that there is some element of a left-wing liberal media syndicate conspiracy that wants to ensure that Donald Trump is not elected in November. While I concede that there is a clear bias from news organizations such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Slate, as I agree that there are many major news outlets that do not want Trump to become President, but I do not think it's a conspiracy or unjustified; rather, it's a legitimate fear that Americans are about to elect a man who is professionally and personally unfit to hold the office.
Most of the articles I have read discuss the things that Trump says and the policies he states, and they actually take him seriously, which is why their overall tone is one of extreme concern. The kinds of articles I have read do not take potshots at Trump, but they examine the full implications of the statements Trump makes, as well as attempting to parse his true positions through the morass of Trump's long history of quotations over the past thirty years - and unfortunately for Trump, his character over that period does not come out as presidential.
As an aside, I do acknowledge that many of the late night TV hosts are capitalizing on mocking Trump and that I do derive a certain amount of glee at times from those digs, but I do also admit that they have begun crossing the line in recent months, and that there are times in which what they are doing is unfortunate and mean. I do hope that there is a shift in tone away from their form of bullying in the coming months, though I fear that there may not be, given the current political climate of the US.
There are a few troubling implications with this argument against the media. It capitalizes on conspiracy theory politics and anti-intellectualism. It eliminates all need to listen to the media. But perhaps most significantly, it trivializes anyone with a point of view that agrees with the media and it asserts that anyone who agrees with a perspective expressed therein is a media marionette parroting only what the establishment wants them to say - a statement I choose to refute vehemently.
I am an educated and informed person, and I read media carefully. I choose to share certain articles because I believe that they are useful for my future reference and for others in my social media community because they provide ideas and perspectives that are well thought out, well argued, and well supported. I am not a media shill, nor am I unthinkingly spreading propaganda. The fact that thoughtful, articulate pieces argue a certain point of view is not evidence that they are colluding; it is evidence that those arguments need to be made.
While it is true that I do not spend much time regarding media that disagrees with my point of view, such as most Republican and/or Conservative news outlets, I am aware of their arguments. I choose to avoid them in part because I know that I do not agree with their content, but more significantly because I find many of their methods to have little journalistic or interpersonal integrity - methods that were also demonstrated by the speakers at the Republican convention.
On Hillary bashing
Another argument I have heard several times in response to articles I have posted about Trump is a variation, often spoken or written with extreme derision and scorn, of, "Who would you choose? Hillary?" - the implication therein being that a vote for Hillary is obviously the wrong choice. But I have found that further conversation typically leads to one of a few ends - she's a corrupt criminal; she's the personification of the system; or even that she's a weak woman - with little nuanced analysis of her record or policies. Even the use of the name "Hillary" (as opposed to "Clinton") seems to be the same kind of infantilization that the Canadian Conservatives attempted to execute by referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "Justin" throughout the election (and since).
The vilification and dehumanization of Hillary Clinton reached a new low during the RNC with chants of "lock her up" and "guilty" being encouraged by speakers from the main stage, in addition to the innumerable (and, in most polite company, unquotable) slogans that appeared on shirts about her character. It is similar to the treatment that Obama has endured over the past eight years, although this time it is tinged with misogyny rather than racism. It is truly unfortunate that Republicans continue to engage with this kind of vicious bullying, as I do believe that it is obscuring some legitimate policy concerns and distracting from genuine dialogue between the two parties.
The Democrats as a whole have not engaged directly in as much of these kinds of politics in recent memory, and I am truly hoping that they choose to focus on positives during their convention this week rather than merely bashing Trump. They can talk about the Republican policies and Trump's statements without overtly mocking him, and I hope that they elevate the dialogue, rather than descending to the level that Trump and the Republicans demonstrated this past week.
As a high school history teacher, I have taught twentieth century world history several times over the past decade, and I have often struggled to help students understand how fascism rose between World War I and World War II in Europe. Students have not had a framework in which they could understand how Mussolini, Franco, and especially Hitler could rise to power and how they could convince rational people to commit such terrible atrocities. Now, unfortunately, we have a clear example of fascism at work in a modern society with the rise of Trump.
Trump's statements, policies and personal history reflect patterns of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, personal degradation, irresponsibility, anti-intellectualism, cultural ignorance, lack of regard for authority, and bullying. Despite what some Republicans would have you believe, Trump has demonstrated no willingness or ability to govern in a way that does not reflect those established attitudes and behaviours.
Although I am not exactly excited by the idea of Hillary Clinton as President, she is arguably more qualified than any other non-incumbent candidate has ever been to hold office, and I think that she will do her best to serve her country well. I have no reason to think that she will be a disaster as President, and if I were to have to choose between the two, I would certainly pick Clinton. But right now, I'm mostly just glad that I'm not going to have to cast a vote in that election.
More than anything, I hope that this entire process will cause both parties to rethink their positions and methods, and that 2016 will become a true turning point for American politics. Canada experienced a shift with our election last year, and I certainly hope that the changes in our political landscape hold out with our next election in 2019, much as I hope that the rhetoric and the vitriol are toned down south of the border after the first Tuesday in November - starting now with the Democratic National Convention.