"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Question of Salvation

 A too-familiar refrain:

My concern has always been the gradual normalization of Trump’s unforgivably destructive behavior. The longer Trump remains president the more Trumpism will become metastasized in our collective political culture. In my darkest moments, I believe it’s too late — it’s already in our bones.

The very presence of Trump occupying the Oval Office has permanently broadened the state of play for the presidency — broadened the degree of latitude the president now possesses to paint outside the previous lines. Presidents and presidential candidates are now at greater liberty to exhibit behavior that would heretofore have been punished with rejection and exile from the ranks of seriousness and normalcy. Whether we like it or not, Trump has written new rules for the presidency by exploiting loopholes in our system, a system that’s built on the rule of law, traditional norms and constitutional strictures.

Trump has hurled his ponderous bulk through wall after wall, Kool-Aid Man style, and once he leaves office, it’ll be up to the rest of us to repair those Trump-shaped holes. In order to do that, we need to fight to throw off the normalization of Trumpism now, even as it calcifies, while creating presidential reforms that prevent Trump-copycats or the next iteration of calamitous dumbness on a continuum that includes proto-Trumps such as George W. Bush and Sarah Palin, among many others.

I get it. It’s nearly impossible for us to fully absorb each travesty as it whizzes past our faces at ludicrous speed. Prioritizing and focusing upon what Trump does over what he merely says is always a smart idea, just as long as we never regard his tweets and obnoxious blurts as being irrelevant or normal. The president’s words matter, too. Yet at this point, regulating how the president talks is more a societal adjustment than a legislative one.

While the next Congress will hopefully launch hearings to introduce measures to pull back the reins on Article II executive powers based on the loopholes Trump has exposed — not unlike during the years after Watergate — Americans must also once again reject demagogues and populist political tourists like Trump. We have to stop mistaking “This guy has ideas!” or “This guy is just like me!” for “This guy should be president!”

It isn't that Trump has exploited loopholes.  It's that Trump has no business being in the Oval Office at all.  A toddler with a loaded shotgun is not exploiting loopholes in gun control laws; it's something that simply shouldn't happen, and when it does, you get the gun away from the toddler as quickly as possible, then hold the adults in the room responsible for what just happened.  Unfortunately, our Constitutional system doesn't work that way, because trying to design it so it does is trying to design it to save us from ourselves.  If you are determined to let a toddler have free access to loaded firearms, you are going to suffer the consequences; but society can act to prevent you from doing that, and make sure you suffer all the consequences of your actions that may be visited on others.  However, if the electorate is determined to elect a perfect idiot to the President, there is no institutional nor Constitutional system that can prevent it.

Like laws that supposedly control our behavior and keep us from all robbing and raping and terrorizing each other.  The lack of police on my block (they've been here once in the nearly 20 years I've lived here.  I never remember them once on the block where my parents lived for 50 years.) doesn't give us all free reign to blight each other's lives.  We don't need the policeman at our elbow to be civilized beings; but obviously some percentage of the population does.  That percentage is a numerical minority of the population.  That percentage should never supply a candidate for public office, especially when that office is the highest in the land.  When it does, the failure is not in the system, not in a "loophole" that government can fill with a statute or even a Constitutional amendment.  That failure is in the electorate.

Systems do not save us.  Consider the "system" that lead to Brexit.  A sitting PM decided to silence his critics once and for all, and called for a referendum on Britain's membership in the EU.  A bigger mistake England probably hasn't made since the 19th century potato famines in Ireland.  By the end of this year Boris Johnson, who is slightly more capable than Donald Trump (at least capable enough to subtly mock Trump at the G-7 in Paris, something Trump couldn't do if he wanted to), will probably oversee the collapse of the British economy, the return of the "troubles" to northern Ireland as the border shuts down between the Republic and the British nation on the same island; the beginning of the dissolution of the Union as Scotland probably moves to remove itself from that Union so it can return to the EU; and even the shut down of traffic in the Chunnel, since most of that is goods moved in trade, and trade with the EU will come abruptly to a halt (and any promises by Trump to trade with England will be meaningless, as such trade will have to be established by private companies, and that can take years).

Complete and utter disaster for Great Britain, in other words, and all because the Brits are determined to turn their democracy into a mutual suicide pact, something democracies sometimes do but which Britain has managed to avoid for several centuries.   Time's up, apparently.

And it would be for us, if we were ever offered a similar referendum.  And being the result of a referendum, the system that allowed such a vote wouldn't protect us from our collective stupidity, it would actually create the conditions for the crisis Great Britain now finds itself in.  And yet their system doesn't show them a way out.  Mostly they seem to blithely think it's never happened before, so it can't happen now.  Let the election of Donald Trump be a warning to them.

Let the situation of Brexit be a warning to us.  It can always be worse; and we can always deny reality, and responsibility, mostly by blaming the system for not saving us from ourselves.

This is, unfortunately, the question of salvation, the subject of soteriology.  We usually think of that as  an esoteric and at least quasi-metaphysical pursuit of theologians and Bible-thumpers.  But it is a very real issue in our lives.  "Savior" was a Roman claim before it was a Christian one, and it meant Caesar who saved the furthest reaches of the Empire and those who lived within it from the deprivations of the barbarian, the non-civilized.  Barbarians is a term from the Greek, where you can see it in use in Euripides' "Medea."    Jason marries her for love (she thinks), or is it just to escape her father, whom she helps Jason murder.  When Jason returns to Greece (i.e., civilization) he has to take care of himself and his children and eventually Medea, so he marries the princess (literally), but he does so because Media is a barbarian, and to the Greeks she counts as no more than a horse or a family pet.  The Greeks didn't have a concept of a savior, only of the tragic hero; but the Romans used it as a pillar of the Pax Romana.  Today we don't look to Caesar but to the system to save us from....well, mostly from collective responsibility.  It's not our fault Trump is a bull in the international china shop, a toddler with a pump 12 gauge; it's because of "loopholes" in the system.  But to draw the rules so tightly even Trump couldn't ignore them is still to expect the system to do what people will not:  hold Trump responsible.  Rick Santorum finally decided Trump's ideas of a G-7 at Trump's resort is a bridge too far; but Rick Santorum is not a GOP Senator anymore.  From the rest of the GOP in Congress, we hear:  *crickets*

What system can we design that corrects that "loophole"?  What system can we design that will save us from ourselves?


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