From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.
There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.
There wasn’t much in Donald Trump’s inauguration address (quoted above)that surprised me. Having won the presidency, Trump used his inauguration address to pitch a vision of an America unified by its own nationalist navel gazing. For Trump, the greatness of America–the thing that will help the country win again “like never before”–is its ability to insulate itself with walls and a beefed up military. Within these walls, Trump says, the American economy will flourish, businesses will be located in the country, jobs will be brought back, and American citizens will be able to enjoy the fruits of their collective labor in safety thanks to the valorous service of law enforcement.
Sure, Trump’s vision for America says nothing of America’s history of colonialism and racism. Yes, his insular nationalist vision ignores complex and dangerous global realities. Yeah, his economic vision ignores the fact that trickle down economics have never proven to benefit poor and working class folk in an equal and just way. And of course, his valorous depiction of law enforcement ignores the systemic racism uncovered by Justice Department studies in places like Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson. But I saw–and we should have all seen–this coming during the election. Trump is who he said he was.
What did grab my attention was Trump’s declaration that, beyond military and law enforcement protection, God will protect America. This type of god-talk is nowhere near new in American politics. Trump’s promise of divine protection echoes the 19th century concept of “Manifest Destiny”–the idea that America is divinely ordained to stretch itself westward, even if Native Americans had to be misplaced and killed and a deadly war (i.e. the Mexican-American War) had to take place. Before and during the age of Manifest Destiny, defenders of slavery in colonial America used appeals to scripture to justify the right to own human beings as property. Much of Western Christian history is made up of wars, inquisitions, expulsions, and colonial dominance justified in the name of God. Viewed through the prism of Trump’s “strongman” politics, his declaration of divine protection is yet another iteration of what theologian Willie Jennings has called Christianity’s diseased social imagination.
As a Christian theologian and ethicist (remember, Trump claims a Christian church as his spiritual home), I feel compelled to publicly rebuke the idea that Trump’s valuing of trickle down economics and military might, as well as his specific plan to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, is consistent with the values of Christ. Jesus’ clear concern for the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless represents a social vision so diametrically opposed to President Trump’s that I wonder which “god” he thinks would side with and protect a country that values protecting its own well-being, prosperity, and security no matter how it impacts the rest of the world. Certainly not the God of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was crucified by the Roman government after spending his life reworking social and religious norms in the name of caring for those the world rendered disposable and invisible. The ministry of Christ–the proper inspiration for Christian life–was not powerful because of its ability to violently protect its borders. The ministry of Christ was powerful because it modeled a community positively transformed through radical openness and a hospitality that prioritized those who, for whatever reason, needed the most healing and/or help. Following the example of Jesus, a Christian community is supposed to be more concerned with upholding the values of caring for the least and welcoming the stranger than it is with preserving its own life. In Christianity, we have traditionally called this community “the church.” (Unfortunately, many institutions calling themselves “churches” seem more committed to Trump’s god than to the God that inspired Jesus.)
Trump’s “god”–the one he declared would protect America–is little more than a projection of the 45th president’s hyper-masculine, white supremacist ego. His is the same god used to justify slavery and westward expansion. This “god” violently protects “chosen winners” at the expense of the invisible poor and displays his faithfulness by increasing the wealth of already wealthy “job creators.” This god is worshiped through war, violence, greed, and destruction. The Bible has a name for Trump’s god: idol. Those seeking to be faithful are prohibited from worshiping him.
Communities need not be Christian (nor rooted in any particular religious tradition) in order to resist Trump’s god. Instead, resisting Trump’s god requires rooting our lives in communities determined to stand with and defend the most vulnerable through loving sacrifice and solidarity, even when our lives are threatened by structures of militaristic violence, xenophobic hate, and corporate greed.
* A version of this post was originally published at The Clash Content.