musings on political authority and donald trump

in a previous post, i mused on the topic of faith and authority ( ). today i want to write about authority and politics in the light of faith. given the insurrection and mob attack on the capitol building last wednesday, this topic has serious consequences in our current political atmosphere.

i am not a political scientist, so some of my observations may be inaccurate. please let me know of any glaring factual errors. this is how my feeble mind puts political authority together for myself.

politics is also about relationships moving toward living out a certain vision and principles in civil society. culture is greatly affected by the context of the political framework of a country, state, province, and city; politics shapes culture at these levels too. in the usa, the constitution, balance of powers of the three branches of government, autonomy of the states help us live well together. elected officials as well as others who serve in politics, law enforcement and the military take an oath to uphold the constitution– it is the ultimate “authority.” it was a given that in politics that this is our common ideal, each person and body within politics serve the ideal as best we can. the vision of who we are is stated in the constitution and is a glue that holds us together. there are built in correctives if we get on the wrong road.

in the past, this way of seeing our political realm was held in common as a given. even if the ideal was not lived out perfectly, the glue in our civil society held us in a common good.

in the political arena, the question of who we follow is very important. different parties have different platforms that help define and shape their priorities. differences among political parties existed under the authority of the constitution. in the legislature, people would argue vehemently with others across the aisle and afterwards go out for dinner and drinks with their opponents. debate was necessary and the common good was greater than political differences.

the federal government had the role of unifying the good of the whole country while respecting the proper place of the states. state and local governments lived out their particular differences under the republic in relation with the other states: unity among the states was key. as states, we could live with one another given that we all were under the same constitution of the united states of america. it is lived out with a balance of powers and the voice of the people seen in voting. those for whom we vote are the ones we entrust with the authority to act politically on our behalf.

after the growing pains of being a new nation with these lofty ideals of governance, the biggest challenge to the unity of vision came to a head in the civil war. certain states formed a confederacy to live a different vision that included a continuation of slavery. two very different visions of who we are as a nation came to a head. many lives were lost fighting for two differing understandings of the constitution. the united nature of the states in relation to the federal government disintegrated. war was the result.

“authority” is at the heart of politics. we give others our trust to lead us toward our vision.

especially now, money greatly affects political influence and authority. the new advances in technologies and the big tech companies have also changed how political authority is played out for us. those are different posts for a different time.

a long time ago, i asked a claretian whom i highly regard because of his leadership in community organizing: what is the most important aspect of leadership? his response was “followers.” i remember at the time being a bit disappointed about the obvious answer. now i see the wisdom in his response. in what ought to be obvious might not be so obvious to many. one is not a leader without followers. a basic tenet in community organizing is “power is in the relationships.” it is in relationships that we work together for goals larger than ourselves. this broad axiom works for me at many different levels.

these past four years of donald trump as president have led to things we have never seen in the history of politics in the usa. because of his background in business and coming from wealth, his understanding of politics was very different than any previous president of the usa. his simple message of “make america great again” engaged those whose lives have declined over the years who felt left out of politics– whose voices were not heard. trump became their voice and the one who would fight for them. perhaps they did not like the changes that they saw in their own back yards.

when i was in prescott arizona, i had interesting conversations with some members of the “minutemen.” they are an organization that sees their role as limiting and finding undocumented people– especially along the border– and sending them back. in prescott, they were hassling a group of mexican day workers on a corner. at one point, the leader had let his guard down and admitted to me the stated reasons for them being there were not safety concerns. he said, “father, we just want our town to go back to the way it used to be.” one with not so many mexicans.

indeed, make prescott great again.

for the loyal followers of trump, these four years have legitimized outwardly racist actions against people of color. bigots who know that their extreme racist views are unacceptable to the vast majority of citizens now had a leader who spoke for their worldview. scapegoating had become the norm during the trump presidency.

the only parts of the constitution important to trump and many of his followers are those that advance his own narrow self interests– the second amendment being the glaring example.

turmp’s constant invocation of “fake news” anytime the free press challenged him and his actions has brought us down a black hole into different sources that report the news. for his bully pulpit these past four years, fox news has served as his personal news platform and fortified his personal tweets. since the election of biden this past november, newsmax remains loyal to trump’s standpoint

in and of himself, trump can be seen as a just a buffoon– a deeply flawed, entitled and selfish narcissist who has no inkling what the common good for the usa is. many people follow him as their ultimate political authority. but the problem are those who take it to the extreme.

for the past several weeks, the variations on trumps message that the election was stolen because of voter/ballot fraud as emboldened his followers. despite having no evidence that shows any evidence of widespread voter fraud and the rulings of the court as such, his lies have gained momentum in the trumpian universe.

it came to a head last wednesday at a planned lawful gathering at the washington monument, trump himself incited the crowd to march to the capitol building to disrupt the process counting the electoral college votes.

mob mentality took over and the violent occupation of capitol building left four people dead and many injured. it was an act of domestic terrorism.

leaders have followers. whether those followers listen and act on the words of hitler, FDR, or donald trump, there are consequences to the actions of those followers. politics– by leaders and followers– are very important in shaping the world as we see it.

indeed, authority in politics has dire consequences. to whom do we listen? and why?

and for christians, how does the authority of our faith and its own leaders play into this political dynamic? has politics co-opted our faith? do our teachings on love, justice, peace, respect for life and creation mean anything in the political realm?

let us pray:

Lord, guide our world– especially our country– in ways of peace. keep us safe from all harm. may we see and serve each other in love and justice for common good of all. may your Spirit give us wisdom to act always in love and respect. may the intercession of Mary– the immaculate conception– help us to know and do your holy will.

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