10 September 2020

Redemption, rewardism, and Republicans

Less than eight weeks to go before the U.S. presidential elections. I find it hard to resist trying to predict the winner. My friend Susanne Kromberg thinks she knows who will win, and why.

In her blog post, "Exploring political terminology -- why Trump will win in 2020," she addresses one of my favorite themes: the religious dimension of political rhetoric. According to Susanne, Trump is a dualist who sees others as either worthy or unworthy of being rewarded -- by God, according to a certain strain of Reformed theology, and (in my extrapolation) by tycoons such as Trump, whose own prosperous situation is evidence of blessing.

(Whether or not Donald Trump literally believes that God has blessed him -- note Michael Cohen's sour description of Trump's allegedly fake piety -- is not the point. The concern is whether this "rewardism" is how Trump judges the world -- and communicates to his audience.)

After outlining this worldview and its corollaries (USA exceptionalism, white nationalism, "wealth = good"), Susanne explains why she believes Trump will be reelected:

The reason Trump will win again in 2020 is that he created a very sellable mix of the above components, which stir people’s sense of Right and Wrong, which have emotional power. Trump’s opponents have made all manner of policy attempts and bids for USAn’s emotional core, but haven’t generated the emotional potency of Trump’s mix. In large part, they themselves are motivated by dualism, rewardism, colonialism, American Exceptionalism, and racism. Attempts to expose these components, reframe the American project, tap into the power of people’s emotional Right/Wrong core, or shift the political project from emotion-based to policy/party-based have not succeeded.

Trump's supposed advantage is this potent emotional appeal, which potentially touches people far more directly and viscerally than the Democrats' claims of better policies or a more appealing vision for the country's future. When Democrats try to invade Trump's Right/Wrong emotional territory to deny his right to occupy that position, they are playing on a field he (rightly or wrongly) already claims and dominates.

Is it true that, once again, Republicans (thanks to Trump's hot-wire connection with audiences) once again hold a potentially winning rhetorical hand? This question reminded me of George W. Bush's election campaigns, and in particular an essay by Dan P. McAdams, "Redemption and American Politics." (Chronicle of Higher Education; registration may be required.) This was one of the essays I considered in my blog post Redemption and Politics, back in 2004. I quoted this central paragraph from McAdams:

... The Republican Party has groomed candidates and honed messages that resonate deeply with a story of life that Americans hold dear. It is the narrative of redemption -- a story about an innocent protagonist in a dangerous world who sticks to simple principles and overcomes suffering and hardship in the end. This is a story that many productive and caring American adults -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- love to tell about their own lives. Republicans, however, have found ways of talking about public life and political issues that reinforce this story. And to the extent that politics is personal, many Americans may vote their story, rather than their pocketbook.

At first, we may see little in common between Bush and his appealing redemption story, on the one hand, and the dualist/transactionalist Trump on the other. But there is an important common element, with ingredients derived from Christian culture (if not from healthy theology!). It turns out that Trump has a "story," too -- a myth of financial success built with flashy entrepreneurship, savvy negotiating skills, and a take-no-prisoners approach to conflict. His closest Christian followers even see a redemptive angle in this story -- a vulgar, two-fisted brawler whom God has chosen to be the Divinely appointed weapon against the forces of socialism, abortion, and race-mixing. He is all that stands between us ordinary people and the elites who plan to impose globalism on us. Once again, the campaign's special sauce is essentially this: an emotionally gripping story beats logical argumentation every time.

Facebook memes.

For all his folksy appeal, George W. Bush coordinated closely with the Republican Party as it existed at the time. Sixteen years later, Trump does not coordinate; he dominates. With him in charge, even a party platform is no longer necessary, reinforcing his direct-to-the-people swagger.

Speaking of that platform, take a look at Bradley Hansen's interpretation of the 2016 version, "The Creedal Orthodoxy of the Republican platform: a divisive rhetoric of unity."

After explaining why he attributes a credal structure to the platform, Hansen goes on to observe:

The RNC’s choice to adopt such a creedal formula is not neutral, and provides them a form that solidifies a bifurcation of the American political system, and by extension the American people, in order to portray the Democratic party as an enemy to American unity, that is, as heretical.

The 2016 platform, as carried over into 2020, is not a major element of the campaign being waged by our rude-but-redeemed warrior Trump. For anyone interested, however, the Republican creed reinforces his message of grave danger to our safe-suburban normalcy, subverts Christian conventions to imply a Republican monopoly of faith, and adds to the store of rhetorical reassurances for anyone who might need it.

Do the Democrats have any message to counter Trump's "very sellable" deal, with similar direct appeal for voting audiences? Sixteen years ago, John Kerry apparently tried to compensate for Republicans' monopolistic claims on patriotism and faith in the military by accepting the DNC's nomination for president with a military salute, announcing "I'm reporting for duty." It didn't work.

Joe Biden may have a simpler task this time. After five years of jangling American nerves, the Republican brawler might have developed his own greatest vulnerability: our exhaustion.

If this is true, the Democrats were wise to choose a consensus-builder rather than an ideologue for this year's race. All Joe Biden has to do is to personify a stable and elemental decency, along with the capacity to build a credible team around him and Kamala Harris. They will not put a loud emphasis on making progressives happy -- beyond robust rejections of classism and racism -- because that will add stress, not relieve it. Biden's story has its own redemptive elements -- humble origins, a steadfast Catholic piety, personal and family victories over tragedy, deep friendships across partisan lines -- that do not need to be recited in detail to be effective.

But is the promise of a break from constant fear-mongering and scandal enough to overcome voters' addiction to the thrills of populist nihilism -- to the daily reassurance that they are the deserving Good, and their daily dose of shivs between the ribs of rotten cosmopolitans and Marxists? Is it possible that Trump's appeal is wearing thin?

Next week (if nothing more urgent or inspiring intervenes!): Is consensus-building actually enough?

Here's one of the sources you can use to keep up with developments on the U.S. 2020 Census. 

We're still knocking on doors for the census, despite yesterday's pervasive smoke ... however, we took today off. Governor Brown (quoted here): "We've never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state."

Remember the Internet Research Agency (whose role in U.S. election manipulations was featured in the Mueller Report)? They're back.

Update on Aleksei Navalny, including some mixed reports about apparent improvements in his health.

Meanwhile, the women leading the political opposition in Belarus are nominated for the Sakharov Prize.

Terry Mattingly at GetReligion: What really happens when people are 'born again'? Not as much (outwardly) as you might think.

Grayson Gilbert on prayer, depression, and Charles Spurgeon.

Did you participate in the first Young Friends Worldwide workshop last month? The second in the series is in two days.

"Hesitation Blues" -- Blind Boy Paxton.

The Blues Kitchen Presents: Blind Boy Paxton 'Hesitation Blues' [Live Performance] from NEON PEACH FILMS on Vimeo.


kfsaylor said...

# Untitled Note


Do you see that while you reflect on the "narratives" of other people, you yourself are engaged in creating and reflecting a narrative? Your piece suggests your narrative is correct while that of those you reflect against is incorrect. Your engagement with and participation in the power and influence of the reflective nature, by its very nature, nurtures and promotes the narratives you oppose as it nurtures and promotes the opposite narrative of those who oppose your narrative. There is a different way the leads out of the agency, power, and influence of the reflective nature to guide and inform human relationships and interactions and into the self-evidence, unmediated, continuous and immanent presence of the spirit of Christ to guide human relations. In this different way, a spiritual faculty is opened up and established in self-evident and unreflected awareness of immanent being in the conscience and consciousness. The direct experience of the motion of the spirit of Christ itself (the very experience of the flux between the increase, decrease, and stasis of the presence of the Spirit itself) is sufficient in itself to guide human relationships and interactions. Christ is come again and is coming again. Christ is enthroned in the conscience and consciousness and is being enthroned in the conscience and consciousness as sufficient guide in human relations. Through this enthronement, the agency, power, and influence of reflective nature (as guide in human relations) is faded and is fading and people are being drawn into the power and presence of the inshining agency of the self-evident and immanent spirit of Christ as sufficient in itself to rule and govern human relations. The different way is come now and is coming.

Johan Maurer said...

Hello, Keith!

Of course I think my narrative is correct -- otherwise I would not bother posting it. I'm eager to hear from others who agree and disagree with me -- or (as in your case) think that I'm framing the whole issue entirely wrong.

If I understand you correctly (and I always wonder whether I do), it's a bit artificial to set myself up as an observer rather than rely on unmediated Divine wisdom to guide my relationships.

However, human communication is an imperfect, progressive, dialogic process, and only in rare moments of group mysticism (Kelly's "gathered meeting") are we simultaneously aware of the deepest possible insights. In the meantime, we approximate and consult in good faith, knowing that every "narrative" is simply a rough draft. I contend that for me to contribute my rough draft (in which I describe the narratives exploited by politicians to gain advantage) is more empowering to the community than my keeping silent.

How does your "different way" deal with conflict? (For example, the conflict between the Black Lives Matter movement and those who accuse them of being Marxist revolutionaries and "human shields for antifa," or the dispute about whether trade unions have a place in Friends schools?) Conflict itself may be illusory, on some level, often being a clash of narratives, but unresolved conflict results in stress, injury, and loss. I'm reminded of Emmanuel Charles McCarthy's saying that "apathy in the face of preventable human suffering is radical evil."

Maybe I'm blind, or maybe I'm temperamentally unsuited to the task, but I see no evidence that "people are being drawn into the power and presence of the inshining agency of the self-evident and immanent spirit of Christ as sufficient in itself to rule and govern human relations." Instead, I see people of goodwill exchanging their insights in more or less plain English, doing their imperfect best to help each other get closer to the truth. I hope you'll continue to advocate for the better way. Thanks for your patience.

Unknown said...

By George Lakoff I believe you have got it. 1/3 of the American electorate is emotionally glued to Trump and short of an nuclear bomb dropping on them before Election day will vote for him come Nov3. What the base is looking for is an authoritarian father figure! Its is why a kinder and gentler "Pop" and "Mommala" may have broader appeal to the US electorate be more difficult for Trump to deal with than the usual set of smart assed democratic know it alls. Being Canadian as innocent bystanders all we can do is watch

kfsaylor said...

Hello Johan,

I appreciate your acknowledgement that you are of the nature of the process of reflection in dealing with conflict and that you acknowledge the imperfect nature of the reflective nature in matters of human relations.

Through the immanent awareness of self-evident being itself in itself, I am come out of the reflective nature in my relations and interactions with people. This being drawn out of the reflective process results in being drawn out of conflict and being drawn into a way of relating to others that is guided and informed by the direct impulse of Christ, outside of the reflective process. When I am in a circumstance where another, who is under the influence of the reflective nature, seeks to engage me in the reflective process, I simply share with them that I am not guided and informed by and through the reflective nature and testify to the witness of a different way established in the continuous awareness of the immanent being of Christ enthroned in the conscience and consciousness. In Christ, there is no conflict or contention because there is victory over the reflective nature to rule and govern human relations and interactions.

Human being guided in and through the direct and continuous awareness of the spirit of Christ is come in to a different faculty established in the awareness of the fluxation between the increase, decrease, and stasis of Christ's presence itself in the conscience to govern human relations. This is a different way, a different faculty, than that of the reflective nature.

In this different way, we do not interact with others through adherence to outward political, religious, and social principals and instrumentalities nurtured in the reflective nature. We interact with others through awareness of the immediate inshining impulse of the spirit of Christ, that is, in light of the awareness of Christ's increased, decreased, or stactic presence in our conscience and consciousness.

This different way takes the place of or usurps the faculty of the reflective process in human relations. Paul, in 1 Corinthians affirms the role of the reflective nature in his discussion of the spiritual gifts to guide and administer human relations (chapter 12). He also speaks, at the end of chapter 12, of a different way. In Chapter 13 he lays out the nature of this different way. It is not of the reflective nature which is angry, impatient, rude, self-seeking, and keeps a record of wrongs. The spiritual gifts are of the nature of reflective thought and nurtures contention and strife. Paul writes that the imperfect reflective nature (prophecies, knowledge, tongues, elements of the reflective process) will pass away when the perfect comes. He writes that in the reflective nature we relate to one another as in a mirror, in reflections. However, he also writes that when we are drawn out of the reflective nature, we are come face to face with the perfect and we relate to others even as we relate to ourselves, which is perfect love.

Lastly, Paul brings things back around by re-affirming the role of the reflective nature (the beginning of Chapter 14) in the form of the spiritual gifts. There are those who are come out of the reflective nature in the presence of Christ, even in this time and place on earth. While you are, by your own acknowledgement, of and in the power and influence of the reflective nature and minister to others through the reflective process, it is mine to affirm and testify to the witness of a different way, while not opposing or contending against the reflective nature ... merely testifing to the witness of a different way of human relations in the power and presence of Christ.