How Shall We Live in the Age of Trump?

It has only been two weeks.

I thought it was going to be bad, and I thought it was going to be chaotic, but I was not prepared for the pace of the chaos.  Many have suggested that this break-neck pace is intentional on the part of Trump or his thought-leaders (Steve Bannon, who appear to be Trump's primary advisers, strikes me as perhaps a real life version of the Joker).  Maybe so, but whether intentional or not, I sense that many people are reeling, or flailing around trying to hold on to something solid.  I am certainly one of those people.

In times like this, the question is always "how shall we live?"  What are we going to do to get through this?  I am not a judge that can evaluate the propriety of the new rules and laws that are coming down the pike, and I am not a legislator that can vote for or against them.  I don't have a media platform to try to influence a mass of people.  What should I do?  What should we do?  We hear much talk on social media of "resistance," but what sort of resistance?

I don't feel comfortable telling people how to resist, as I am not sure what to do myself.  I would, however, offer this.  It seems to me that the ultimate form of resistance--at any point but especially now--is a life lived with integrity, in keeping with one's personal convictions and moral compass.  So much of what we see around us is some combination of falsehood and expediency, and a grounding in personal integrity is the antidote to both of those contagions.   Any other resistance or activism that one might undertake will be grounded in, and spring from, this space of personal integrity.

All of us have places in our lives in which we have compromised our integrity, even if in minor ways.  We all have places where our actions don't align with our values, and rather than deal with that directly we find evasions and work-arounds.  We rationalize these work-arounds in various ways, but all of them come down to some narrative of expediency--it's easier, it's more efficient, it produces fewer waves, etc.  I would suggest that all of us could profit from some self-analysis to identify where those work-arounds are to be found, and then to do what we can to shed them.  Because, ultimately, those work-arounds compromise us, even if only marginally.  We know deep down that they are work-arounds, we know deep down that they do not reflect the person we want to be and who we believe ourselves to be ultimately.

In this time, when things seem to be getting weirder by the day, I would suggest that now would be a good time for all of us to try to free ourselves of these work-arounds.  There is a freedom in being free of these compromises, in living with integrity.  That freedom comes from knowing that you are not subject to anyone else's agenda, in part.  But it also comes from knowing that you can speak and write and protest and be an activist without worrying about having some secret that you need to protect.  To use a wonderful Russian term that has entered our lexicon under unfortunate circumstances, there is a reason that kompromat is so sought after by those who want to influence people's behavior, and that is because it works.  Once you get enmeshed in something that you know you shouldn't be in, you will do all sorts of things to protect your secret.

For me, I concluded that being a practicing Roman Catholic was a source of a lack of integrity in my life.  I was part of something, and thus implicitly supporting, a set of policies, values, and works that I did not agree with.  Sure, in my own head I was dissenting from those things, but I had learned how to not rock the boat and navigate the waters such that I could stay in good standing.  I played the game and I found a work-around.  But in playing the game and finding a work-around, I was committing myself to silence, to being self-censored.  I was compromised.  And so, recently, I have decided to rectify that compromise.  And, while it was tough, to be completely honest it wasn't as tough as I thought it would be, and I do feel free in a way that I wasn't completely expecting.  The freedom does not come from some (false) sense that my new home is perfect and filled entirely with wise saints, but from the feeling that there is no longer a conflict at the heart of everything I do in connection with church.

Here's another thing that living with integrity can do.  Let's suppose that you have decided to set out on the path of activism of some kind.  Living with integrity will arm you will the tools to know when the folks you are walking beside are heading right off the cliff.  I say that not because I think there is something obviously wrong with any of the groups that are protesting the Trump administration, except insofar as they are made up of human beings.  Human beings have a natural tendency (and, if you want to call it an "original sin," I'm not going to stop you) to become the very thing that they seek to resist.  Everyone who seeks to be active in the Age of Trump will be forced into situations where they will have to decide between speaking out against bigotry and exclusion among their own "team" and staying silent for the good of that team.  Being a person of integrity and cultivating those instincts and habits will serve all of us well when that day comes.  And it will come.

I am not a powerful person.  I am not rich, nor influential in any significant manner.  I cannot unilaterally change the way the world around me runs, and I certainly cannot change what people think and say and believe.  All I can do is live with integrity, and use that integrity as a platform for living the rest of my life.  This living with integrity may not change anything, it may not sway anyone to my way of thinking (or any way of thinking).  But it is all I have, and it is what I am committed to do.


Popular posts from this blog

On the Amice and Ghosts

Two Christianities

Quick Hitter: Why Pastoral Discretion Is Not a Panacea