A Hunger for Authenticity

by Berry Friesen (September 26, 2016)

“Authenticity” is not a word generally associated with Donald Trump. After all, he says whatever suits his interests at the moment.  Exaggerations, misrepresentations and outright lies are his modus operandi.

Yet his broad appeal as a candidate is partly due to the fact that he seems more authentic than Hillary Rodham Clinton.  He’s more spontaneous, less scripted, more candid.  Though frequently regarded as insincere, his insincerity seems to mock the staged pretense of conventional political norms.  We might say Trump’s so phony he is real.  And these days, people want “real,” even if in the form of a con-man.

Granted, this describes a pretty desperate state of affairs. Could it be that Americans are so jaded—so sick-and-tired of pretense and posturing in political life—that they are willing to embrace an inexperienced braggart?   Based on Trump’s popularity, many people are.

Yet it’s not hard to explain how we have slipped into such a state.  We are living in a nation saturated by deception and dishonesty.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union 25 years ago and the emergence of the United States as the world’s sole super-power, America’s leaders have used propaganda to sell the American people continuous war against nations that have done us no harm.

First it was Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction, then Muammar Gaddafi and his genocide against the people of eastern Libya, then Bashar al-Assad and the tyranny with which he ruled Syria, then Viktor Yanukovych and his corrupt impoverishment of the Ukraine.  Now it’s Russia’s Vladimir Putin, said to be another Hitler.

None of this was or is true.  These men did not threaten America; they were stigmatized as part of a campaign to manipulate the American people into supporting international aggression and the deaths of two million people living in the Middle East and North Africa.

But continuous, inconclusive war is only the start of the frustration Americans are experiencing.

America’s government insists 9/11 was planned and executed by al-Qaeda, but it now trains and equips Islamic extremists to fight with and for al-Qaeda against the Syrian government. How can this be tolerated by our leaders?

America’s government claims Da’esh (ISIS) is a serious threat, but it continues to work hand-in-hand with the very Middle Eastern governments (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf states) that keep Da’esh strong and well-equipped.

During election campaigns, America’s politicians pretend to be part of a government by the people and for the people, but as soon as the election is over, they serve the moneyed interests of big campaign donors.

And though it’s politically correct for them to sympathize with average Americans struggling economically in the global economy, once the election is over it’s the bankers, weapons manufacturers and multi-national corporations who get the special care and the federal dollars.

So yes, Americans are hungry for authenticity in its leaders. Part of Trump’s appeal is that he is tapping into this vein of discontent.

None of this suggests Trump as President would set a different direction for America. His fondness of bravado, bullying and being #1 is highly congruent with an imperial approach.  He embraces the imperial identity of the United States with more enthusiasm than any American candidate since Teddy Roosevelt.

But if elected, Trump will not pretend to be a great humanitarian and lover of equality. The pretense will fall away; instead, he will exercise his power boldly, unapologetically and without wearing Obama's velvet gloves. For a nation tired of politicians who hide behind propaganda, Trump’s overt enthusiasm for US dominance in the world may be the quality that gets him elected President.

By stripping away America's humanitarian pretense, the election of Trump also would bring into focus the moral challenge of being citizens of the nation that leads the empire. And maybe, just maybe, with Trump as President, people of faith would discover the anti-imperial message of the Bible, reach out to one another in solidarity, and give voice to another way.