America First?

by Berry Friesen (November 26, 2016)

“Imagine there are no countries / It isn’t hard to do 
Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too.”
John Lennon, “Imagine,” (1971) 

Starting in late 1992 and continuing for nearly five years, I filled a senior management role at an international NGO (Mennonite Central Committee), which had programs and partners in around 50 countries.  Because of that role, I became an occasional participant in two significant conversations.

The first had to do with an emerging consensus within Western governments, academia, the think tanks and the media that Islam was “the new Communism” and a serious threat to world peace.  Generally, the people with whom I worked regarded such a view to reflect political propaganda. In other words, those raising alarm about “the Islamic threat” were manufacturing a new bogeyman to keep people afraid and focused on their need for protection by the state's military capacity.

Thus, our international programming shifted toward countries where Muslims were the leading population group and toward points of engagement with Islam.

The second important conversation focused on neo-liberalism, the global effort to reduce regulatory, market and cultural barriers to international investment and trade.   Our field staff living around the world generally opposed this effort to “liberalize” the economic order because they perceived it to place local, emerging businesses and enterprises in direct competition with sophisticated, highly capitalized Western corporations.  This competition disrupted local economies, stripped local communities of social capital, and often left “little people” bereft.

But in the headquarters setting where I worked, many supported neo-liberalism because it seemed to go hand-in-hand with ideas we supported:  minimizing the importance of political borders, opening Western markets to goods from the East and South, a stance of engagement with the world and an openness to other cultures and perspectives.   Generally, we were skeptical of nation-centered patriotism, but we supported a view that emphasized human similarities and interconnectedness.  As far as we could see back then, neo-liberalism, globalization and multi-culturalism all fit together.

Because of this lack of consensus, our international programming did not respond to neo-liberalism with focus and vigor.

During the nearly 25 intervening years, those two important conversations have played out in thousands of events and developments.  The details are important, impacting the lives of billions of people.  But in the main, the patterns emerging back during the early ‘90s have been cemented firmly into place.

Through the criminal conspiracy known as 9/11, we all feel viscerally the threat of Islam. In response, the US-led empire has caused the deaths of two million brown-skinned persons and destroyed a half-dozen societies.  No one calls this response “racist;” few recognize the state-based terrorism it entails.  It’s just perceived to be part of the tragic way the world works now.

Through NAFTA and subsequent international trade agreements, neo-liberalism has opened the world to the reign of Wall Street.  Capital flows seamlessly into every nook and cranny of the globe where there is a marginally better profit to be made, washing away bonds and commitments based in ethnic, religious and national loyalties.  Few perceive this response to be imperialistic, few perceive the moral hollowing-out it entails. Neo-liberalism is thought to be as much part of the created order as gravity itself; morality has nothing to do with it.

An economic elite has prospered like never before under this new orthodoxy.  Those associated with Wall Street and the financial markets have led the way, but people with an advanced degree and a white-collar link to the economy have generally done pretty well. Traditional job sectors have suffered, including those in the West.  If you are blue collar and without a college degree in the West, life entails working one or two dead-end jobs, expecting your spouse to do the same, enjoying the cheap stuff on sale at Wal-Mart, and providing sons and daughters for wars against Muslims that inexplicably always end in failure.

Brexit and support for Trumpism are acts of blue collar resistance to this script.

They call for a return to a worldview in which patriotism is important, national boundaries mean something, you care for neighbors near before you care for neighbors far away, business entities and other institutions serve the communities that gave them birth, and public sector leaders serve the people who elected them, not the abstract interests of money.

To all who call these acts of resistance “racism” and “xenophobia,” Brexit and Trumpism raise the middle finger.  “Don’t you dare slander putting one’s neighbors first, putting one’s country first.  I remember a time when money wasn't our god.  That you don’t remember only demonstrates how morally hollow you’ve become.”

None of this is meant to say that a Trump Administration will break the stranglehold 9/11 and neo-liberalism have achieved over our lives and imaginations.

All it says is that the human spirit is rebelling against the morally impoverished worldview ruling us. And in that rebellion, there is a glimmer of light.

(Nov. 26 update:  Michael Hudson explains the moral underpinning of classical economics via two interviews at the Real News Network, here and here.)

Begin With Honesty

by Berry Friesen (November 22, 2016)

Because the world is transformed from the bottom up—not the top down—it’s necessary to reflect on public events in a manner that protects our capacity to act in solidarity with one another.

Thus, recent posts at this blog have attempted to frame the US presidential election in ways that (a) undermine the empire’s claim to be “indispensable” and (b) resist harsh judgments about people who may have voted differently than we would have wished.

There is still much more to say about the election.  Serious questions are being raised about disparities in key states between the exit polls and vote totals (see here and here), disparities that suggest vote totals may have been altered.  It would be worthwhile to explore how the mainstream media first made Donald Trump into a credible candidate, then actively worked for his defeat (see here).

But instead, let’s return to the more relational work my colleague, John K. Stoner, has emphasized: building communities of resistance and hope.

Jonathan Sacks, the British rabbi and author of Not in God’s Name:  Confronting Religious Violence, says that honesty is the crucial starting point for a “politics of hope.”  Writing November 11 in the wake of Brexit and the US election, Sacks said this:

“It begins with a candid acknowledgment on all sides of how bad things actually are. Vast swathes of the population in Britain and America have not benefited from economic growth. They have seen their living standards fall, relatively and absolutely. They have watched while traditional jobs have been outsourced to low wage economies, leaving once-thriving industrial centres as demoralised wastelands.

“We need a new economics of capitalism with a human face. We have seen bankers and corporate executives behaving outrageously, awarding themselves vast payments while the human cost has been borne by those who can afford it least. We have heard free-market economics invoked as a mantra in total oblivion to the pain and loss that come with the global economy. We have acted as if markets can function without morals, international corporations without social responsibility, and economic systems without regard to their effect on the people left stranded by the shifting tide. We who are grandparents know only too well that life is harder for our children than it was for us, and for our grandchildren it will be harder still.

“We need to rebuild our social ecology. When a civilisation is in good order it has institutions that provide support and hope in hard times. In the West these have traditionally been families and communities. Neither is in a good state throughout the West today. Their breakdown led two of the most important thinkers in America, Charles Murray on the right and Robert Putnam on the left, to argue that, for large sections of the population the American dream lies broken beyond repair. The sooner we abandon the politically correct but socially disastrous view that marriage is outmoded, the better.

“We need to recover a strong, inclusive sense of national identity if people are to feel that those in power care about the common good, not simply the interests of elites. The West is still suffering from the damage done by multiculturalism, living proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Unless we can restore what George Orwell called patriotism as opposed to nationalism, we will see the rise of the far right, as is happening already in Europe.

“The religious voice is important also, and I say this not because I am religious but because historically the great faiths have given people a sense of dignity and worth that was not tied to what they earned or owned. When religion dies and consumerism takes its place, people are left with a culture that encourages them to buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have for a happiness that won’t last. It is a bad exchange and it will end in tears.”

In contrast, dishonesty and deception are the hallmarks of the empire, from its claim to being “indispensable” to its propaganda justifying war.

Recall for a moment the rush of images and reports of ISIS that dominated the mainstream news all through the summer of 2014: the massacres and enslavement of the Yazidis, the crucifixions of Christians, the murder of Western hostages, the stunning capture of major cities across eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq.

Recall the public panic over what the world should do about ISIS.

Yet at the end of that summer, in September 2014, a John Podesta email to Hillary Clinton casually mentioned that “. . . we need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.”

That’s right, Qatar and the Saudi Arabia—members of the empire, close US allies, recipients of a huge volume of US arms—secretly provide support for ISIS.  Did we hear a word about this in September, 2014 as President Obama began his bombing campaign against ISIS?  During their election campaigns, did either candidate Clinton or candidate Trump say a word about ending US alliances with Qatar and Saudi Arabia because they support ISIS?  No, not a word.

For more discussion of this astonishing reality, see here and here.

We must speak truthfully about how the empire uses the terrorism of ISIS to rule the Earth, how it obscures this ugliness behind layers of misdirection, diversion and deceit.

We must speak truthfully about how greed, marketism, social liberalism, globalism and secularism have dissolved the bonds of traditional communities and consumed those sources of social capital, leaving us isolated and defenseless against the empire and its corporate predators.

(Note:  As first posted, this essay erroneously identified the summer of 2015 as the date of public panic over ISIS.  The essay has now been corrected; the panic occurred in the summer of 2014.) 

Stars to Steer By

by Berry Friesen (November 15, 2016)

“May you live in interesting times” is the ironic blessing conveying an expectation of conflict and disorder.  It fits the period we have entered with the election of Donald Trump.

The billionaire candidate who captured the Republican Party’s nomination by the demagogic use of xenophobic, misogynist and racist rhetoric has won a decisive slice of the blue-collar middle class by taking seriously their declining economic prospects, their bewilderment over how the greatest military power in history keeps losing its elective wars and failing to achieve its explicit foreign policy goals, and their weariness of the hectoring social judgments of their more cultured and educated superiors.

He defeated a candidate far more experienced and better prepared to be President, a woman who combined a strong commitment to multi-culturalism, globalism and open borders with a track record of catering to Wall Street bankers, using military force to serve corporate interests and feather her own nest by selling access to government decision-makers.

Do you feel the dissonance of conflicting values, not only between the two candidates but within what each represents?

Meanwhile, as Trump strides onto the world stage, he encounters a United Kingdom negotiating its withdrawal from the European Union, a group of European nations under growing pressure from right-wing parties empowered by popular discontent over a the influx of Middle Eastern and North African refugees, Middle Eastern states notorious for their brutality in suppressing human rights and political dissent, and a Russia newly confident of its ability to chart its own course and thrive.

As you and I respond to all of this and more, what will guide us?

Psalm 146

At the election-day communion service I attended, Psalm 146 was our text.

“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever, executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. 

“The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.  

“The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of wicked he brings to ruin.”

The christianities of our time deploy gods for various contrasting purposes.  We can tell which purposes are true to YHWH—the god Jesus of Nazareth worshipped—by remembering and honoring the biblical emphasis on justice for the oppressed and bread for the hungry.

Address Race with Care

Racism is a huge factor in American society, shaping all of us by its power and eliciting strong emotions on all sides. Yet race is not a biologic reality; it is a pernicious social construct created for purposes of exploitation and oppression.

To defeat racism—to dislodge it from our structures, to make it wither away—we must talk about the reality of racism.  Yet if we speak about racism too much, or if we speak of it inaccurately, we add to its vitality and power and do more harm than good.

To hold together through this era we are entering, we must strive for a Goldilocks balance of enough honest talk about race, but not too much.

One resource I find helpful in this regard is www.BlackAgendaReport.com; check it out.

Reject Rejection

This past Sunday the preacher in my congregation told stories from the book of Genesis and referenced a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Not in God’s Name:  Confronting Religious Violence.

Repeatedly, the stories of Genesis subvert the cultural power of first born siblings (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Leah, the older sons of Jacob) by blessing the later-born (Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph).

And repeatedly, those stories then go on to subvert the assumption that by blessing the later-born, YHWH has rejected the first-born.  YHWH did not reject the first born; “YHWH rejects rejection,” said our preacher.

In this pivotal time, we are called to get involved and be partisans for our values. But if we wish to follow the way of YHWH, we dare not reject those we disfavor.  Can we find it in our hearts to want a blessing for them too?

Pay Attention to the Signs

Staying alert will help us retain our balance and our ability to respond in flexible and measured ways. Here are a few important signs that popped up this past week.

1. Within hours of the election, President Obama directed US forces to stop supporting al-Qaeda in Syria and instead target its leaders.  This policy reversal is fully attributable to the Trump victory.

As reported November 10 by the Washington Post, Obama “has ordered the Pentagon to find and kill the leaders of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria that the administration had largely ignored until now and that has been at the vanguard of the fight against the Syrian government.”

On the same day, the US Department of the Treasury reported its office of Foreign Assets Control has begun to disrupt the military, recruitment, and financing operations of al-Qaeda in Syria.

Together, these actions are expected to directly impact the ability of al-Qaeda to maintain its control of east Aleppo, thus clearing the way for the Syrian army to re-establish control without the intense aerial bombardment and street fighting that would have resulted in mass causalities.

2. Politico reports that lobbyists who work with Pentagon officials “are getting a flood of calls from longtime clients and new prospects eager to take advantage of a potential military buildup under President-elect Donald Trump.”

The article quotes an unnamed K Street insider:  ““It is safe to say that defense lobbyists, as well as the defense industry, are pretty optimistic about a Trump presidency, at least coming out of the gates.  That is both from an overall spending perspective but then also clearly he has a reputation and a record of deal making, which I think industry thinks is a good thing.”

Sounds like business as usual to me.

3. As we consider our neighbors and colleagues and wonder how they voted, reported data helps keep it all in perspective.

For example, around 54.6 percent of the electorate voted for either Trump or Clinton. This means that if we consider a typically diverse group of people (e.g., adults enjoying a city park on a Sunday afternoon), just over 27 percent voted for Trump and just over 27 percent voted for Clinton.

Or take another example, white evangelical Christians, who voted four-to-one for Trump. Because of low turn-out, Trump reportedly received fewer votes from white evangelicals than any presidential candidate since the data began to be collected in the 2004 election.

4.  President-elect Trump has named Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon as chief strategist of the White House.

During his three-year tenure as Executive Chairman at Breitbart, Bannon is reported to have made it the premier media outlet for the racist, xenophobic and misogynist perspectives of the Alt-right movement.  Though one is hard-pressed to find Bannon himself voicing bigotry, his deliberate actions to amplify bigoted viewpoints gives rise to the reasonable inference that he supports what bigots proclaim in the pages of Breitbart.

Media Matters describes the mission of the Alt-right as “rebranding of classic white nationalism for the 21st century.”  It believes racial identity is a fundamental aspect of human nature and that America’s future success depends on emphasizing its European roots and defending its “white heritage” against influences from other parts of the world.

That Bannon—a promoter of such an ideology—will sit at the right hand of President Trump is cause for alarm.

5.  The day after the election, organized protests occurred in numerous US cities. Generally, young adults distressed by the election of Trump populated these protests. This is to be expected and might be praise-worthy, depending on who is behind these protests and how they play out in coming days.

How did these citizen actions emerge so quickly in so many places and with such unified messaging? Sophisticated logistics are involved.  Nikolay Nikolaev reports the vital role of one organization, including the money to offer protesters $190 a day:

MoveOn.org is a progressive American non-governmental organization, established in 1998 in response to the impeachment against President Bill Clinton in the House of Representatives. Attracting significant funding, the NGO expanded its activities and maintains a number of smaller organizations in the network structure: the initiative, ‘Call for Change’, and the portal, ‘MoveOn’, petitions, in partnership with the similar Change.org, Avaaz and PetitionOnline. The main sponsors of the organization are the billionaire, George Soros, who officially donated $1.46 million, and the CEO of Progressive Corp., Peter Lewis, with half a million dollars” (emphasis in original).

George Soros is notorious in certain anti-imperial circles as “a Globalist investor in murder and mayhem” who lays the groundwork for regime change through so-called “color revolutions” in the streets.  Ukraine is the leading example of this approach.  Citizens-protesters form the core of a morally-infused presence in the streets challenging the legitimacy of those in power.  While these highly sympathetic protesters grab the headlines, hidden elements planted by intelligence agencies inject violence and threats into the mix, thus eliciting a forceful counter-reaction from the government.  This process plays out in an escalating pattern over weeks and months until it results in widening chaos and government paralysis.

Has this tactic now been deployed against the incoming Trump Administration?  It’s not yet clear; we’ll need to pay close attention.

6.  Whatever political identity we may claim, blogger Jim Kavanagh’s quote will keep us humble:

 “Conservative Kansans fall for a plutocratic, imperialist agenda cloaked in patriotism, religion, and nostalgia for the good old Ed Sullivan days; liberal New Yorkers fall for the same plutocratic, imperialist agenda dressed up in multiculturalism, identity politics, and celebration of the good new Caitlin Jenner days. Who’s the bigger fool? How’s that working out for everybody? For the millions of victims of that top-down, plutocratic class war —in the ghettos of the cities and the hollows of Appalachia? For the Syrians, Iraqis, and Libyans, whose countries have been destroyed?”

George Lakey, a co-founder of Quaker Earth Action Group, makes the same point:

“We can build the scale of our movements by frankly admitting that alienated white working-class people are right: Both major parties are together destroying the country on behalf of the 1 percent. It may be hard for college educated activists to admit that the cynical working-class view is more accurate than the belief of graduates of political science courses. However, the sooner the humility arrives, the better. With humility comes the chance to scale up our campaigning and take the next step in the living revolution.”

Election Shocker

by Berry Friesen (November 10, 2016)

What’s shocking about Trump’s win?

US House speaker Paul Ryan described Trump’s win as “the most incredible political feat I have seen in my lifetime.  . . . Donald Trump heard a voice out in this country that no one else heard.”

Also shocking is that the candidate anointed by the establishment lost.  Here is author Diana Johnstone’s analysis:

“Hillary Clinton was the candidate of the military industrial complex and international finance capital.  She designed herself to be the figurehead of those forces, as queen of regime change. She aspired to be the one to remake the world in the image Wall Street dictates. It was a project enthusiastically and expensively supported by the one percent who profit from arms contracts and the trade deals they write themselves for their own interests.”

Justin Raimondo, editor of www.antiwar.com, put it this way:

“Donald Trump has done the unthinkable – unthinkable, that is, to the sneering elites: the ‘journalists’ who have been spending their days snarking at Trump on Twitter, the DC mandarins who disdained him from the beginning, and the foreign policy ‘experts’ who gasped in horror as he challenged the basic premises of the post-World War II international order. And he did it by overcoming a host of the most powerful enemies one could conjure: The Republican Establishment, the Democratic party machine, the Money Power, and a media united in their hatred of him.”

What do the numbers tell us?

As compared to voter turnout averaged over the four previous presidential elections (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012), turnout in 2016 was down 3 points and the lowest since 2000.

Relative to Republican performance in the previous four elections, Donald Trump won the same percentage of the African-American vote, declined 5 points in the Hispanic vote, gained 1 point among male voters and declined 3 points among female voters.

Relative to Democrat performance in the previous four elections, Hillary Rodham Clinton declined 3 points in the African-American vote, improved 2 points in the Hispanic vote, declined 4 points among male voters and won the same percentage of female voters as her male predecessors.

Of the 678 counties that twice supported Barack Obama, nearly one-third (209) supported Trump.  Of the 207 counties that voted for Obama in one of the two previous elections, 194 supported Trump this time.

This suggests a consistency across the three most recent presidential elections:  voters want a new and fresh approach from the top of the ticket.

Why did people reject Clinton and support Trump?

Robert Parry, editor of www.ConsortiumNews.com, starts with “a gross misjudgment by the Democratic Party about the depth of populist anger against self-serving elites who have treated much of the country with disdain.”

Regarding Trump, Parry says:

“American voters chose him in part because they felt they needed a blunt instrument to smash the Establishment that has ruled and mis-ruled America for at least the past several decades. It is an Establishment that not only has grabbed for itself almost all the new wealth that the country has produced but has casually sent the U.S. military into wars of choice, as if the lives of working-class soldiers are of little value.

“On foreign policy, the Establishment had turned decision-making over to the neoconservatives and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks, a collection of haughty elitists who often subordinated American interests to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia, for political or financial advantage.”

Parry concludes:

“Trump’s victory marks a repudiation of the neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy because the New Cold War was largely incubated in neocon/liberal-hawk think tanks, brought to life by like-minded officials in the U.S. State Department, and nourished by propaganda across the mainstream Western media.”

Johnstone sees Trump’s victory as a repudiation of globalization.

“The real meaning of this election is not, as bitterly disappointed Hillary supporters still maintain with tears in their eyes and fear in their throats, a victory for racism and sexism.

“The real meaning of this upset is that Wall Street’s globalization project has been rejected by the citizens of its homeland."

Raimondo agrees:

“Trump understands that . . .the main issue in the world today is globalism versus national sovereignty, and it is playing out in the politics of countries on every continent.  A trans-national ruling elite, the types who flock to Davos every year, has arisen that believes it has the right to manipulate the peoples of the world like pawns on a chessboard. These lords of creation engage in ‘regime change’ when a government they don’t like challenges their imperial prerogatives: they move entire populations around as if they were human dust – they manipulate currencies, ‘manage’ the world economy — and woe to those who challenge their rule!”

Bernhard Horstman, the German blogger at www.moonofalabama.org, puts it this way:

“The people voted against corruption, against international warmongering, against attacks on the culture of their life and against Zionist and Arab potentate manipulation. In short - they voted against Hillary."

But is Trump an anti-imperialist?

His “America first” sensibilities might cause him to act like one.  That is, he might decide to spend more money on rebuilding America’s infrastructure and less on foreign bases and foreign intervention.

Similarly, his questions about NATO and other regional military alliances, his critique of US policy toward Iraq, Libya and Syria, his recognition that the US has contributed in significant ways to the creation of ISIS, his linkage of US interventionism with the huge flows of refugees over international borders, and his desire for improved relations with Russia all point toward a less imperial posture.

But Trump has never directly criticized that posture.  His promise to “Make America Great Again” easily accommodates the hubris and exceptionalism undergirding the US-led empire.  His criticism that the US did not “grab the oil” before pulling troops out of Iraq reflects imperial assumptions.  And his aggressive temperament suggests an aggressive stance vis-à-vis the world.

Then why did the entire establishment oppose him?

One of its requirements is that the President dress up bloody U.S. interventionism in the pretty clothes of humanitarianism and democracy. He or she is expected to use intellectual liberalism to legitimize morally the pillage of foreign economies, the destruction of foreign governments, the replacement of civil society with chaos, and the generation of millions of refugees and displaced people.

Clinton had demonstrated the required skill and commitment for this task; she is able to clothe brutality as moral courage.  That’s why the establishment wanted her to be our next President.

As I indicated via the opening quote in my previous post, Trump is "a moral lecher and thief." To speak in a more respectful tone, I would say he is brash, lacks sensitivity, is plain spoken and without pretense.  He openly supports torture, which is a war crime! He is not good at masking his obvious traits of selfishness, greed and belligerence. None of these qualities makes him an effective spokesperson for the empire.

But let’s keep in mind that in the end, a part of the establishment—led by the Wall Street Journal—may have turned against Clinton.  See here for that analysis.

Will Trump curtail US imperialism?

His opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement is likely to block that initiative. This is an example of the curtailment of imperialism.

On the other hand, Trump has declared his intention to undo the recent agreement with Iran regarding nuclear energy.  Libertarian Daniel Larison highlights that threat:

“Trump has made denouncing the nuclear deal a major part of his indictment of Obama’s foreign policy, and Iran hawks in Congress will be eager to torpedo it. I have a hard time seeing Trump fighting to preserve a signature achievement of a president he loathes, and so it is more likely than not the nuclear deal is going to unravel. That will not only be a bad outcome in terms of nonproliferation, but it will also open the door to war with Iran that the deal at least temporarily closed.”

In a broader sense, I doubt that any man or woman can lead America away from its role as leader of the empire.  As explained by Bangkok-based www.thenewatlas.org:

“The networks that primarily seek to establish, protect and expand US primacy in Asia are driven by corporate and financial special interests including banks, the energy industry, defence contractors, agricultural and pharmaceutical giants, the US entertainment industry and media as well as tech giants.

“They achieve primacy through a variety of activities ranging from market domination through incremental advances in ‘free trade,’ the funding of academic and activist groups through organisations like the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Open Society, Freedom House and USAID as well as direct pressure on the governments of respective Asian states through both overt and covert political, economic and military means.

“This is a process that takes place independent of both the White House and the US Congress.”

What should we be doing in coming months?

We should be talking to Trump voters, asking them “what would make America great again?” and listening carefully to their answers.  We may be surprised and enlightened.

Second, let’s recognize that Trump’s candidacy and electoral victory has opened a space for truth to be spoken and heard in a way that hasn’t previously been possible. Let’s use this opportunity well.

The Judgment of God?

by Berry Friesen (November 8, 2016)

Michael Brendan Dougherty, a Roman Catholic blogger, offers a concise and accurate appraisal of America’s current political reality:  “In 2016, self-described conservatives, the supposed defenders of the eternal verities, our national traditions, and family values, are rallying to the side of a cretinous, amoral lecher and thief. And liberals, the friends of the little guy and advocates of friendship among all races of men, are siding with a desiccated grifter and war hawk.”

“Everyone seems to recognize the world tipping into craziness,” writes Dougherty, “and they respond by holding on tighter to their own version of craziness.”  Dougherty suggests another path, one that starts by recognizing the miserable choice between Trump and Clinton as the judgment of God.

What is accomplished by characterizing an historical event as God’s judgment?   Does that mean it is supernatural and inexplicable?  That there is no point in resisting its direction?  Is it simply a rhetorical device that adds gravitas to one’s own assessment?

Dougherty provides a clue when he says, “For those who can accept it, God's judgment is a good thing. The same fire that consumes the chaff is used to purify gold and silver.”

I’m not sure the reference to “purity” helps us much; we’re talking about secular politics here.  But yes, there is a pathway from disaster that involves coming to our senses, repenting and moving in a new direction.  That would be “a good thing” for America and for the world, regardless of how we may feel about “God’s judgment.”

What might repentance entail?  Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Turning away from the hubris of claiming this nation is “indispensable” to what is good in the world.

  2. Acknowledging that US policy since at least 1990 has been full-spectrum dominance, which means no other nation is permitted to develop even the capacity to chart a path independent of the US-led empire.

  3. Recognizing the huge role deception has played in our national life, especially related to 9/11, the invasion of Iraq and the so-called war on terrorism.

  4. Turning away from our exaltation of material wealth, making money and “the market” above all other values.

  5. Turning toward the modesty and humility of caring patiently for our own, local communities first.

This repentance will need to occur within a context defined by a newly-elected President who has to one degree or another embraced the imperial ideology of indispensability, dominance and deception. So we’ll be working against the grain, so to speak.

But we’ll be living in hope and YHWH will be our strength.  May it be so.

Election Day Communion

by Berry Friesen (November 4, 2016)

Rituals serve to reduce social tensions, deepen group loyalty and legitimize a group’s goals and leaders.   This is as true within secular contexts as it is within religious ones.   When we go through the ritual of voting next week, this is what is supposed to happen.

But when one has serious misgivings about a group’s goals, participating in a group’s ritual gets tricky.  Does the ritual offer a way to register meaningful dissent?  If not, it may be better not to participate.

For example, the US nation-state is committed to world control via economic and military domination.  How does an anti-imperialist participate in the national voting ritual without contributing to the legitimization of the imperial agenda?

My point isn’t that it’s impossible, just that it’s difficult.

The problem goes yet deeper.  The entire presidential campaign spectacle is a powerful influence in our lives, occupying our attention, conversation and thought.  We end up making a big emotional investment in deciding who to vote for and a further investment in cheering those persons on.  These investments inevitably shape our feelings and attitudes long after an election is over, including the opinions we hold of friends, co-workers and neighbors who vote for other candidates.

All of this raises serious concerns among a growing number of Christian congregations. Though these congregations may not often speak about the Bible’s bias against empire, most regularly repeat the slogan of the first century church, “Jesus is Lord.”  Because Caesar claimed the title of “Lord,” that early Christian declaration was as much a political statement as a religious one.  Most congregations today know this—or at least their pastors do.

So how do American Christians live through a campaign season and the voting ritual without loosening their loyalty to Jesus as the foremost authority in their lives?

Election Day Communion is a practice meant to help us.  As stated by Mark Schloneger, one of the pastors who initiated and promotes its observance on election day, “The practice of communion (Eucharist) is an inherently political act.  It is both a pledge of allegiance to Jesus and a declaration of independence from all other powers making claims on our bodies, minds and souls.”

Mennonite World Review reports that “churches across the country from almost every Christian denomination will be participating” in Election Day Communion.   The ritual enables people to get out of their “political silos” and “celebrates the unity that is still possible.”

How effective is it in accomplishing these goals?

I participated in the observance of Election Day Communion in 2012.  My experience was mixed.

First, on the positive side, I was glad to spend the evening with people of various political persuasions rather than only people who voted like me.  It felt good and I appreciated the public call to claim our unity in Messiah Jesus and to confess how divided we are along partisan lines.

Furthermore, on an evening where the capturing of coercive power was celebrated across the land, I needed to hear again of the subversive power of self-giving love as embodied by Jesus of Nazareth on an imperial cross.

On the negative side, I experienced the observance as a stand-alone event, without any broader teaching that deconstructed and neutered the allure of partisan politics.  Are we serious about our unity in Messiah Jesus, I wondered?  Or are we using a religious ritual to paper-over our differences?

Furthermore, in the observance in which I participated, there was no call to repentance that went beyond our confession of harsh partisanship. I wanted the ritual to acknowledge how this group we are part of—the US nation-state—has become a scourge to so many.  When we quarrel over which party should rule the US, it is alarmingly like quarreling over who should rule a drug cartel.

This year, I intend to again participate in an observance of Election Day Communion.  It will be a way to open my heart to the radical and life-changing way of Jesus.

Here is a website to help you identify whether this opportunity is available near your place of residence.
 
By way of further preparation, I encourage you to read Chris Floyd’s recent essay, “Barrel Bomb:  The Cataclysmic Close of Campaign 2016.”  It too will help you get ready for the unsettling yet renewing experience of “proclaiming the Lord’s death” (1 Corinthians 11:26) on election day.