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Last, Worst Hope?

by Berry Friesen (February 3, 2017)

A reader from Oregon, thoroughly anti-imperialist in perspective and a Trump voter this past November, writes this about our new President:

"Donald Trump, a businessman involved in large scale peaceful building projects,
 is a kind of last, worst hope for America veering off from its present imperial course,
before all is lost and we lurch over an abyss."

“Last, worst hope” is an unusual phrase.  As used in the quote, it suggests our nation has exhausted the alternatives (hence “last”) and that the only hope of recovering a non-imperial identity is very unattractive (“worst”).

If you think America was pretty much on the right track while Barack Obama was President, then the association of Donald Trump with any kind of hope at all will strike you as nonsense.

Obviously, I don’t think America has been on the right track.  Yet “hope”—even it its worst version—is not a word I associate with the presidency of Donald Trump either, at least not if the purpose is getting America “off its present imperial course.”  Trump is a thorough-going imperialist, intent on dominating whatever setting he finds himself in.

So why do I take my Oregon reader’s perspective seriously?

First, because I’ve noticed that when President Trump speaks of refugees, he often also speaks about the wars from which the refugees are fleeing.  This may seem to be an obvious pairing of problems, yet you won’t hear it from progressive, who speak only about “welcoming refugees,” nor from the conservatives, who speak only about “secure borders.”

Indeed, I’m baffled by all the current controversy over refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations.  The US has been slaughtering people in those countries for years now; few Americans have bothered to object.

You see, I’m convinced that if America’s wars do not become a prominent part of our conversations, the current flurry of “resistance” to Trump is doomed to fail.  That is to say, we're wasting our time if we allow the argument to be framed around which vision of imperial America is the best—Donald Trump’s or someone else's.

Second, I pay attention to this notion of "last, worst hope" because Trump’s disruptive style and manner is highly likely to fracture the Washington establishment, reconfigure the US political landscape and change how we understand America.  This will create the opportunity for a non-imperial vision of America to take root and grow (if, that is, someone is articulating such a vision).

Again, this is not to suggest President Trump—with his unbroken record of bullying behavior and unmitigated greed—intends to delegitimize the empire.  Yet that result is inevitable, at least to a degree, with “President Biff” * at the helm.   That’s our opportunity.

This takes me to the Call to Protect All People that John K. Stoner wrote about here several weeks ago.  It is an appeal from visionary American Christians, asking congregations “to make public commitments in their communities.”

What sort of public commitments?  The 50 signers of the Call suggest these four:

1. We will protect and support the worth and rights of all people, including marginalized persons who are targeted, discriminated against or singled out by hate crimes or state-sponsored/sanctioned violence;

2. We will oppose the aspirations of those who seek U.S. global domination through the use of propaganda, inciting terror, military threats, regime change and war.  We will support instead the practices of diplomacy and negotiation, which lead to peace.

3. We will support a just economic order—one that is sustainable as a servant of the people amid the changes in climate that have already begun.

4.  To keep these promises, we will reach across lines of creed, class, ethnicity, race and party preference in a spirit of empathy and learning, seeking relationships of solidarity with other groups.

Notice there is nothing here about being pro-Trump or anti-Trump.  Instead, the Call gives congregations three principles and one practice to guide their public engagements at this critical moment in history.  In effect, it says:  “Let the chips of partisan politics fall where they may; as Christian congregations, we pledge to serve our communities by living out these commitments.”

Look, President Trump may be making a hash of things, but America's mad dash toward the abyss (moral, social, economic, political) is not of his making.  So let’s not spend our time and energy making Trump the issue.  Out in public spaces, let’s be true to the light we’ve been given.

For congregations, this means stepping forward in a new way, reaching out along with new partners with a necessary message that otherwise won’t be heard.

Let’s find our own voice and speak out of our own values.  Now is the time, before the cacophony about Trump drowns out everything else.
*  “President Biff” is the derisive way one of my daughters refers to Trump.  It’s a reference to a Back to the Future movie character who is a high school bully in Part 1 of the famous trilogy and a bullying tycoon in Part 2.  “Biff” in Part 2 was patterned after Donald Trump, the ‘80s casino tycoon.