This Musing will appear as an Addendum in a book I have written that will be published by Cascade Books in the Spring of 2021. Therefore, you will find references to various chapters in that book, which is tentatively titled “Let’s Talk: Bridging Divisive Lines Though Inclusive Respectful Conversations.”
I wrote this concluding addendum to my book shortly after the Associated Press declared that Joe Biden has defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. I am assuming that the courts will not find sufficient merit in the lawsuits being filed in various states by Trump’s lawyers to overturn this result
In the reflections that follow, I will first explain why I am pleased with this election result. I will then present my vision for the future of America, starting with the presidency of Joe Biden. A critical distinction that will inform all of my reflections is between the “ends” one hopes to accomplish through the political process (the goals of one’s political agenda) and the political “means” one uses to seek to accomplish one’s desired ends. For reasons that will eventually become apparent, I start with the issue of “means.”
Contrasting Modes of Political Engagement
One important aspect of the means you choose to seek to accomplish a desired political end is the manner in which you engage those who disagree with you about the desirability of that end.
It is gross understatement to say that Donald Trump and Joe Biden take different approaches to engaging with those who disagree with them about the desirability of any given political end.
Donald Trump typically vilifies those who disagree with him, by means of numerous tweets and interviews; often resorting to nasty name-calling and demonization. In doing so, he has played to the fears and resentments of his base and has sowed deep divisions among American citizens.
In stark contrast, Joe Biden’s past political experience and his promise for the future point to his respect for those who disagree with him; which motivates his desire to build bipartisan bridges between those on opposite sides of the political aisle who have significant disagreements about any given political issue (recognizing, of course, that whether Biden can succeed in building such bridges remains to be seen – more about that later).
Why does this distinction in the means for engaging political opponents matter? Speaking first from my Christian perspective, it matters to me because Trump’s manner of engagement is clearly antithetical to my understanding of the loving way in which Jesus calls Christians to engage those who disagree with them. As I have said many times in this book, I believe that a deep expression of the love of neighbor to which Jesus calls all Christians is to create a safe and welcoming space for someone who disagrees with you to express that disagreement; followed by respectful conversation about the substance of the disagreement. I have seen absolutely no public evidence that President Trump ever practiced this deep expression of love of neighbor during his four years as our President.
Of course, not all Americans have made a commitment to the Christian faith. But it is my belief that this loving way of engaging those who disagree with you is an expression of our shared humanity, whatever religious or secular worldview one may be committed to.
But my concern about Donald Trump’s vilification of those with disagree with him runs deeper than what I have just said. During the course of history, such vilification of political opponents has often been the first step away from democratic forms of governance to dictatorships. There is irrefutable evidence that Donald Trump has authoritarian, dictatorial tendencies that, if unchecked, could lead to the unraveling of democracy in America. (witness his continuous assault on the checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government that our Founding Father’s had the wisdom to establish).
My primary reason for applauding the election of Joe Biden is my rejection of the vitriolic means that Donald Trump uses to engage those who disagree with him and my hope that the welcoming of dissent approach that I believe Joe Biden will bring to his presidential duties will preserve the messy democratic process of doing politics in America.
But that conclusion on my part is based only on consideration of the starkly contrasting means that Trump and Biden have chosen to engage those who disagree with them. What about the political ends that Biden will pursue and that Trump would have pursued had he been re-elected?
Consideration of contrasting political ends surely makes things more complicated; as witnessed to by the fact that in the local small group conversation about the Trump presidency that I recently hosted (that I reported on in chapter 7), all the conversation partners agreed that the way in which President Trump engages his political opponents does not measure up to their Christian standards for lovingly engaging others. But, for the four Trump supporters who participated in this conversation, this deficiency in the means Trump has chosen to do politics is outweighed by the political ends he has accomplished, which they view as being consistent with their Christian values. Therefore, I must now address the thorny issue of the nature and significance of the contrasting political ends embraced by Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
Contrary Beliefs About Political Ends
The substantive political issues about which Christians in America, and all other citizens, disagree are legion, including climate change, foreign trade policies, abortion, relationships with other countries, justice for all races and other people groups relative to opportunities and social benefits (the list goes on).
To illustrate the complexity of the diversity of beliefs in our pluralistic society about any contentious issue, here are some snippets of the sharply contrasting beliefs about abortion that were expressed in the local small-group Trump Conversation that I recently hosted.
On the one hand, for one Trump supporter, a total ban on abortion at any time during a pregnancy was the only position consistent with biblical values. Therefore, her support of Trump in 2016 appeared to be based primarily on her belief that if Trump was elected President, he would advocate for the appointment of Supreme Court justices who would overturn the allowing for “abortion on demand” of Roe vs. Wade, in sharp contrast to the “abortion on demand” position that she attributed to Hillary Clinton and, erroneously, to “all” Democrats.
In sharp contrast, other participants in the Trump conversation, including but not limited to Democrats, took a more nuanced position. While no participant embraced an “abortion on demand” position, some took the position that there may be tragic cases where an abortion is morally legitimate, such as a case where medical experts judge that a tragic moral choice must be made between saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the fetus. These dissenters to the “total ban on abortion” position also argued that a comprehensive and consistent “pro-life” position cannot limit itself to the “single issue” of protecting life before birth. Rather, attention must also be given to ensuring a high quality of life from the cradle to the grave.
In our Trump conversation, we did not resolve these stark disagreements about abortion. But we at least created a safe and welcoming space for these disagreements to be expressed and we got beyond the unloving tactic on vilifying those who disagreed with us. In fact, as reported in chapter 7, we came to acknowledge and respect the deep Christian commitment of those who disagreed with us about this hot-button issue, which was no small accomplishment.
So, what is my point? My point, as you may guess from the rest of this book, is that the way to begin sorting through the starkly different beliefs that American citizens hold about desirable political ends is to create safe and welcoming spaces to talk respectfully to one another about our disagreements, with the hope that this arduous process will uncover some common ground. This utopian dream of mine certainly precludes the apparently automatic way which Donald Trump immediately vilifies those who disagree with him, and keeps alive my hope that the respectful way in which Joe Biden engages those who disagree with him will lead to a promising future for American democracy.
This concludes my major reasons for applauding the election of Joe Biden as our next President. But before proceeding with a possible cogent objection to what I have just said, I need to present two additional reasons for my being pleased with the election of Joe Biden that focus on what I believe indisputable evidence suggests are two major flaws in both the character and presidential performance of Donald Trump that stand in stark contrast with Joe Biden.
First, I believe that President Trump has exhibited extreme incompetence in his exercise of presidential duties, especially in his handling of the caronavirus pandemic.
There is irrefutable evidence, in his own words to Bob Woodward, that President Trump was aware of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic shortly after it entered America and he chose to downplay the threat rather than to vigorously address it. The result of such incompetence has been a staggering number of deaths; a significant percentage of which could have been avoided had Trump taken appropriate action recommended by public health officials to contain the spread of the virus
Secondly, I believe that President Trump has exhibited a major character flaw in his inability to be truthful. On a personal level, I find this character flaw to be particularly troublesome because the primary value that has motivated my work over many years as a Christian educator has been the quest for truth.
The documented lies that Trump has told are legion. The most egregious recent lie has been his assertion that the virus is “disappearing” at a time when all the evidence points to a staggering increase in the number of hospitalizations and deaths ss the winter months approach. The magnitude and destructiveness of this lie are astonishing.
Of course, the question remains as to whether President Biden will do better relative to these two problems with the Trump presidency. I am optimistic for two reasons. Despite an occasional gaffe or two in his public statements, Biden is committed to telling the truth and when he discovers that he is wrong.in his understanding of that truth, he, unlike Trump, is willing to admit his error and adjust accordingly.
Relative to competence, I perceive a major contrast. Donald Trump has suggested that he “knows everything about everything” (my paraphrase of his exact words) and, therefore, the legislative branch of government should just do what he thinks needs to be done. In stark contrast, Joe Biden gives evidence of commitment to the collaborative form of leadership that I believe is the most effective leadership (see chapter 5), characterized by a willingness to learn from others and work together with others in a way that leads to sone common ground that reflects the best insights and gifts of everyone.
A Major Objection: The Political Ends that President Trump has Accomplished Comport with Christian Values
As already noted, the Trump supporters in my Trump conversation agreed that the way in which President Trump vilifies those who disagree with him is antithetical to Christian beliefs. Yet they support him. Why? Because they believe that what he has accomplished is consistent with Christian beliefs and priority must be given to those accomplishments.
Using the distinction between means and ends, the argument of these Christian supporters of Trump is essentially that the means that Trump has used, even if antithetical to the Christian faith, can be justified because of the good ends, from a Christian perspective, that these means have accomplished. This presents a major objection to my claim, above, that the unchristian manner in which Trump vilifies those who disagree with him (one aspect of his chosen political means) disqualifies supporting him, however much one may argue that ends that he has accomplished are good in light of Christian values.
To make this more concrete, introducing the distinction between “good” and “evil.” consider the argument that these Trump supporters make relative to “abortion on demand.” They consider abortion on demand to be an evil that must be overcome. And overcoming this evil must take priority even if the means for doing so requires using another form of evil; the vilifying of political opponents.
Of course, this then raise the crucial prior question of whether a good end (from a Christian perspective) ever justifies an evil means (from a Christian perspective). The answer I find in Scriptures is “no.”
Consider Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (emphasis mine). This exhortation seems totally unrealistic; even outrageous. But that is what this passage of scripture teaches.
I can anticipate the following response to this biblical teaching: Trying to overcome the evil in America by “doing good” will not work. We Christians must protect Christianity in America from evil by whatever means we think will work.
My response to this response centers on the words “protect Christianity.” Are you saying “God needs Donald Trump to protect Christianity in America?” May I be so bold as to suggest that if you say that phrase to yourself over and over again, you will eventually see how ludicrous it is. Is your God so small that God must resort to using Donald Trump to protect Christianity in America?
Another way to look at this response of mine is to return to a meddlesome section in chapter 5 where I call into question the tendency of many Christians to seek “’power” within American culture. Christians who seek such “power” must give serious consideration to the response that Jesus gave to the temptation the devil presented to him in the wilderness, as recorded in Matthew 4: 8-10.
…The devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “all these I will give to you if you will fall down and worship me. Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and only him shall you serve’.”
Jesus rejected an amazing offer of “power,” opting for a different kind of power, the “power of love.”
America After Donald Trump
It is the “power of love” that animates my hope for the future of America after Donald Trump
I see glimpses of the power of love in the self-giving service to others in dire need provided in response to the coronavirus pandemic: The services of front-line doctors and nurses, often provided at great personal risk; The services of first-responders, like EMT workers and fire fighters; the services of essential workers, like those driving delivery trucks and stocking the shelves of grocery stores; and the numerous little acts of kindness, like singing to neighbors from balconies and holding signs expressing love to those behind closed windows in nursing homes.
But it is difficult to detect examples of the power of love in the hyper-partisan polarized world of American politics. The vilification of political opponents perpetuated by President Trump and his loyalists in the executive branch of government is the opposite of love. And while I applaud the first stimulus package approved by the legislative branch, the failure to find common ground across the aisle for a second stimulus package is tragic..
How should Christians respond to this current brokenness in American politics? As I proposed in chapter 4, three responses are possible: domination, withdrawal and conversation. Recall my rejection of the domination strategy since our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to establish a form of governance where proponents of diverse worldview beliefs, religious or secular, have an equal voice in legislating the laws of the land.
I must acknowledge that the current hyper-partisan, polarized, dysfunctional nature of current American politics makes “withdrawal” from politics a tempting option for Christians and all other American citizens. But I reject this option for Christians because of my deep conviction that God wishes to redeem all dimensions of life here on earth, including the apparently irredeemable realm of politics.
This leaves me the with the “conversation” model for doing politics that I proposed in chapter 4. Recall that the basis for my proposing this model is my commitment to a number of Christian values: Love is foremost, but these Christian values also include humility, courage, respect, truth, justice, patience and hope. And my proposal for political discourse in the political realm included the following three exhortations:
- Develop personal relationships of mutual understanding and trust with those with whom you have political disagreements.
- Listen carefully to those who disagree with you about political issues (as a deep expression of love) and, when you adequately understand their reasons for their positions, engage them in respectful conversation about your agreements and disagreements toward the goal of finding some common ground and illuminating remaining disagreements.
- Reach across the political aisle or dining room table to seek both/and positions that reflect the best insights of those on both sides of the aisle or table.
A common theme in these three exhortations is the need for bipartisanship in doing politics. That focus has been at the forefront of my personal political endeavors since 2008. And, As you will soon see, it is the centerpiece of my vision for a political future for America after Donald Trump.
It was in the summer of 2008 that I agreed to serve as a local Precinct Captain for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. I assumed this responsibility because of Obama’s stated commitment to take a bipartisan approach to doing politics.
How well did Obama live up to his promise of a bipartisan approach to doing politics? The results were mixed. My perception is the main reason for these mixed results was the intransigence of a highly polarized and hyper-partisan Congress.
Despite the mixed results of President Obama’s attempts to be bipartisan, my hope for the political future of America is that President Biden will experience some significant success at bipartisanship, remembering that genuine bipartisanship must seek to unite the entire country, not just the Democratic party. Therefore, the monumental task facing President Biden includes his BOTH listening to and learning from the best insights of those Democrats who are “left” of him on the political spectrum (e.g., Bernie Sanders) AND those Democrats and Republicans who are “right” of him on that spectrum.
But Biden can’t make bipartisanship in politics happen all by himself. He made this abundantly clear in his President-Elect acceptance speech on November 7. In stark contrast to the “I” talk that permeated President Trump’s pronouncements over the past four years, Biden focused on “We” talk: “We have to do this together” – a clarion call for bipartisanship in politics.
But is there a Christian basis for promoting bipartisanship? Absolutely! Here is where a Christian vision stands in stark contrast to the hyper-individualism that is so prominent in American culture. When the Apostle Paul calls on Christians to emulate Jesus, as recorded in Philippians 2:4, he says “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That is “We” talk, not ”I” talk.
Since President Trump has sown fears, divisions and animosities that feed on “I” talk and will not be easily healed, my dream of bipartisanship seems like utopian wishful thinking; an ideal that is beyond the real world of polarized American politics. It would surely be a remarkable exemplification of the “power of love,” I can only envision it happening through the eyes of faith.
 It is ironic and tragic that President Trump did not exercise his dictatorial tendencies when he should have right after the coronavirus arrived in America. He should have made use of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mandate the production of needed medical supplies (e.g., Personal Protective Equipment (PDEs) and Incubators) and he should have issued a national mandate for the use of scientifically proven means for minimizing the spread of covid-19 (e.g., the wearing of face masks and the practice of social distancing).
 For reflections from 30 evangelical Christians on the presidency Of Donald Trump, see Sider. Spiritual Danger.
 A major portion of my responsibilities as a local Precinct Captain was to canvas local neighborhoods, knocking on doors to advocate for candidate Obama. I did that for about 3-4 hours each Saturday for about 8 weeks. Being an introvert by nature, I didn’t look forward to these Saturdays. But, in general, I was pleasantly surprised by what happened. Most notably, I discovered that a number of residents of Sioux County who invited me into their homes were polite and open to listening to my pitch for Obama (some of them even confessed to being “closet” supporters of Obama – feeling the need to “stay in the closet” – before I talked with them – because of the ultra-conservative nature of Sioux County – a county that was reported at the time to be the second most politically conservative county in America; with first place going to some county in Texas). The one exception to this generally good canvasing experience came when a resident of Rock Valley ran me off his lawn. Fortunately, I could run faster than him.
 One example of such intransigence was the failure of Congress to take legislative action relative to the status of those DACA recipients known as “Dreamers, which led Obama to take a much disputed “Executive Action” to allow undocumented immigrants who came to America as Children to stay.