So, it happened. And Donald Trump is the President of the United States. His inaugural speech was a triumph of delivery over content and further proof that if you say something unfounded, meaningless, impossible, unreasonable, unfeasible and unacceptable, you can get away with it if you say it with enough conviction and litter it with enough slogans.
The fact that parts of Trump’s speech directly contradicted other parts doesn’t matter, as Trump apparently has a similar view of the meaning of language as Humpty Dumpty:
“When I use a word” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
[Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll]
Trump’s campaign has depended on his words remaining unscrutinised. Remaining rhetorical as even the most general attempt to explore the meaning of them shows that they are backed by the sheer force of the speaker but not by reality, policy or possibility. Humpty Trumpty told America and the world “America will start winning again, winning like never before. We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth, and we will bring back our dreams.”
What would, could or should it mean for America to win like never before? Might it mean healthcare for everyone? Might it mean equality of opportunity regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation? Might it mean the real integration of fractured and divided communities?
If America is winning like never before, who then, is losing? Who is going to pay the price for this American victory? Where are the jobs, borders, wealth and dreams of America being brought back from?
Trump continued “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity… When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.”
The clear implication here is that God’s people are Americans. The parallels with this claim to supremacy are obvious and terrifying. Americans are winners, and a winner is someone who has safety and wealth. If you don’t’ have those things you are not a winner, and the government and God don’t really care about you. Because if God did care, you would have wealth and safety, and you would be a winner.
Trump is the master of language, and his words mean just what he chooses them to mean. However circular or nonsensical the argument put forward, the earth is promised, not just on the government’s behalf, but also on Gods.
Nothing could make me want to be a loser more.
If this is what winning looks like, I choose losing. And if this is what winning looks like, Jesus certainly misunderstood what it means to be victorious.
Trump’s words were not a proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. The deep paradox of Christian life is that we are called to be losers in order to share in the victory of Christ; to lose our lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel (Mark 8:35).
We are not called to be winners. We are not called to be wealthy and we are not called to be safe. However appealing those things are, they are both to be sacrificed for the sake of the Gospel. Seeking our own victory, manifested in wealth and safety may make us winners according to Trump, but at the cost of our call to the Kingdom of God.
How good and pleasant it is to know that I can only win when all of my brothers and sisters are also winning, And in the meantime how good and pleasant it is when God’s losers live together in unity.