Monday, February 29, 2016

So how did we get to the point that it was possible for Obama to be elected and for Trump to be a serious contender for the presidency?

Trump making fun of a disabled New York Times reporter in November 2015

How Did We Get Obama and Trump?

Many Americans shook their heads in 2008 wondering how in the world President Obama was elected when he had told us plainly that he wanted to “fundamentally transform” our country. Then, the perplexity increased when he was reelected in 2012 long after his radical policies and disdain for the Constitution were abundantly evident. 

Unbelievably, after suffering through the effrontery of the Obama Administration’s arrogance and his flaunting of executive actions instead of bipartisanship, the nation is now enthralled with Donald Trump’s bombastic, flamboyant, but empty promises – based solely on his ability to capitalize on the public’s anger and to manipulate people’s fears, rather than specific policy proposals or potential for effective constitutional governance -- to come in and liberate us from the overweening government bureaucrats with their endless thirst for control and restore America’s greatness. The Washington Post summarized the situation by claiming that Donald Trump is giving the establishment (on both Capitol Hill and K Street) the “middle finger” and “his supporters love it.” One analyst likened Trump to a parasite eating up the host; another called him America’s “Fatal Attraction.”

Clearly, Donald Trump is a brash, arrogant bully with a “yuuge” ego who sees things in black and white, winners and losers. Trump offends sensibilities with unpresidential behavior, crudities and bad manners, along with insults and accusations of lying against other candidates. Still, the more obnoxious he has become, the better his ratings. He has tapped into middle-America’s need for a “straight-up guy” who’ll “tell things like they are” without any consideration for how he offends the PC crowd. The public has had enough of politicians who talk out of “both sides of their mouths” to say one thing to the voters during election campaigns while planning to do another. At this point, the public doesn’t believe any politician; they want an outsider. They’ll take the crudity because it least it’s an authentic expression of their frustration and anger.

So how did we get to the point that it was possible for Obama to be elected and for Trump to be a serious contender for the presidency? 

Obviously, things are complicated, but generally root causes are fairly simple and foundational. I can think of three things that are fundamental problems that are endemic in our society.

Nebulous Faith: Despite President Obama’s claims to the contrary, America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It was founded to allow freedom of religion (as the saying goes, it was not founded to be free from religion). A significant majority of Americans identify as Christian; at the same time, church attendance is not keeping up with population increases. Established churches where orthodox beliefs are captured in doctrinal statements and taught in classes are being replaced by non-denominational churches that focus more on “worship” than on “doctrine.” The late author Henri Nouwen, who wrote Show Me the Way, noted that the church is increasingly seen as an “obstacle” rather than the “way”. The movie “Unbroken” chronicled an inspiring example of a shattered life that was restored ; at the societal level, however, gut reaction has shed the necessity for moral fidelity as well as the necessity for intellectual and rational conduct.

In this postmodern age of moral relativism, with truth, has come to be defined however anyone wants to define it, rather than determined by a life  through devoted consistency in living out moral principles. Sadly, today’s candidates can throw in a few buzz words and be acceptable to faithful believers without being bound by character and integrity, and supporting those who lived out immorality in action. Polling data indicates that almost 70 percent of voters, and almost 90 percent of Evangelicals, expect a presidential candidate to be “strongly religious.” Yet, in 2012, 42 percent of the Protestant Christian vote went for Obama as did 21% of the self-identified, white, born-again, evangelical Christian voters. Now, Evangelicals figure prominently among Trump supporters and high profile Evangelical leaders have endorsed Trump in spite of the lack of consistency between his actions and their principles and moral values.

PC Education: It is commonly recognized that there are major problems with public education in America and consequently the numbers of homeschooled students is up by nearly 62 percent in the last ten years. More and more people are questioning the value of a college education when students spend more time in drunken stupors, participating in demonstrations, and partying than in studying. Moreover, parents are alarmed that colleges and universities are being converted into centers of growing intolerance for differing points of view -- especially for conservative ideas. Ironically, civility and respectful debate are rare while diversity and inclusion are emphasized. Emotions and feelings are important and hard thinking is rarely taught or experienced. Politically Correct language is the norm; nothing can be allowed that offends the proliferating collection of victims on the Left.

No wonder the electorate responds emotionally and doesn’t bother to ask hard questions or probe into the ramifications of policy positions. No wonder voters choose which candidate to support based on likeability or personality regardless of whether they agree with the person’s positions on the issues.

Cultural Disintegration: There is no way to overstate the influence of the media and entertainment industries in shaping attitudes and values. In many respects both Obama and Trump are products of the media. President and Mrs. Obama have been media darlings since their earliest days on the national scene. With his ability to play to the crowd, Trump is always good for headlines. Neither man sees a distinction between politics and entertainment. Trump, in particular, knows how to “read” a situation and play it for maximum personal benefit. He accurately assessed the public anger and desire to shove the establishment aside; he is cold and calculating enough to push that all the way to the White House. The public wants something to talk about and they totally reject anything dull, boring, or routine. Their attitude is: Don’t bother me with facts; my mind is already made up.

Cynics tell us that we get the leaders we deserve. The phrase has become a cliché because so much experience seems to confirm it.