With the Election just days away I find myself asking the question, “Why does it seem like everyone expects politicians to be saints?” I mean, they are not running for Pope or Dalai Lama, so why do people act surprised when scandalous skeletons are exposed in the media (Especially the same old skeletons, just in a different suit, and so close to election day.)? And do we really think the candidates that we support are perfect? More to the point, are we so saintly that we think we don’t have a few skeletons in our own closets?
At the Conspire 2016 conference I’m told that Christena Cleveland said that “even people we don’t like have something of value to teach us; even Donald Trump.” I wasn’t there, but I wish I could have heard it in context. Nonetheless, this idea has stuck in my mind ever since. Even Donald Trump? Even Hillary Clinton? Even that bigot I work with? Even that racist, hot-head that lives down the street?
Although…. I think there is something deeper to be learned from disagreeable people such as Donald Trump. In a blog post from March of this year, Christena says:
Social psychologists who study this type of existential terror have found that prejudice serves as a buffer and a way to manage the terror. When humans are feeling vulnerable (particularly about our own invincibility and mortality), we respond with prejudice towards those who are different. This makes us feel better.***
Enter Donald Trump. His screeching, taunting, immature words reveal the tantrums of a desperate man who is trying to manage the existential terror of white men.
Trump’s xenophobic and racist political platform provides the “prejudice buffer” that many white men need in order to find relief from the pain of vulnerability. Given the changing racial dynamics in the U.S., it is no surprise that so many white men have gravitated toward Trump. His hateful rhetoric, with which he blames people of color for America’s problems, affirms white male identities and relieves their existential anxiety by assuring that he will restore order to white male supremacy.
So, maybe the thing to be valued here is not some random redeeming quality like “they love their family,” or “they give to the poor.” Perhaps the lesson to be learned is simply a lesson that teaches us about our own fears, failings, and prejudices. Hopefully some of us will consider Christena’s words, and find a way through our pride to the humble shores where everything & everyone belongs, and no one is excluded. I know I’m struggling to get there.
I’ve thought about Christena’s words and this election a lot and have concluded that for all the distasteful comments, actions, and skeletons, I do admire both candidates for having the courage and conviction to enter this race. It takes courage and a thick skin to throw your hat into the ring of this crazy USA system of elections. Not only does the political machine grind each candidate and their family into sausage, but the news media, and social media are merciless in their tireless efforts to belittle the opposition while making a case for sainthood for their favorite candidate.
With All Saints Day just this past week, I know we are all called to be saints, but let’s get real. Neither Hillary or Donald are saints, but then again, neither are we (YET!). We’re all just trying to do our best with what we have. That’s a big enough job.