Unearthing The Roots of Donald Trump’s Popular Appeal

Trump

A guest post of mine has just gone up over on Mere Orthodoxy. Within it I respond to claims that Donald Trump’s supporters are merely driven by racism, xenophobia, a hunger for unjust power, and enthralment to celebrity culture. I make the case that a more attentive examination will reveal unflattering truths about American politics and the deep yet often dissembled classism of American society more generally and the responsibility that Trump’s opponents and critics have in preparing the ground for him.

The success of Trump, if I am correct, is in no small measure a result of the failure of other politicians and the establishment more generally to take a number of genuine public concerns seriously, to treat the working class with respect and dignity rather than self-righteous superiority, to address the ineffectiveness of government, to resist the special interests of lobbyists and business that undermine the government’s commitment to the public interest and the common good, to stand for America as a nation, and to encourage a society of robust civil discourse rather than officious and censorious speech policing and pathologization.

When the establishment has demonstrated its lack of genuine respect or concern for a large segment of the population, it is not surprising that such pronounced anti-establishment sentiment should arise. Much as one might wish that Trump supporters—especially the evangelicals among them—followed politicians that sought to maintain a well-ordered and dignified political system, the appeal of Trump is at least as unflattering a revelation of the failure of the establishment to serve the common good and its captivity to party interest as it is of the sentiments of people who will vote for him.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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15 Responses to Unearthing The Roots of Donald Trump’s Popular Appeal

  1. This is really helpful. I’d begun to suspect that Trump’s rise can be tied back (at least in part) to the Democrat’s abandonment of unions and the working class. Just as the Republicans took the loyalty of the religious right for granted (and did little to address their concerns), the Democrats have taken the loyalty of unions – and, by extension, the working class – for granted even as they pursue neoliberal economic policy.

    Including honor culture in your analysis is also very helpful.

    But you’ve really set your sights on Rachel Held Evans, haven’t you?😉

    Seriously, though, thanks for pulling a lot of different strands together in a way I wouldn’t have been able to do myself.

    • Thanks, Jeremy! One of the comments beneath the post over on Mere Orthodoxy put it well, I think:

      What this article does, really, is give me hope. If Trump’s supporters are real human beings with valid experiences, frustrations, and preferences—as you seem to be suggesting—and not merely a conglomerated, quivering mass of stupidity and hatred, like a tumor with voting rights, then I surmise it must be possible for another campaign to offer them a viable alternative that addresses their real, human concerns without collapsing the democratic order.

      This, I believe, is the message that I would like to see the Left take away from this. The labour movement accomplished so much genuine good for the working class and it is sad to see such interests being pushed to the periphery of left wing politics, which is increasingly focused on more middle class issues. I’m interested to see how Sanders’ campaign develops on this front. A positive and hopefully response to the alienation and anger that Trump has exposed could actually accomplish great good.

    • The fact that RHE features has to do with the fact that the post grew out of a comment in a thread in which I responded to a friend’s linking of RHE’s post. That said, as she now writes as an appointed member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I think that her attitudes on such matters merit closer attention.

  2. Well, that was empathetic at the beginning, moved a little towards false consciousness in the middle, and went all the way to Trump is evil and must be stopped at all costs! at the end, which pretty much made the whole thing pointless.

    The typical low church reaction to Trump is he is a rude bad man and we should be supporting a nice moral man like Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, who are more like George W. Bush. Rod Dreher- the most sympathetic voice to Trump supporters- tells us W was a good man who did bad things. But being a good man doesn’t mean you go to a Methodist church and say you love Jesus, it means you don’t do bad things. W’s foolishness and arrogance led to vast human suffering. Do you see many guys with one leg in England? They are not uncommon in the US, and you can tell by which leg what side of the HMMWV he was sitting on when the IED went off.

    Everyone Trump attacks richly deserves it, and everyone he mocks richly deserves to be mocked. The idea that being a good Christian means being “nice” is not at all biblical, it’s an artifact of 19th century Victorian non-conformism. Of course Rachel Held Evans can be as mean as she wants, only the dirty rubes have to be nice. I got raked over the coals in the comments on her blog for suggesting maybe Michael Brown was actually a violent criminal, then later the US Justice Department investigation, hostile to the police officer and sympathetic to Brown, intended to exonerate him and subject Officer Darryl Wilson to federal criminal charges, reluctantly concluded that Brown was a violent criminal and everything happened pretty much exactly the way Wilson said it did. Wilson is still unemployed and in hiding and I’m still waiting for an apology.

    • The point of the piece was not to defend Trump (who is genuinely a dangerous figure who needs to be stopped), but to call for a bit more sympathy for his supporters (which might be a first step towards stopping Trump). That distinction is an important one and might make it clearer where I am coming from here.

      • I think you misunderstood my comment- I’m a white working class person who supports Trump. The people in power and their supporters can’t possibly muster any sympathy for Trump supporters, and don’t want to- the gap is too great.

        EducationalRealist has the best answer for this, if you want to know more. I won’t say more, but I’m pretty sure Trump won’t be stopped. It’s gone on too far for too long. I do not suffer from false consciousness and I take full moral and intellectual responsibility for my support of Trump.

  3. acilius says:

    Outstanding piece, thanks very much. The line about “America as a nation, not just America as a market” reaches the heart of the divide between the elites and everyone else in the Western world today. The idea of a country as home and family is as alien to people whose idea of the good life consists solely of competition and victory as it is essential to everyone else.

  4. mnpetersen37 says:

    What do you think of Halbertal’s claim that, “Humans have never created a greater altar to Molech than the centralized state. The modern state’s hunger for human sacrifice is insatiable” (p. 105)?

    (This is really a question, but I’m writing more that hopefully clarifies where the question comes from.)

    I read him as saying (there and elsewhere), in part, that the nation state is itself very close to a form of idolatry successfully co-opting Christian and Jewish sacrificial language to encourage sacrifice for a false god, a co-optation that requires that, for us to realize our self-transcendence, our nation must be and continue to be great through the remembrance of sacrifices made in for name, and continue to make further sacrifices for her–that is, it is necessarily built on wars and fightings. But “great” then does not mean loving to outsiders, peaceful, kind, gentle (to outsiders), or (Jas 4:1), self controlled, not just, not compassionate, not beautiful, not hospitable, not taking the lower course like water, but “vaunting itself”, and “seeking its own.”

    (And if the individual, whose “identity is constituted by the ‘we'” (p. 108), in their corporate identity–or the monarch in their body politic–does not exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, but does, in their corporate identity, fail to love their neighbor (however loving in their individual identity they may be) can he, or she, truly be characterized as exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit?)

    There’s also the question of repentance, and continuing just dealing with our neighbor. If Halbertal is correct, and in our self-transcendence in the Nation State, we need to recognize that we, as a people, may have been abusive, that many of the “pathologies” seen in neighboring peoples may be smoking gun of abuse, of them, as peoples; and that part of our turning to righteousness, as a people, is the ability to say, audibly and often that “we have sinned as our fathers have”, enumerating the sins of our fathers (as Psalm 106) does.

    Because our identity is constituted through sacrifice, it is extremely difficult for that identity to remain if we corporately repent, and remember and confess our sins, since the sins may themselves be the sacrifices. At the least, it is extremely difficult to hear calls for repentance–calls that we, corporately, pray Psalm 106, but with our own national and corporate failings replacing the failings enumerated there–as anything but an assault on the existence of the state.

    (I have to run, but I do appreciate this piece.)

    • I suspect that this was written in response to my previous post, rather than the one linked above.

      I think that Halbertal’s claim is one I agree with, provided that it is not universalized (capitalism also gives the nation state a run for its money). There is no reason why the nation state need be an altar to Moloch, although it has widely been used in such a manner. I do not oppose the nation state in principle. Self-transcendence is not necessarily idolatry, when kept in its appropriate place and measure.

      The other problem with overplaying Halbertal’s focus upon the nation state’s relationship with war is that the nation state and a people more generally is constituted and find their unity in countless unbloody sacrifices. As I suggested in my post, marriages can be no less sacrificial than wars and the bonds of peoples can be formed by the practice of intermarriage. Other examples include our institutions, our laws, our countryside, our neighbourhoods, and our great buildings. We seek to give meaning to the living sacrifices of labour and culture of our forebears in the land, honouring their legacy and bearing it into the future, for instance. The land is the bearer of such sacrifices and we are also its fruit.

      The sheer abundance of sacrifices that form a people make it unlikely the repenting of certain sins will dissolve our identity. Any nation is forged by much more than its wars, but by the lives expended building its infrastructure, art and literature, communities, laws and customs, and the intergenerational work of forming a particular people through marriage. The realities formed by such sacrifices, in which we find a measure of self-transcendence, can become idols. However, like our families, of which the same thing can be said, they are in principle very good things and conditions for our flourishing. It is important to maintain and protect such realities and not to allow them to be squandered or jeopardized through our carelessness. A certain honour is due to the intergenerational project of our particular nation and people, much as an especial honour is due to our own parents, an honour that isn’t just common to nations and parents in general.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I did actually mean it here, though I can see how it sounded like a response to that one, and the connection could have been more explicit. It is largely the “Make America Great Again” point that I’m responding to. (Which I think is also closely related to the “The white working class knows they are hated.” the white working class is hated because attempts by wealthy people to, Pilate like, wash their own hands of their real guilt, and pass it off on others. But the guilt is real, and should be articulated more as “we have sinned” than “you are sinners.”)

        My concern is with the desire for National self-transcendence Trump is capitalizing on, a desire that is, in one sense, good, but in its particular character, deeply disordered. Specifically, we, as a people, need to repent of a very large numbers of the activities through which we have been constituted as a people, the form of the sacrifices we have made, and the character we have formed by and through those sacrifices (in a way you, as English, do not). But, if Halbertal is correct, and these sacrifices constitute our national identity, to repent of the mode of sacrifices is simultaneously, to repent of the identity itself. How can we repent of the sacrifices (or the sort of sacrifices) through which we have been constituted without simultaneously repenting of the constitution itself? (That’s not a rhetorical question.) Or, perhaps more accurately, how can we articulate a call for repentance for the sort of sacrifices in and through which our national identity has been constituted, without being heard as articulating a call for an end of the national identity itself, and so playing into the twin evils of liberal individualism, and Trumpian Nationalism.

        For instance, you say

        We seek to give meaning to the living sacrifices of labour and culture of our forebears in the land, honouring their legacy and bearing it into the future, for instance. The land is the bearer of such sacrifices and we are also its fruit.

        I agree with this, but in the US, the relationship to the land we have inherited is itself (in large part) one of Lockean appropriation of “nature”, and with that, of the Native Americans, and of Blacks; and through the constitution of the US as an oil nation, of peoples in oil-rich lands, and of future generations. Once that sort of connection with the land has been repented of, what sort of connection to the land do we still have? Or rather, how can that repentance (that national praying of Psalm 106) be articulated in a way that does not, in the articulation itself, threaten our connection to our nation in a way that resolves in either a Liberal faux-escape from ancestors, and a corresponding collective forgetting of our own guilt, or in a Conservative Nationalism that respects the our inheritance, but respects it as a continued idol?

        (I don’t have good answers to these questions, they aren’t rhetorical.)

        Again, thanks for the reply, and it was helpful.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        Just to be clear: I agree with everything in your last paragraph except the first sentence, and may even state some of it stronger than you, but I have a hard time imagining America constituting herself based on those aspects of her life. Are we not constituted by the American Dream? By the story that you have no story except the story you had when you had no story? By the claim that we are a land of Freedom, and opportunity? (And thus that the passage from Europe to America parallels the passage from bondage in Egypt.)

        And I do really like numerous aspects of US culture: I like Baseball, and Basketball, and to some degree US Football–though it’s too jam packed with commercials–and I like US coffee culture, and the beauties here locally where I live, I like hamburgers, etc.

        But I have trouble seeing those constituting the American identity, or seeing how to make the American identity one that is content with taking the lesser part, with being small, and insignificant.

        Part of what troubles me is how calls for America to remember her deep sins, and to make reparations for them, are heard. Calls from people like Ta-Nehisi Coates or James Baldwin (who actually pushes strongly in favor of an intergenerational identity, using first person pronouns to describe Baldwin even uses the first person singular in referring to his enslaved ancestors, and Coates ) are dismissed with far too much hostility. And they aren’t working to undo heritage, but to have us recognize that the plunder of black bodies is our heritage, and that to be just, we need to make reparations, and to remember it.

        Or again, take Climate Change. I’m reading Northcott’s A Political Theology of Climate Change now, and he comments that climate change challenges our individualism, so people who tend to see persons as individuals tend to find it a direct threat to their identity, whereas those who want to cooperate can, at least feel secure while admitting the problem. This explains, he claims, why Conservatives are so hostile to it, and Liberals can embrace it. (Though he shows a number of liberal responses exacerbate the problem, and hurt the poor at home and abroad.) But perhaps a stronger reason for the Right’s dismissal of Climate Science (and it is shameful) is that, as he shows later, America is, to a very large degree, a nation built on and through oil. Even many of the quintessentially American things are, it seems, built, at root on oil, and so on the destruction of peoples in lands that produce oil, and future generations, world-wide–we couldn’t even have nation-wide professional sports leagues without a carbon economy, nor fast sports cars, nor tractors tilling our fields, nor the importation of so much coffee, nor the mass-production of meat for hamburgers. And as Borgmann notes, suburbia itself (and hence our quintessential buildings) is a technological project, created by the highway, and the automated sprinkler, and thus, by oil. To claim that our use of oil is destroying our neighbor, and ourselves, is to strike at the American identity, near its root. And so though liberal responses are usually worse than anemic, causing more harm than good, the sort of repentance called for by Climate Change (and, as I said above, race) really does strike very close to the heart of America.

        Part of the issue is that the US is just too large to have a local identity. But we’ve also closed the ability to have a local identity–a state based identity–through a very tightly coupling states rights issues to explicit racism.

        Returning to the top paragraph: If America is not a land of freedom, but is a land of bondage, and the American dream is not a dream, but a nightmare–and not just for Malcolm X (both of whose parents were taken away by a racist America, his father lynched, his mother institutionalized) but for the Native Americans, for the countless people abroad, victims of America’s continued imperialism, and for the future generations who will live on an earth where the rains necessary for our daily bread are hard to find–what is there left to hold onto as American?

        (And to be clear, much liberal rhetoric is just a differently phrased attempt to wash out our own damn spot. But all Neptune’s ocean cannot wash this blood clean from our hand. No, this our hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red. Shakespeare did not expect the sea to actually be incarnadine, soaked by MacBeth’s bloody hand, nor great Birnam wood to literally turn on MacBeth, but our reality seems to be closer to Tolkien’s world than Shakespeare’s, and our sins are poisoning the seas, and Birnam wood may indeed, like Fangorn, seek revenge.)

        Wedgeworth said that we need a distinctly Christian Malcolm X. But if so, we need to find a way to say

        No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy. So, I’m not standing here speaking to you as an American, or a patriot, or a flag-saluter, or a flag-waver — no, not I. I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.

        And isn’t it this deep indictment of the falseness of America, that Trump is pushing so hard against? Yes, liberals are wrong to think they can evade the guilt, and many of their attempts are just that, and so entrench conservatives deeper. And conservative blame is less since they are not responding to Jeremiah, but to self-justifying liberals; but can you see a way to articulate the deep sins that accompany America–sins that are bringing unprecedented vengeance from the Poseidon and Zeus–without, since the Nation State is so powerful a location of self-transcendence, provoking the sort of response Trump is giving and drawing off?

        In Christ,

        Matt

        (Even though there are other legitimate complaints that Trump is poorly addressing.)

        (Pps, this was supposed to be a short post. Sigh.)

      • Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Matt. I really don’t have the time to engage them fully at the moment, but I will make a few remarks:

        1. Past sins and injustices can be constitutive of our current reality without being sacrifices whose supposed positive meaning we perpetuate and underwrite by our current action. A constitutive fact is not the same as a constitutive sacrifice. The child born from King David’s darkest sins was the one in whom his dynasty came to its most glorious flowering. The constitutive fact doesn’t have to be affirmed to continue to be constitutive.

        2. Just as Israel confessed its history as one structured by sin and failure, yet was still able to affirm the glories within it, so can we. Constitutive past acts that we repent of do not thereby cease to constitute our present reality; we still have to live with the consequences of the sins of our forebears and in the world that results from them. Collective confession is a manner in which we are bound together in relation to constitutive acts without treating those acts as sacrifices.

        3. The American project is not and has never been wholly founded constituted by injustice, although it is undoubtedly compromised throughout. That some people(s) have experienced the American dream as a nightmare doesn’t mean that dream is entirely to be dismissed as such. The American dream is an uneven mix of good and bad and the good is far from straightforwardly dependent upon the evil.

        4. These sorts of approaches to history work better in the larger vaguer categories than they do in the more finely grained ones. ‘White’, for instance, is a rather unhelpful and abstract way of referring to a large agglomeration of different groups, with an array of different relations to projects of American identity. Taking into account class, region, culture of origin, the period when ancestors arrived in the US, etc., etc., the picture can get a lot more unclear. Thinking in terms of big idealistic totalities also makes it much more difficult for us to see the genuine good in even profoundly flawed projects. In reality such a national project is far less homogeneous, uniform, and unified as it may appear. Furthermore, the American story is most definitely not one which flows in a direct and unaltered course from a set of founding sins, but involves huge twists and turns, such as the Civil War. These must also be taken into account. America has been constituted and will continue to be constituted by its sinful past, but that past has been related to in many sharply differing ways.

        5. This sort of position that you are presenting can often be an expression of a liberal version of Western exceptionalism, where the white man must bear the burden of the sins of the world, with the rest of the world playing victim. What are presented are not so much universal moral principles, as a mandate for a specific culture’s guilt complex. I don’t think that this is your intent, but I would be curious to hear your perspective of Arab civilization, which has been founded in no small measure upon wars of conquest, long lasting suppression of large populations, and a slave trade larger than—and which fed into—the Atlantic one (and populations working in conditions approximating to slavery can still be found in certain Arab countries). How should they relate to their history? Aren’t there ways in which they can acknowledge and confess the profoundly constitutive reality of their past sins and still move on as a people, or are they shackled irrevocably to the guilt their past? Viewing this question as it relates to a different group of people might be a helpful way to get a more objective perspective upon it.

        6. Again, applying the logic that your case might imply to other situations may illuminate some of the potential problems with it. For instance, what are we to make of the position that one finds among certain evangelicals and fundamentalists, whereby the very existence of Arabs is considered in light of the founding sin of Abraham with Hagar? To what extent can such a past sin—supposing that the connection between Ishmael and the modern Arab population is justified—be allowed to define the peoples arising from it long into the future?

        7. The concern to free ourselves from the guilt of past generations’ sins is a rather different and often far less healthy process than that of the more forward-looking process of responsibly dealing with the fallout and acting justly towards the future. Reparations on some level should probably be part of this, but it should be governed by specifics (e.g. X’s father was wronged in the particular matter of Y by government agency Z), not by some vague notions of systemic guilt and justice and generalized welfare entitlements. However, our primary goal should be to work with the reality of a society formed through past sins in a way that fosters the well-being and harmony of all. That really won’t be achieved through the popular hand-waving discourses about ‘social justice’ and the guilt-driven and identity-riven reality it spawns.

  5. mnpetersen37 says:

    Thank you very much for the response, and sorry for the editing problems in my second post.

    A lot of that is really helpful, though I think we may be somewhat missing each other here.

    My point isn’t to say that America is all bad (I live here) or that non-Western peoples are innocent victims, nor that American identity is, in theory, wrong. Rather, I’m expressing confusion about how, given what does constitute us (and what is incidental to our identity), it is possible for us to repent, while remaining us.

    Perhaps a comparison with ancient Israel would be helpful. Israel was constituted by the Temple, by the sacrifices offered to YHVH, by the covenant at Sinai, and by Abraham’s lineage. They were called to be a light to the nations, but that, it seems pertained to their bene esse, to their being the sort of Israel they ought to be, not to their esse. Thus, praying Psalm 106, while psychologically hard, left their identity as Israel intact.

    For Americans, on the other hand, it seems that much of what we need to repent of is constitutive of America, and belongs to our esse as a people, not merely to failure to acheive our bene esse.

    This makes repentance considerably harder (ontologically, not just psychologically) for us than it was for Israel. We are, it seems, like someone for whom repentance may well mean death. (Say, for a Jesuit in Tokugawa’s Japan who, under torture, recanted his faith; or, Gollum repenting on the steps of the steps up from Morgul, a repentance that would have required him to take the Ring, and jump into the fire.) For such a person there have been real joys in his life, real virtues, real kindnesses, etc. But for him to be virtuous, now, he has to cease to hold onto his identity, cease to hold onto his bodily constitution, and face death.

    In his correspondence with Rosenstock-Huessy, Rosenzweig argues that Abraham’s sacrifice was greater than Jesus’, since Abraham sacrificed the child of Promise, and so his whole line, and his transgenerational hopes, whereas Jesus only sacrificed himself–a sacrifice soldiers make all the time. While I don’t think Rosenzweig correctly reads Jesus’ sacrifice, he does draw out an important aspect of Abraham’s sacrifice, and showing that it is more than we often take Jesus’ sacrifice to be, highlights the depths of the sacrifices we are sometimes called to offer. Specifically, sometimes we are called to offer not our natural bodies, but, which is more, our national bodies, forward through time, or back into time.

    My concern is that as Abraham was called to sacrifice his future, Americans may be called to sacrifice our past. Sacrifice it perhaps in hope of receiving it back as Abraham received Isaac, and so the future fulfillment of the Promise, back; though, without the Promise attached to our past, and so though with faith and hope in God’s goodness, without quite the concrete hope Abraham could have.

    (I’m not sure that I like the terminology of “self-transcendence”, since it seems to suggest that our corporate body is not fully us. But the call to “die to self” is a call to consider our national identity–even our Israelite national identity, which is far greater than the American national identity–loss and dung. To die, not merely in our natural body, but in our national body. Though, again, as Origen was to rashly seek out martyrdom, so we would be wrong to rashly seek the death of our people.)

    And that call is necessarily a call to die, and so plays into our personal and even more, our national fear of death, and so opens lots of space for someone like Trump who can promise us that we can be great again without death.

    Turning to your points:

    1) I agree in theory. What concerns me is that if the nation state is the sort of thing that is constituted by past sacrifices, and and those sacrifices cease to be articulated as sacrifices, and so cease to be sacrifices, can the nation state, as nation state, continue to exist? There would be at least a sort of death like for the man with the lizard in The Great Divorce. America, like Orual, would have to “die before she dies.” There might be a resurrection for America on the other side of death–though that is not guaranteed–but in that fear of death (and the fear would be real, and good, since God himself felt it) there is necessarily room for a Trump type candidate to gain a hearing.

    2) But if in that confession they cease to be the sort of thing that is able to constitute us, then they would. As in 1, at the least, this involves a real sense of impending death, and so an opportunity for a Trump like candidate.

    3) You’re correct. For many people America did really feel like a realm of hope, and for many it was. And they are not personally at fault for the sins of America. Many of them even worked to overcome the wrongs of the nation–for instance, missionaries jailed for civil disobedience in resistance to the deportation of Cherokees. But that doesn’t affect national guilt, and may even, in some cases, exacerbate it. For instance, some missionaries, in good faith, told Indians to make treaties of peace with the US government, thinking the treaties would bring peace; only to have the treaties give the US government time to deal with the Indians later, when they were more docile. The missionaries were, in their encouragement of the Indians to make peace, acting something like ambassadors speaking (in ERH’s sense of the term) for the US nation; and though the missionaries meant it in good faith, by breaking the treaty, the US proved that speech perfidious–though the perfidy belongs to the US, since the speech did.

    4) I don’t think we do well to understand “white” to an agglomeration of different groups (groups which are real), but as a specific racial marker, a racial marker that functions as something of a zero sign, in contrast to Americans who were not white. Skin-color isn’t the only signifier present, but it is one; and if there is significance to the tribal tattoo people with different skin color are born with, there is significance to the tribal tattoo I was born with. Again, it may not be the most important signifier in any situation, but it’s still a signifier.

    What I think is objectionable is white liberals who want to wash themselves of the signifier, through rhetorical posturing, without identifying themselves with their parents, and without recognizing that they, and their sort, may be the quintessential white person. Here, as elsewhere, we need to recite 1 Timothy 1:15, recognizing our own guilt, not seeking to free ourselves from blame, and point at them. (And the finger pointing response has something of a pedigree, going back to Genesis 3.)

    5) I think I would want to apply Philippians 2:3 and 1 Timothy 1:15 not only to our persons as natural bodies, but to our persons as national, or “civilizational” bodies. So it may be incumbent on some Arabs to remember their own cultural sins, for them to find ways to, mutatis mutandis, pray Psalm 106, and to not boast of their greatness. But the need is still there for us. But perhaps some of this is addressed by my earlier comments: My claim isn’t that there shouldn’t be a US identity, but that for the US, specifically, the call to repentance may be a call to die. That may be true for Arab identities, though, on the other hand, my guess is that many Arabs feel more like someone who once was…and once was…and once was…but has trouble finding coherence today. (Hence the draw of something like ISIS.) If so, their sort of repentance would be very different from ours.

    6) Hagar lived 4000 years ago, which is rather more time than the 50 since the end of Jim Crow, and 10 since the US invaded Iraq. I think that a more apt comparisons might be Germany and Belgium. A significant part of Germany’s ability to be just today lies in their continued remembrance of sin 70 years ago. Were Auschwitz turned into an apartment complex, there would, rightly, be outcry. And were Germans to, in the name of preserving heritage, to claim that Auschwitz shouldn’t be remembered, there would likely be UN sanctions. And that memory has made many of the real good in 19th c Germany inaccessible as part of the national identity–inaccessible because it was taken up and perverted under National Socialism. Likewise, a part of Belgium’s continued injustice is its continued celebration of Leopold II. Our sins aren’t as great as Germany’s, and likely not as great as Belgium’s, but our justice today is contingent on our right relationship to our past sins.

    Nor would I say that we cannot be just, but that a constituent part of our current justice needs to be repentance and acknowledgement of past sins.

    7) Yes, I agree, at least mostly. Sometimes it may be able to take the form not of X’s family was wronged, but X people was wronged, and the reparations are paid to the community leaders in that community. For instance, reparations could perhaps be paid to the Urban League, or a similar body, in Sandtown, for injustice against the people, even though a number of wronged families have moved out, and a number of different families have moved in.

    • mnpetersen37 says:

      One other quick comment (these are always quick comments that don’t stay quick, but this one really is.):

      You said

      This sort of position that you are presenting can often be an expression of a liberal version of Western exceptionalism, where the white man must bear the burden of the sins of the world, with the rest of the world playing victim.

      My sense is that this is relatively common, but usually the cultures of the rest of the world are very thinly imagined: They are, in the imagination, good rational Kantians, or Robinson Crusoe’s (and thus Englishmen), who because they are free from the normalizing Western world, live autonomously, eating acorns that happen to fall from the tree, at peace with themselves and their neighbors and nature.

      Is that what you find?

      Responding to that sort of “understanding” of the neighbor is when Derrida’s claims about understanding as a form of violence are apropos.

  6. Pingback: Today in Blogworld 02.10.16 - Borrowed Light

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