The popularity of Donald Trump in the Republican primary race is unprecedented in American politics. He’s never had to operate as a leader in a checks-and-balances system, he has presented no specifics regarding major issues, he ridicules people, he cusses without apology, he has changing opinions on social issues, he regularly looks angry, and he openly admits to buying influence in Washington. He may not even be much of a “Republican.” Yet he is leading every poll, some of them by a large margin.
Donald Trump is reflecting the anger of a large swath of the American people by becoming the voice of angry conservatives. He unapologetically says what politicians should never say in order to get elected and his angry followers are eating it up.
It seems to me that one difference between Democratic and Republican candidates has been that Democratic candidates typically idealize issues in inspiring ways, yet without many specifics (“we’re going to raise the minimum wage” without details of how that might affect the economy or the eligibility of welfare recipients). Republican candidates typically offer detailed plans, but without the inspiration needed to woo voters.
Trump has turned that on its head: He offers no details, only ideals, yet many conservatives are connecting with him. It seems his conservative followers are done with specifics and want someone who will take action - even if that action is fueled by idealistic anger - and even if he’s not very conservative.
For the past six years, conservatives in America have seen themselves as having been ostracized, marginalized, abused by the government, and encouraged to keep their opinions to themselves. In the midst of that, and with the first African-American President in our nation’s history, they’ve still seen angry protests by some in African-American communities who demand justice against white domination.
In the history of the United States, it’s optimism - not anger or negativity - that has fueled us. In the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt made us believe we could overcome. Walt Disney gave us an imagination for a promising future. John F. Kennedy gave us vision. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought us together in peace. Ronald Reagan gave us confidence. George W. Bush, standing on the ruins of 911, gave us hope that we could return to greatness after tragedy.
We’re in a sad moment in our nation’s history. Anger, like fire, grows large and hot initially, but it takes a lot of energy to keep going. It eventually turns into embers, which don’t provide a lot of light, but keep heat for a long time. Selfish anger simmers because something is negatively affecting us. Anger becomes righteous when our focus is on someone else’s unjust treatment.
As a Christian, my hope is in Jesus Christ. It’s not in a political movement, or leader, or in a nation’s presence in the world. I watch angry protests and angry political candidates on TV and my heart breaks for us as a nation. Even in my own United Methodist Church, factions are so divided that agape is absent. We’ve allowed the angry culture to infiltrate the Church. Instead of reflecting Christ to the world, we’ve allowed society’s anger to be reflected in us.
This cultural anger in America stems from frustration. The frustration comes from disappointment in our leaders. We’re disappointed in our elected leaders because we put our trust in them to enact the change we wanted to see, and then don’t see it. Our trust has not been in God.
That’s why I see this anger in America as theological in nature. When we trust in God the Father through the saving grace of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, there’s no room for anger anymore, for it’s replaced with hope. God replaces cynicism in our lives with peace, and God gives us a joy that is beyond any elation the world has to offer.
Our angry nation (including angry Christians) is a mirror into our collective hearts. Do we dare take a look?
(c) 2015 Michael C. Voigts