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I wish our public discourse would reflect the complexity of life more fully.
How to react to the first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency? In many European countries, with satire and laughter.
It started when a Dutch comedian prosed to amend Trump’s motto “America First” with “and can we say: the Netherlands second?” The Dutch video exalts their awesome country, which defeated the total losers of Spain and built an ocean to separate the Netherlands from Mexico so large you can see it from the moon.
As the satire went viral, a Danish TV channel followed-up with their own suggestion to have “Denmark second.”
Then came Switzerland, which exalted in a similar video their yuge mountains, which are much greater than flat, flat Denmark.
These satires represent more than late night laughs. As each video has gone viral, they reflect a continent’s effort to reassert itself in the age of Trump. They strive to embody national identities through a continental improv of resistance, even as European cultures are described in Trumpian language of greatness, hugeness and awesomeness.
Look over here, Mr. Trump – these videos seem to say. There’s still Europe. Even if it aspires to be second. Even it is a more Trumpian Europe.
The ubiquity of Trump in conversations, headlines and late night shows reflects European puzzlement about the largeness and uniqueness of his persona. It also embodies also a broader, earlier phenomenon, described by a Politico article as “the politicization of everything”. In today’s interconnected, media-saturated world, we have a tendency to read every event through the lens of politics. The categories we use, the sentiments that are aroused, and the lines of division between groups of people, are those of political discourse.
Sociologist James Hunter has described this phenomenon as the “conflation of the public with the political.” When public interaction becomes political discourse, “the realm of politics [becomes], in our imagination, the dominant – and for some the only adequate – expression of our collective life.”
This process reduces people to their political inclinations. It categorizes them not by what they believe, who they love, or what they do for work, but primarily by who they vote for. There’s “the black vote,” “the Catholic block,” “the Evangelical constituents”. The population becomes the electorate; people, citizens; faiths, voting blocks. The infinite complexity of human beings is reduced to their choice of candidate in a given election. The United States, in the global imaginary, becomes primarily Trump.
As so do other aspects of life, including our faith. As an Evangelical observer, I share the concern other European leaders have expressed about the way our faith gets associated with, then defined by, different countries’ political ideologies. And now that 80% of white Evangelicals have voted for Trump in the US, and now that his rhetoric as president includes animosity toward Muslims and an aura of Christian defender, I fear that our faith will, in the eyes of many, be associated with, and discredited by, Trump’s limitations, mistakes, and prejudices in the coming years.
In today’s competitive journalism, it is hard to resist the revenue potential of hyperbolic, dramatic stories. And news gets hardly more enticing than when it is about Trump.
But, for our sanity’s sake, I say: not everything is politics. There’s more to the world than Trump – however important it may be to understand the impact of his policies. People are more than their party affiliation. Their loves, beliefs, and causes move their hearts more than their vote does.
I wish our public discourse would reflect the complexity of life more fully. I wish our headlines would cover Trump less and more the actions of citizens seeking the common good in ways unrelated to politics.
I wonder whether this wish will ever come true.
But at least we can have some yuge laughs in the meantime.