“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that mountains would quake at your presence,” said the prophet Isaiah to the God of all, “so that nations might tremble at your presence!” Hearing these words read out in church last weekend, on the first Sunday of Advent, it was hard not to think of the Hamas terrorist and hostage-taker, the implacable Israeli commander, and the Russian war criminal. The nations still grieve the heart of the Prince of Peace with acts of deadly violence. So we add our voices to the prophet’s every day. We pray for peace until we’re too exhausted to pray anymore.
But the killing won’t stop until killers want to. As this century neared, it appeared they might, with the end of the Cold War, peace in Northern Ireland, and Israeli and Palestinian leaders shaking hands at the White House. Meanwhile, living in post-World War II America was pretty easy for most people, besides our struggles for racial, identification, and orientation equity and some socio-economic injustices, especially toward immigrant workers and people without college degrees. It was easy to imagine that things would keep getting better so we could devote more attention to perfecting our union and saving the planet. That work must of course continue. The U.S. will have to be as good and strong as it can for the challenges ahead. Because the killers are having a renaissance. Things are getting a lot worse.
In the Land of the Holy One, at least 15,000 are dead. Its people and politics are being transformed unimaginably. A regional war could still erupt. When the guns are finally silent, it will cost hundred of billions to rebuild Gaza and the West Bank. And that’s just money. The killers want blood. If Putin wins in Ukraine and continues trying to reassemble the lost Soviet empire, we and our European allies will experience a nightmare generation in which nuclear war would be a distinct possibility. U.S. military planners are now forced to war-game on three fronts, assuming China plans to test us further by attacking Taiwan.
The strategic and moral challenges ahead demand the best we have. Instead, the worst slouches toward the White House to be reanimated — ignorant, incompetent, and indecent, brazenly promising to abuse his power by destroying his enemies, the civil service, and our freedoms. Trump’s coup in 2020-2021 proves that he would try to stay for life. But we might not even have that long. Experts agree that Putin wants Trump in power again, as he did in 2016, because he knows Trump would abandon Kyiv, setting the stage for Putin’s next blitzkrieg against his neighbors. More Russian aggression would vastly increase the chance of NATO’s involvement and a nuclear exchange. This is just one of the ways Trump could bring about the end of all things.
“He can’t be that bad,” if that’s what someone’s thinking, is an eight-year-old novelty song we need to stop streaming. Just listen to those who really know. Lynne Cheney voted for him in 2020 and now says he’s an historic threat to democracy. Attorney General Bill Barr helped him bury the Mueller report, which detailed Putin’s 2016 electoral support and Trump’s likely obstruction of justice. Barr has also seen the light. He says Trump knew he lost in 2020 and tried to keep power illegally. John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general who was his chief of staff, sat with him daily. When asked about Trump in power again, Kelly says, “God help us.”
That’s our line, we who serve and love the church. And we need a new liturgy of lament, a new witness in the name of our God in Christ about the danger Trump poses to the prophet’s divinely inspired vision of freedom, peace, and justice for all. But we are not fully awake to the danger. We must arise and trim our lamps, because the thief of all our hopes is at the door.
Most people I know, especially in the church, are not equipped for the dystopian hellscape our country would become in Trump 2.0. He has already vowed to punish Cheney, Barr, Kelly, and scores of others, many of them Republicans. So no one would be safe. He will soon start keeping track of all his critics, significant or not, if he hasn’t already. No one was safe from Hitler and Stalin and their police and informants. Trump would do as they did, plus he’ll have access to social media algorithms.
I don’t have any idea what I would do if the Trump cabal sent some local band of goons for my family and me. I’ve never lived in a society where I had to think about it. But it’s not new to the United States. Those of African descent living in the Jim Crow south did. Most people in the world have, for most of history. This is a reality that most Americans fail to grasp. If human history is ten miles long, then decent democratic society has been running for about half a block. The United States is a tiny detour. Trump has come to put humanity back on its accustomed brutish course.
So we need a new liturgy, and a more urgent Christian witness. Some new talking points. When people say we’re being political by criticizing Trump, we need to say that politics is Democrats vs. Republicans. This is life or death. I don’t begrudge partisans their preferences in a two-party system. But there is little or no chance that those voting for Trump to obtain typical policy outcomes will actually get them. He will plunge the country into such chaos that financial and civic institutions will founder and eventually fail. Your IRA or pension, the value of your stocks and home, Social Security — all gone. Your favorite cable station banned — Fox and MSNBC, since they each have offended the wicked wizard. Our future — bleak, cold, and dark. Liberty is the oxygen of our system of political and economic liberalism. Trump will wrap a garrote around her throat and squeeze until she’s dead.
So when we stand up against Trump to defend the last best hope of humans on earth, our precious American experiment, which Trump has already befouled with the filth of despotism, we’re not being political. Political is too small a word for what we should feel. We should feel the weight of responsibility for the 73 million people in our country who are under the age of 18, Kathy’s and my two granddaughters among them, who deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness instead of a cruel plunge into economic depression and national oblivion. If brave judges can’t keep the insurrectionist off the ballot, we’ll have to work, advocate, preach, resist, and vote on our children’s behalf, like their lives depend on it. But wait. That’s just a simile. Their lives actually do.