The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Facing the Trump Years
President-elect Donald Trump. Those are very difficult words for me to write.
Dismay (at the very least) is prevalent within my circle of friends, in the editorials and Facebook comments that I see, and in the crowds of people taking to the streets to protest this election. And yet -- barring an unlikely uprising within the electoral college -- Mr. Trump has been elected, with over 60 million US citizens voting for him.
Just a week ago (when almost everyone expected a very different outcome), I wrote, "as people committed to justice and peace within a democratic society, may we be outspoken and clear in demanding respect for this year's election results."
I will stand with my admonition. The election was generally fair (despite voter suppression and the interference of the FBI in news releases). Our laws count the electoral vote, not the popular vote. I don't like it, but come January 20, Mr. Trump will be the US president. And he enters into that role with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.
That is the political situation that we are called to acknowledge. That is the context in which we will live and act in the coming years.
Through Eco-Justice Notes, and in other ways, Eco-Justice Ministries will seek to provide guidance and encouragement about what it means to "be the church" in such a time. We will continue to provide an eco-justice framing for the critical issues of the day. We will explore the nature of relevant ministry and witness, and we will share resources for worship and for activism. We are in for a very challenging future. I hope Eco-Justice Ministries can be effective and helpful in providing reflective leadership and hopeful support for the long haul.
There is so much to be said --and you'll be glad to know that I won't try to say it all today. For right now, as we begin to make sense of this new situation, I want to touch on two broad aspects of how we must begin to plan for the future.
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From the perspective of my beliefs and values (which are no secret to the regular readers of these Notes), the expected style and policies of Mr. Trump's administration will be disastrous.
In recent years, from an eco-justice perspective, many of Mr. Obama's policies seemed like steps in the right direction, even as they also seemed too small and too slow. Now, though, the direction will be reversed, and Mr. Trump plans to move quickly and strongly. Immigration, health care and energy policies are at the top of his list.
On the issue that is most important to Notes readers, climate change, I am horrified. Scientific American reports, "Trump Picks Top Climate Skeptic to Lead EPA Transition: Choosing Myron Ebell means Trump plans to drastically reshape climate policies." Trump has already promised to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He has indicated that he will increase production of all fossil fuels, and that he will approve the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. Obama's "Clean Power Plan" to reduce emission from electrical generation will be scrapped.
I will not say, "The Republicans won, so now it their turn to set the policies." Yes, they won -- and those of us who disagree will fight in every way possible to block, delay or diminish these climate-destroying actions. In the emerging political context for 2017, we'll have to shift our strategies, and be more creative in making our case.
For example, our long fight against the Keystone pipeline was effective because approving or denying the construction permit ultimately was the President's decision. A year ago -- after four hard years of activism -- Obama denied the permit. Now, a different President can approve it. So an emerging strategy is to stop construction of that pipeline through other means, such as blocking construction permits in each state that it would cross, or legal challenges to eminent domain for pipeline right of ways.
There will be cases where we can, and must, work cooperatively with the new administration and with Congress. I think of Wednesday's carefully phrased words of congratulation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position. On the basis of these values I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation." (The language of diplomacy can say so much in what is implied, but not said!)
Where we can find some common ground on goals and outcomes -- on anything that will encourage renewable energy, for example -- we will cooperate. Where the values diverge, and the goals are incompatible, though, we will resist, challenge, and oppose.
An opinion piece in the Washington Post shortly before the election was titled, "Republicans are now vowing Total War. And the consequences could be immense." As we have seen in cases like the Senate's refusal to even consider Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, we're facing a brutal and absolutist style of politics. We must be prepared to take on those opponents, without adopting the worst of their strategies.
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In the coming months and years, we must be willing to call out political and community leaders who violate norms of civility and respect, and who propose unconscionable policies. But we must not paint with too broad a brush, or be uncivil in our own style.
I cringed on Wednesday when I saw an email from the group Faithful America which featured this sentence: "The sad reality is that tens of millions of our fellow Christians have flocked to a false messiah preaching a gospel of hatred and scapegoating."
It is simply not legitimate to so thoroughly demonize all those who voted for Trump -- or to see ourselves as the righteous defenders of God's truth. It isn't that clear-cut or simple. A UCC conference minister wrote on Wednesday, "In every congregation in our conference, voters from both presidential candidate's camps will sit next to one another on Sunday." Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons offered faithful words of instruction to both camps.
Not only is some degree of respect a moral necessity, writing off anyone and everyone who doesn't agree with us is a losing strategy. Among the countless Facebook posts about the election that I skimmed this week was one that said, "with few exceptions I don't 'unfriend' the Trump supporters in my life, either online or offline." He continued:
I think of my grassroots organizer heroes throughout history who have met people where they're at, with all their problems and complexity, realizing that transformation happens through relational processes, and realizing that they always had something to learn from the interaction too. That to me is a big part of what political organizing has to mean. Organizing is not a call to action for the already radicalized usual suspects. Organizing entails starting with what already is and engaging with people as they areónot trying to build something pure from scratch. It is not a matter of creating a liberated space that perfectly reflects one's own vision. Organizing is a mess, not a refuge.
In our work to express and embody eco-justice principles, we must find a delicate balance. We need to be clear, compelling and compassionate in expressing our values and our goals; we need to expand the circles of folk who find our cause enticing and credible. And we need to renounce principles, policies and behaviors -- personal and institutional -- which are unacceptable. Except in the most egregious cases, though, we will do well to avoid personal attacks and character defamation.
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Most of you, the readers of Eco-Justice Notes, share in my distress at the election results. We are entering frightening, challenging, and very important times.
Let us hold to the prayer that is the final verse of Julian Rush's great hymn, In the Midst of New Dimensions. "Should the threat of dire predictions cause us to withdraw in pain, may [God's] blazing phoenix spirit resurrect the church again."
Be of faith and courage, my friends. Together, by God's grace, we will continue in our work for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
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