© 2016 Robert Osburn
Here in Northeast India, as I watch Indian commentators try to make sense of the “shocking” election of Donald Trump, the question asked by my international student friends is “How did this happen, and what does it mean for nations around the world?”
To make sense of this, let me go back two evenings ago to a vibrant and vigorous dinner conversation with three well-educated evangelical Christian couples here in Imphal (the capital of Manipur state on the border with Myanmar). One Indian wife vigorously supported Trump, largely because she feared Hillary Clinton and her perceived evil personality and agenda, especially the risk of a super-liberal Supreme Court and the steady advance of a hyper pro-abortion and gay rights agenda. At minimum, everyone agreed that what happens in America has enormous implications for the rest of the world.
I expressed my very real ambivalence about Trump (and tried to explain why I did not cast my absentee vote for him or any of the presidential candidates). I noted his policy inconsistency, arrogance, and candid sexual immorality, but I also had to admit that many evangelical friends favored him because of their enormous fear of Hillary Clinton. From what I heard that evening, Hillary inspired fear among some evangelicals in other countries, not just in the USA.
So, the first way to make sense of this election, which arguably represents a political earthquake that almost no one forecast, is that it was a repudiation of the widely-reviled Hillary Clinton (who also stimulated revulsion amongst Democrats).
The second way to make sense of this 2016 presidential election has to do with the American culture war. Trump is absolutely not a culture warrior, but conservative Christians and others who value traditional morality have rejected the aggressive promotion of abortion and, especially, gay rights under President Obama. Along with the shocking fact that Republicans maintained a majority in both the US House of Representative and Senate, Trump’s election is nothing less than a repudiation of Obama’s legacy, especially Obamacare.
The third way to make sense of this political shocker is global: America has always stood for stability and dependability on the world stage. Now, most world leaders and educated citizens of their countries are worried along with their financial markets. If his plan is to double the rate of American economic growth, he will fail if he insists on an aggressive anti-trade policy.
Will he be an anti-immigrant president? Despite his bluster on the campaign trail, his widely-reported use of immigrants on many of his business projects suggests that it is highly unlikely that he will crack down on legal immigrants. What is possible (and desperately needed) under Trump’s presidency is comprehensive immigration legislation that will secure America’s borders while also providing a welcome to those who want to make a solid and positive contribution to America as legal visa holders and immigrants. Most Americans can rally around that commonsense policy.
I close this short blog from the other side of the world (where it is late at night) with two final reflections on implications for the Republican Party and for the Christian movement in the USA. While it must be very difficult for international students to make sense of this election (in part because of Trump’s policy wobbles and bobbles on the campaign trail), for the Republican Party this is a bittersweet moment. Republicans are in complete control of the three decision-making bodies at the federal level (the US presidency, Senate, and the House of Representatives), but the reality is that Trump holds many policy views very much at odds with Republican conservatives. There will no doubt be a deep struggle for the soul of the Republican Party, and a real risk that the Party will be ripped apart by the new Trump populists on the one side and fiscal and social conservatives on the other.
As for the Christian movement in the USA, I re-assert what I have written in two recent blogs: Concerning my first blog, by electing Trump, a near-majority of voting Americans clearly want a strong leader who, though he demonstrated unusual grace in his victory speech, gave no thanks to God for his election. Ironically, Secretary Clinton, widely reviled as evil, in her concession speech quoted a biblical text and wished God’s blessing on the USA while also appealing to her supporters to support President-Elect Trump and to not lost faith in American political institutions. Will the many Christian leaders and advisers who supported Trump be able to temper his arrogance and help him to act less like a playground bully and more like a steady, wise, gracious, and God-honoring leader?
As for my second blog, Christians can expect that some Americans, shell-shocked by a vicious and alarming campaign between two widely disliked candidates, will be eager for conversations about genuine ethical and courageous leadership. Will we be able to articulate three basic truths as we engage them: 1) God is sovereign and rules over the affairs of men and women; 2) Human sinfulness calls for deep realism about limitations of politics’ redemptive capacities; and 3) Jesus Christ is still the Lord whose willingness to “not be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45) is the standard by which all politics must be measured and the hope of every human being who believes in Him? Americans should welcome a populace, including some on the culture and political left, hungry for a better way than our crude politics.
I look forward to returning in the next several days to my home country, the USA. But, even as I celebrate healthy love of country, my eyes are cast upon another hope: the fullness of God’s Kingdom at Jesus’ return. Till then, I will do all I can to support our new president while also cheering the fact that the American political experiment holds together amidst deep division. I am glad that you, as international students, are here to witness this political experiment that was founded 240 years ago. Our Founders all knew that American freedom depends upon virtue, and that virtue depends upon religion.
Our best, and still our greatest, hope is Jesus.