Only Hearts Can Trump Trumpery

by Rabbi Waskow

Diamonds (that is, money) cannot trump Trumpery.  Clubs (that is, coercion  — violent or nonviolent) cannot trump Trumpery. Even spades (hard work and the labor movement) cannot trump Trumpery. Only hearts can trump Trumpery.

(“Trumpery” is a real word, 600 years old in the English language. It means something gaudy but fake.. Go figure!)

That is, only turning our hearts to what is moving and enraging Trump’s supporters can trump Trump and the trumpery he spews into the body politic. I offer a diagnosis first; then a proposal for a path of healing their hearts. 

Many liberals and progressives have accurately defined two of the three profound illnesses afflicting American society and perverting our politics today  — but not the third, for which they — we — are partly responsible.

They/we  have accurately named the economic oppression that has led to worsening inequality and  the collapse  of the white “middle class.”

They/we  have accurately named the economic and quasi-military subjugation of the Black community through disemployment, police brutality, and mass incarceration.

They /we have accurately said that both these oppressions stem from the greed of those who rule America –- the fewer than “1%.”

The third illness, however,  stems in part from the inaction or hostility of many progressives. Many have insisted that “American culture” open itself to the “strangers” who actually have been around for a long time but have been not so visible or not so rambunctious: Hispanic,  Muslim,  Black, feminist, and GLBTQ  communities.

It was laudable to insist these “outsiders” must also be welcomed as insiders, affirming their own cultures and reshaping the broad America.

But in doing this, many progressives ignored or marginalized those cultures  that had for decades or centuries seen themselves as the real America. Many working-class white Christians – especially evangelical Protestants but also mainstream Protestants and Catholics –have seen themselves losing out not only economically but in their own sense of themselves. 

During the last forty years or so , even their death rates have risen, for the first time in US history.

They see themselves as abandoned and forlorn.

When the economic pressures on the white working class are reinforced by this sense of cultural marginalization, the result can be –-  to some extent already has been –-  a burst of rage against  “the stranger” that borders on fascism.

This energy explodes at “the bottom” and is fired up by “the top.” It is inflamed by the arrogant and vulgar persona of Trump the Leader. It is drawn by his platform that combines economic support for “legitimate Americans” –- his rejection of the “free trade” deals that send jobs overseas, his support for Social Security and Medicare, even maybe single-payer health insurance —  with contempt or fury at liberated women, Muslims, Mexican immigrants, LGBTQ people.

And the fear and fury grows every time progressives dance their joy that precisely these “new un-Americans” will outnumber the old insiders.

What to do? It would betray the long stumble of America toward fuller democracy if we were to abandon our insistence on affirming and empowering the “new” cultures. But does that require marginalizing the old ones?

Imagine a Federal program that empowered both “new” and “old” Americans,  both economically and culturally.

Imagine a program that paid for two kinds of projects to be undertaken by any group of 200 households living close to each other in cities or rural areas:  — prhaps in the  boundaries of an elementary-school district.

  • Money to pay for solar collectors to be emplaced by a neighborhood energy coop . The initial Federal grants would cover the initial costs both of the collectors themselves and of the workers who would be trained to install them. Once in place, the collectors would reduce prices for the purchase of electric power, making it much cheaper than coal-based energy. New jobs would help revive the neighborhood. The Federal grant money would also go to a small part-time staff chosen by the neighborhood coop, both for dealing with technical issues of solar-collector upkeep and efficiency, and for staffing regular meetings of the coop.
  • Money to pay for twice-a-year neighborhood festivals where the same neighborhood solar coops would bring together musicians, story-tellers, cooks, crafts-workers, and other exemplars of the neighborhood culture for a week of celebration.

In a New York neighborhood, this might mean bomba music and Puerto Rican food. In rural Tennessee, it might mean country music and a rifle range.

The money would actually go to local cooks, performers, story-tellers, etc., with some money reserved for the neighborhood coop to bring a regional or national hero of the local culture.

Offering this program to neighborhoods all across the country would greatly expand the work of the Folk Arts program within the National Endowment for the Arts.

Such a program – both economic and cultural — could end the marginalization of both the old and new Americas, without giving either of them power over the other. It could feed money to the grass roots and pavement tops of America, in ways that would affirm and build on their myriad differences, encouraging neighborliness as well as a new economy based on sharing rather than domination, based on healing Mother Earth instead of wounding her, burning her.

And it would mean healing the burning hearts of those Americans whose fear and fury, channeled into raging support for Donald Trump, has so startled and frightened much of middle America as well as liberals and progressives.