WHAT MAKES A NATION GREAT?
"Righteousness exalts a nation."
"Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
So Donald Trump has been elected the next President of the United States against all the odds according to the pollsters. Commentators have had a field day analyzing the results and what Trump's presidency will mean for the US and the rest of the world. And while we have always known that the US is a divided country; we now know for sure. It is split right down the middle. The United States is no more United than Great Britain is Great.
If these elections have done nothing else they have brought the demons that plague American culture, and not only American, to the surface. In order to get votes, Trump had to capitalize on the dark side of American social life: racism, bigotry, xenophobia, hatred and fear, and he did so with an arrogance that had his supporters roaring with equally arrogant approval. He claimed he wanted to make America great again, but what America, and at what cost? He might now promise to unite Americans, but having conducted his campaign in the way he did, how is America going to deal with the consequences? He has encouraged the worst in America, and laid bare his own prejudices, his unsavoury values, and some dubious preferences, none of them pretty. Can leopards change their spots, asks Jeremiah,, if so then those who do evil can do good.(13:23) Let's hope and pray so. But this is a big "IF."
It is true and praiseworthy that Obama and Clinton have promised to work together with Trump for the good of America, and we must support them in that. But nothing can brush under the carpet the divisive forces that have surfaced or the harm done to the nation's soul by the bile and venom let loose in feeding the gun-toting craziness of some and the fears of most. But instead of looking on smugly, this should awaken all of us in South Africa to some soul-searching. We, too have to exorcise the demons of racism and bigotry, hatred and fear, that lurk beneath the surface of our society before they get out of hand again. If we are serious about reconciliation, we cannot brush them under the carpet. I need not remind you, that we, too, have to counter racist rhetoric, hate speech, and violent sloganeering.
There is, however, another perspective that we need to take into account in reflecting on the US election. While Trump's campaign was deplorable, Hilary Clinton's record in terms of global power-politics and support for war, and her cozy relationship with the banking elite on Wall Street, is also suspect. Some argue that her policies are more dangerous on the global stage than Trumps access to the dangerous red button. Clinton may have been a more sophisticated and experienced president, but both candidates put America's interests first at the expense of others when it comes to global politics. This may be natural for all nations, but it often leads an imperial America answerable only to its own electorate to make decisions that are detrimental to global interests, for example on the environment, fair-trade, and in the Middle East. American foreign policy sometimes employs bullying tactics that mirror those of Trump. The truth is, the US is not simply divided down the middle between Republicans and Democrats, supporters of Trump or those of Clinton, it is also divided by values that cross these lines, the values of some deeply concerned Christians and others who found it difficult to support either candidate.
It all has to do with what makes a nation great. Is it its size, the power of its military, its victories in battle, the religiosity of its citizens, its sporting prowess and success at the Olympic Games, the glitz and glamour of political rallies, its ability to dominate global trade to its own advantage, its gold reserves and the dollar in which it trusts? This question bothered the wise sages of ancient Israel because the Israel continually tried to emulate her neighbours instead of obeying God's Law. Their answer was categorical . "Righteousness exalts a nation," they declared. Or as Jesus put it: "seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness. To become great you have to do the right thing. A great nation is one in which justice flourishes, and does justice in relation to other nations. And the justice that those ancient sages spoke of, was that which served the interests of the poor and vulenrable. (See Proverbs 14:31) The prophet Micah made it plain: "The Lord requires of you to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
If we are serious about reconciliation, we too have to become a nation that pursues justice. We also have to nurture leaders who can set us an example and take us forward. We can no longer bask in the glory of a past generation of great leaders, we have to produce the next generation so that when it comes to choosing presidents we have worthy candidates from which to choose. This is the challenge facing all of us at this moment in our history, and we can only respond to it if we are all committed to doing what is right, good and just.
Let me end with some words of our American Volmoed friend, Mark Braverman, written to Isobel this morning after, words of encouragement to us as we try to play our part in responding to this challenge:
It is a hard morning to awaken today. I am comforted by the fact that I am in a community of hundreds of millions here in the U.S. who feel as I do. And am receiving emails this morning from around the world from friends who are horrified, for me, and for themselves as well because of course this is a global event. We continue. The world is a beautiful place, Life is strong. We are strong. Life shines through with its persistent, stubborn beauty, its generosity of love and joy and healing.... South Africa continues to be a source of learning and inspiration for me. I had just written to John last night, as our results were coming in, about a possible visit soon to your valley. Where else to go, but to the valley of heaven on earth, when it feels like we have just stepped into hell?
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 10 November 2016