Candidate Trump’s Appeal

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“We are living in a season of anger that is already exceeding danger levels.” I wrote and preached those words in March of 2010 in a sermon titled, “Appealing to What in People?” At that time, I had heard of Donald Trump but would not have considered taking him seriously as a public figure, except as a con man and low level celebrity.

That was six Palm Sundays ago; this is now, Palm Sunday 2016. Here are the first two paragraphs of the sermon I preached that day in 2010.

We are living in a season of anger that is already exceeding danger levels. Decades ago, we spoke of anger as though it were a liquid that could be “bottled up” inside us. We thought we needed to express our anger to “get it out” of our systems so it would not blow up, boil over inside us, or poison our temperaments. Since those days, we have learned that the more people practice anger, the angrier they become. We can actually train ourselves to become easily enraged, which, of course, can have quite detrimental effects upon our blood pressure, our work, our sleep, and our personal relationships as well.

Angry people do not think straight, as one man recently confessed, he says, to his shame and fear. He is the younger man in the now infamous video of two men in Columbus, Ohio bullying an older man with Parkinson’s disease, and he now admits he was completely out of control and says he will never go to a political rally again. For him, that decision might be wise, but neither politics nor religion necessarily fuels rage. Playing to anger, stirring it up in crowds, is a choice by politicians or religious leaders that deliberately targets enemies and keeps demonizing them so that the enraged followers no longer feel the need to treat those others so demonized as fellow human beings.

Notice how frequently Mr. Trump uses the word disgusting to describe people.

Already back then, we could see the phenomenon now being exploited by the candidate Donald Trump: crowd rage arising from fear, resentment, shame, and fostered disgust (at the presence of vulnerable groups labeled disgusting). Notice how frequently Mr. Trump uses the word disgusting to describe people. Disgust dehumanizes its objects, the tactic used by the Nazis to make Jews appear subhuman to a humiliated and enraged German populace and the tactic used by the Romans to dehumanize perceived rebels such as Jesus of Nazareth. Once people have been perceived as disgusting, violence against them seems justified and may even be glorified.

Many have been asking what makes candidate Trump appealing to people? I am reversing that question. To what in people is Trump making his appeal? Con artists play upon people’s impulses. Some can be conned by appealing to their greed, others by appealing to their compassion.

The question of my sermon, addressed mainly to the Christian church, concerned what we appeal to in people to move them. Fear? Guilt? Pride? Greed? Selfishness? Desire for thrills? The need to be entertained? The wish for self-justification? To what human impulses do we make our presentations or distortions of the gospel appeal? What impulses do we arouse and encourage in people?

Do they bring out the best in us or the worst?

Now we need to ask that same question of candidates for the presidency and other politicians trying to appeal to us. To which of our feelings and impulses are they appealing? Do they bring out the best in us or the worst?

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