No matter how alarmed some people may have been about the prospect of Donald Trump being elected President of the United States, the reality of his ascending to the office has only heightened their level of concern. His campaign rhetoric, and now his early days in power, signing a flurry of executive orders, indicate that the way forward is to turn inward and try and return to “the good old days” when America was “great.” It is clear from the suspicion cast toward non-Caucasian, non-Christian people that the America of the past, the America that was more culturally monochromatic and Christian is a preferable model to pursue than what the country has been evolving into over the past several decades.
This response to change is not untypical. It happens everywhere when people find themselves in a time of intense transition. Whether it be a business, a church or a whole country there is a natural tendency in some to resist change by reaching back and trying to reclaim things from the past as the answer to the way forward. In churches that are seeking to adapt their ministries to changing cultural circumstances they bump into opposition who accuse leaders of “watering down the gospel” and abandoning the things that have meant so much to people in their faith development over the past many years. These people insist that this kind of change is weakening the church and the “way forward” is to go back to the things that made the church great in the first place so many years ago. This, at least in part, is the sentiment behind the surprising success of Trump’s campaign. He embodies the promise of returning to a former time. Thus the campaign slogan “make America great again.” Clearly, for Trump and his supporters part of this return involves taking the country back to a day when immigration came from certain parts of the world, when America was not so dependant on being a global partner and ideas of rights and freedoms were not as broad. These, to some, were better days, guided by superior ideas than the ones that have guided the country recently. Similar responses are present in Germany, Britain and other parts of Europe, where people are rejecting more recent cultural constructions for former ways of doing things.
Certainly the nuances of these policies are complex and worthy of debate. However, Donald Trump’s becoming President does lay open the reality of Post-Christendom. Some people will inevitably say that the way to respond is to reclaim those things that helped make America (and the West) Christian. We should reach back and seek to restore what once was. Others of us will see the evolution of Western culture as overall progress. Certainly there is a need for continual critique and cultivation that necessarily includes the Christian voice, but in a way that is able to relinquish the past and seek new ways of building the kingdom in a new context.
Whatever else the new President is, he is also a symbol of a Post-Christian society. Those who support him, at least some, know that the world has changed but see his leadership as a shining hope of reclaiming what has been lost and going into the future by going back to the past. In times of change, this is not a surprising response, in fact it is to be expected.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*