By Harlan Garbell
A key principle of humanism is rejection of the belief that a supernatural force or being is responsible for what happens on Earth (or anywhere in the universe for that matter). When it comes to politics, however, I’m not so sure anymore. Let me explain.
Humanists would generally agree there is no such thing as the devil. However, if there is anything we have learned during the last election cycle, it’s that politics in America is no longer just about which major political candidate espouses the better policies. No, the larger issue is which of them is the “devil.” That is, the unfavored candidate is no longer a human being advancing a certain program but an “evil spirit…having power to inflict bodily disease and with spiritual corruption.”
OK, time for me to confess. This is the way I look at Donald Trump. Want more proof for my position? Another definition of “devil” is “an atrociously wicked, cruel, or ill-tempered person.” As a lawyer would say, “I rest my case.”
I can spend hours of your time arguing that Trump, along with Vice President Pence, meet that definition by showing how their policies would “afflict bodily disease” on millions of people through their misguided and mean-spirited health and environmental initiatives. I can spend more time arguing that a “devilish” conspiracy of right-wing billionaire networks is corrupting the American political system by systematically denying people the elemental right to vote.
In the opposite camp, Trump supporters have been conditioned over many years to view both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as devils incarnate. Media outlets such as Fox News, the Drudge Report, and Breitbart rarely miss a day to report on how these Democrats have undermined middle-American (read “Christian”) values by supporting immigrants, atheists, homosexuals, and other assorted miscreants.
This is no accident. Because Trump was such a demonstrably flawed Republican candidate, it was imperative to portray Clinton and Obama as a criminal (“Crooked Hillary”) or a secret Muslim. Even though neither currently holds any public office, millions of people are still bombarded daily with stories about their alleged misdeeds.
At its core, religious fundamentalism involves the daily battle of good versus evil. Whether humanists understand it or not, religion creates powerful emotions that drive people’s behavior. To this day, believers of many faiths will even inflict physical harm on themselves to demonstrate the power of their faith. For example, Christians crawl (or walk on their knees) to shrines, or Muslims self-flagellate during religious festivals. Of course, we enlightened, progressive, humanists would never do that—would we?
I, and many of my humanist friends, are going through significant (perhaps self-inflicted) anguish regarding the current occupant of the White House. We often feel powerful emotions as his daily “evil” unfolds daily before our eyes. Many of us watch MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow every night in hopes that the power of her clever arguments will expose Trump completely and forever as the devil that he is so he can be excised from the body politic. In short, politics may be providing me emotionally with a fundamental religious experience even though I fancy myself a sophisticated urban dweller who sometimes scoffs at the profound need for religion in the billions of believers around the planet.
So, what is the lesson here? Clearly I need to do a better job in understanding my emotions as we navigate these turbulent times. Yes, these are trying circumstances but so were the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the war in Iraq. History will no doubt move on pursuant to the medieval adage “this too shall pass.” Keeping things in perspective is vital. I also need to better exercise my critical thinking skills to ascertain the facts of any current political issue and not just lazily agree to the arguments put forth by my favorite liberal online or TV “priests.”
Thanks, readers, for allowing me to work through these feelings by writing this column. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to watch Bill Moyers on PBS and I just heard Hillary will be on Rachel’s show later. But wait! Isn’t Bernie debating that sinister looking Texas senator on CNN at nine?
Harlan Garbell is vice president of Humanists of Minnesota.