We are now in the midst of a rapidly changing world. One where the stroke of a pen in the morning can cause mass hysteria and protests by the afternoon—and it’s not going away any time soon. Even if Emperor Trump gets impeached or his administration implodes, something has broken and things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better. There is no going back to 2016 or 2015, for better or worse. This, to me, goes beyond whatever your opinion is of the Affordable Care Act, birth control, even immigration, or terrorism. Because while I like to think of myself as fairly level-headed person, not given into hysteria or drama, the time to stay vigilant is now. What is happening in our world goes beyond the political feuds of the Democrats and Republicans or Liberal vs. Conservatives, or Civil Rights versus Security—though that is currently the main framework of our discussion. Our social, ecclesial, and political structures are all transforming into something well, something I’m not sure anyone can see.
For the last month I have, like many of us, been trying to wrap my head around the current state of the world and the rapid pace of change we must now accompany ourselves too. Some days I’ve been so depressed about the state of the world I can’t leave the house unless it’s for work or emergencies. So, instead I’ve been reading and posting articles like one of those people I used to hate—whether it’s long form, short form, or everything in between (I even picked up Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts which is about the rise of Hitler in pre-World War II 1933 Germany). It seems I can’t help but click and read because I am trying to understand the vastly dizzying world ahead of us. A future which, at best—is going to be very chaotic; and at worst, full of unseen horrors. I’ve been doing my best to spread that reading across several different platforms and social media outlets, yet it’s also become apparent to me, that this itself is no easy task—as news and social media outlets are becoming ever more polarized. The Refugee/Muslim Ban was either a cause for mass alarm and ethical outrage (if you read the mainstream news or went to the airports and saw the protests). Or, if you listened to only conservative media outlets—the whole thing was overblown and misconstrued. OR, a complete red herring designed to whip people into frenzy and distraction with even more malevolent intent hiding in the shadows. So, not only is the world changing, it’s changing such that our perception of what is actually happening/changing cannot be agreed upon, especially with an administration that seems to have no room for actual “facts,” and is already testing the waters of authoritarian power and state propaganda.
What is our common means of communication when we disagree on the very mediums and outlets of communication themselves?
Some, like Stephen Bannon, use this confusion to their own gain. As both Vanity Fair and Time have reported, it seems Bannon has emerged the true architect of the legislation this weekend and the rise of Trumpism. Bannon even called Trump, a “blunt instrument.” (Vanity Fair). While Trump worries about his popularity and the size of his inauguration, we find Bannon in the dark, as the true mastermind. And Bannon is genuinely scarier because Bannon reads and understands warfare, Lenin, Trotsky, and history in general, and therefore, knows how to manipulate it. As David Keiser wrote in his Op-Ed in Time Magazine, Bannon’s political theory or philosophy (amongst white nationalist ties and the alt-right) revolves around two historians, Neil Howe and William Straus, who postulated in their books that every 80 years in America was marked by a significant crisis:
“Bannon focused on the key aspect of their theory, the idea that every 80 years American history has been marked by a crisis, or “fourth turning,” that destroyed an old order and created a new one: The great crises identified by Strauss and Howe included the era of the American Revolution and the Constitution (1774-1794); the Civil War and its immediate aftermath (1860-68); and the Depression and the Second World War (1929-45). Doing the math, they predicted another great crisis sometime in the first 15 years of the 21st century.
Now, combine this with the theory and research of Christian author and lecturer, Phyllis Tickle, who in 2008 published her book “The Great Emergence,” which proposes the idea that every 500 years the Christian Church goes through a massive “rubbage sale” and experiences a profound transformation in orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Tickle traces the shifts back from the Great Reformation in the 16th century, to the Great Schism of the 11th century, to the time of Gregory the Great in 500 AD, all the way back to Christ.
The movement Tickle was at least somewhat a part of was called the “Emergent Church” and included thinkers, pastors, and writers who saw a great transformation of culture and the Church happening and tried to put words to what was happening. After all, if Tickle was onto something (which I think she was), it has been 500 years since Christianity’s last “yard sale.” I think, personally, however, the folks of the Emergent Church were too early. They saw something occurring that I think we’re just now getting to. A massive split within the Church that will deal primarily with hermeneutics, epistemology, Biblical literalism, and the fall out (or alignment of) Right Wing Evangelicalism with the United States Government.
So if we were to combine both the theories of Howe, Strauss, and Tickle, it means we are ripe or one might even say, overdue, for massive political, social, and theological upheaval. Bannon saw this and was one of the only people in the “media” who was not surprised by Trump’s election (filmmaker Michael Moore was another). Bannon also knew what strings to pull, and that is perhaps why he is now the person with the second most amount of power in the United States (after planting himself on Trump’s National Security Council over the weekend).
As to what shape exactly the next “schism” or war or economic turmoil is ahead, I have no idea.
Perhaps Christianity becomes the religion of the State (and therefore dies in it’s authenticity as it did in the time of Constantine). Perhaps it’s World War III or a new reign of fascism, autocracy, or kleptocracy. Perhaps it’s a return to the religious wars of Islam vs. Christianity of the Dark Ages. Large-scale terrorist attacks or cyber warfare. The options are so many, and with the onslaught of of dystopian and apocalyptic literature and films so prevalent for the last decade—perhaps it’s something we’ve all secretly or subconsciously been hoping for.
Peace and order are boring, after all. Chaos, uncertainty, and war have a way of making life’s purpose come into crystal clear focus, even if that focus is merely survival. It’s cynical to say, but perhaps humanity can never live at peace. Maybe we have to have a major crisis every 80 years.
With the rise of Globalization though, it means this next conflict will affect every person on the planet (and in some ways all this is a major backlash to globalization, which no one Right or Left wants to admit and was one of the few prophetic similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders).
But one thing is for sure, the vulnerable will be the first to suffer. They always are.
So, we must steel ourselves for an unprecedented, tough, and challenging time in human history.
Both Bannon and Moore have seen glimpses of a United States that is rapidly changing/has changed. Bannon himself could be—theorized by one Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson—actively working towards creating “shock events,” purposefully designed to throw society into chaos or probe the waters of the societal/government authority to respond to such events. Perhaps the sooner we abandon our concept of returning to the old republic, the better.
But it’s not all bad, as Eliot A. Cohen notes in his article “A Clarifying Moment of American History” in The Atlantic. Virtually no one is apathetic with regards to politics these days. The term, “politics” was, at times in our history, synonymous with the words “dull” and “boring.” But there is nothing dull or boring happening right now. People are mobilizing in airports and courthouses. Democracy, as of now, is still strong. The Judicial Branch still has the power to check the Executive Branch (even if judges are losing their jobs). And as Richardson says, “But because shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.”
We don’t all need to lapse into mass hysteria and outrage, as in some ways that plays directly into the hands of those who wish for such things, but we do need to focus and stay vigilant.
So, how will we reorganize? What compelling story can we tell to rival the current on? One that includes justice and equality, but also labor and the unacknowledged, if inevitable, threats of globalization?
People are awake. People are angry. Americans, like us or hate us, will not go quietly into the night, Liberal or Conservative.
At least, that’s these are all the things I tell myself to try and sleep at night.