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Democracy & radicalism

Exorcising America of Trumpism can only be a spiritual task. It takes a cola to fight a cola. Likewise, secularist fulminations cannot cauterise the malignancy of Christian radicalism. Millions of Americans have been deeply and dangerously radicalised. They have to be de-toxified

VALSON THAMPU | New Delhi |

6January 2021 marks the highpoint of irony in the history of American democracy. Puritanism, a stiff, exclusive and zealous version of Christianity, was the foundation of America. It was one of the Pilgrim Fathers who imaged America as a ‘city set on a hill’. Secular democracy developed and came to itself in due course in the US on this foundation. But, over the years, Puritanism gave way to fundamentalist evangelicalism. This radical version of Christianity preserved the zeal of Puritanism, but renounced its intellectual rigour and philosophical gravity.

If Puritanism was obsessed with staying true to the essence ~ as the Puritans understood it ~ of Christianity, Christian evangelicalism assumed a triumphalist angst. If the Puritans imaged America as the second Eden, the garden of freedom and goodness, the evangelicals re-imaged it as a Christian Empire, the foremost manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. This precipitated the need to turn America into a theocratic state. Hence the headon collision between Trump-ism and democracy.

What happened on the 6 January 2021 was not a freak event, but a necessary outcome of what has been carefully and conspiratorially crafted over half a century. Religious zeal, masquerading itself as political grievance, powered the domestic terrorists, who rampaged the temple of American democracy.

To see this in perspective, consider the following. In the Congressional debate on impeaching Trump a second time, the Democrats spoke as aggrieved in sponsoring the resolution. But the Republicans ~ read, Trumpians ~ preached the ideals and values they murdered only a weak back. They pleaded for unity, reconciliation and bi-partisan partnership in healing the wounded nation. But none of them said a word about who dealt the moral blow or overran the Capitol.

They conceded that what happened was regrettable but said not a word about Trump lauding the vandals for the murderous mayhem they perpetrated. The connection between the verbal vehemence of the Trumpians and the bloodthirstiness of the white supremacists was the crux of the matter; but it was glossed over.

Christian evangelicalism, like every other form of religious radicalism, is a regressive and escapist phenomenon. Escapism denotes the inability to relate to reality. Human under-development, the inability to think rationally and factually, is a pre-condition for being radicalised. Given this, creating an esoteric version of reality, and the psychological compulsion to calumny whatever is different from one’s own version, becomes a compulsive necessity. The political strength and the democratic peril of this state is that it packs a lot of energy in a small mental space. It has a need to explode.

This need is met in two ways. First, through projecting a strenuous and exciting mission. The riskier it is, the more it stimulates and excites. Trump played to this clientele shrewdly. The medley of irrationalities ~ prescribing detergents as antidotes for Covid- 19 being a memorable example of it ~ and pre-modern stances, spiced with verbal vehemence and egocentric grandstanding, were all meant to feed this radicalised evangelical psyche. This makes a political leader also a religious icon. Predictably, it has had a powerful effect. Those who did not understand it, ridiculed Trumpisms. This never bothered Trump; for he knew what he was doing, and why.

The second part of this strategy is the orchestration of grandiose sectarian grievances. Fundamentalist preachers ~ among them several Indians too ~ were let loose to brainwash the religiously credulous Americans to believe that Trump is part of God’s ‘special’ plan for the US. Such videos are still available on YouTube. The sinister intent of this propaganda was to pit the will of God against the will of the people.

The peril that Trumpism poses to America is that it caricatures democratic processes and institutions as enemies of God. The triumph of the opposite candidate is the defeat of God. But for this canard, millions of Americans would not have swallowed the lie that victory was stolen from Trump. It’s no use laughing at it. What could help is recognizing the logic of this bigotry and religious ambience in which it becomes a deadly epidemic.

‘Claiming’ a country for God is the grandest agenda of religious radicalism. The colonial canard of the ‘white man’s burden’ is relevant here. The mission to subjugate other races and peoples becomes a legitimate ‘mission’. In this formulation, religion becomes the fig-leaf for covering the nakedness of colonial greed. The Jews invoked God to legitimise their territorial aggressions and ambitions. The Israelites conquered and exterminated other tribes because God asked them to do so. This eradicates the last trace of scruples in perpetrating unthinkable inhumanities. As Voltaire said, no man is a more cheerful killer than the one who thinks he spills blood for the sake of his God.

Sensible Americans need to take cognizance of this; for violence could mark the days ahead. Trumpism will not go away any time soon. It is a disease; and it needs to be treated. As part of the required therapy, a national debate on the interface between religion and democracy needs to be initiated. The modern state emerged by emancipating itself from its subjection to religion. Morphing democracy into theocracy is dangerously irrational. When this agenda is afoot, it could seem a heady adventure, in which it is a privilege for one to participate. But it is like cancer. Its malignancy manifests only too late. The worrisome thing is not merely that the Capitol was seized and vandalised. Not even that certain elements among the law-enforcing agencies were complicit in this perfidy. The point of worry is that the Democrats, in their Trump-fixation, seem to be blind to the big picture. Trump is nothing, but for Trumpism. Trumpism is the politico-religious malignancy metamorphosed right through the country. America needs to be vaccinated against it. Even Covid- 19 is a second priority, in the long-run. This will not be done by impeaching Trump, which I believe is a mistake. It is not Trump, but Trumpism that needs to be impeached. That, however, is a task that far exceeds the reach of the Senate.

Exorcising America of Trumpism can only be a spiritual task. It takes a cola to fight a cola. Likewise, secularist fulminations cannot cauterise the malignancy of Christian radicalism. Millions of Americans have been deeply and dangerously radicalised. They have to be de-toxified. The complexity and volatility of the situation calls for non-stereotypical resources and responses. America needs a Gandhi, who bamboozled the British with his unpredictability, which was the insignia of his spiritual freedom and creativity. America looks woefully incapable of producing a Gandhi; no, not even a Martin Luther King Jr.

Embarrassingly, the only message exported from the land of Gandhi to the land of Lincoln is a slogan, ‘Agli bar Trump Sarkar!’ It blended well with the maniacal obsession of the Christian fundamentalists in that country. The good thing about slogans is that they are not diamonds. They are not forever. They can be changed like yesterday’s attire. While Americans wrestle with Trumpism, let us spin a timelier slogan. Thank God, we are past masters at it.