I hate to say it, but Donald Trump has probably earned his “ism.” Of course, this is not to defend the message, but to merely acknowledge its potency, But like Joseph McCarthy, Juan Peron, Joseph Stalin, or (less benightedly, Mahatma Gandhi or Charles Darwin) Donald Trump has come to embody a mood, a movement, or a political stance. Although Time magazine chose Angela Merkel, a sort of anti-Trump, as the person of the year, there’s no doubt that the most important person of the year, certainly in the United States, has been Donald Trump, as depressing as that thought is.
What is Trumpism? It can be defined as a hysterical fear of immigrants and migrants as security threats, a xenophobia that looks at all foreigners as potentially subversive. It is not a new fear—it can be seen as a part of a far older “ism” in American history, nativism, but Trump has restored it to a central place in American politics, where it has been before, in the 1790s, 1850s, the 1920s, and as a subterranean current running through much of American history. And you only get your own “ism” if your cause is much bigger and broader than yourself. Donald Trump as a political candidate, probably will not be the next president of the United States, G-d willing. But however the Republican candidates sort themselves out in the coming months, Trumpism is with us to stay.
Trumpism is older than Trump’s presidential bid, and is not confined to one political party or one political ideology. And Trumpism has been infecting the body politic for some time now. And all too often, liberals have offered their own version of Trumpism, in which they balance the need for compassion with the need for “toughness” to demonstrate that they too care about the migrant problem. Which is why President Obama has deported about half a million persons since becoming president, and is planning another round of expulsions early in the new year. In this light I urge you to read Ayala’s recent post “What Happened to the Children’s Christmas Gifts” and respond generously to her plea for support.
As for Christmas gifts, let’s remember that the most famous Syrian refugees of all time, if one allows for the shifting boundaries of the old Roman province of Syria, were Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who were exiles to Egypt. And as we read in Matthew 2: 22, they did not return to Bethlehem because they were afraid of Herod’s successor, and exiled themselves again, this time to the Galilee. Before he was a young man, Jesus had been twice exiled. And the original Christmas gift givers, the magi, in Matthew 2:1, were Zoroastrian priests, who traveled from now is Iraq or Iran to see Jesus, crossing international borders, angering Herod, and putting themselves in danger. One of the points of the story of Christmas is one of the futility of borders and the need for us to cross borders to provide compassion to the needy. In our own ways, we all need to fight the growing influence of Trumpism, in our political culture, and inevitably, within ourselves as well.