Power, Authoritarians, and Trump

Power, Authoritarians, and Trump

By Sheri D. Kling

Super Tuesday” has come and gone, and “appalled” is one of the words that comes immediately to mind now that Donald Trump is the leading GOP candidate. Other words that sit like lead in my stomach are “terrified,” “horrified,” “racist,” and “demagogue.” Paraphrasing David Byrne we may ask ourselves, how did we get here?

Economist Robert Reich has written extensively about the anger and frustration that has fueled both Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ campaigns (such as in this blog), pointing primarily to economic conditions as the cause.

Meanwhile, Matthew MacWilliams’ research reveals a “widely overlooked” trend that shows that what seems to drive support for Trump is a witches’ brew of a tendency toward an authoritarian worldview and a high personal fear of terrorism. Authoritarians share such characteristics as “a fear of ‘the other’ as well as a readiness to follow and obey strong leaders. They tend to see the world in black-and-white terms. They are by definition attitudinally inflexible and rigid.”

I would venture a hypothesis that those who tend toward authoritarianism see the “Great Chain of Being” as foundational to their understanding of the nature of power; in this strict hierarchy, God is at the top, and authority and power decrease then at subsequent levels through angels and demons to human rulers, then to human commoners, to animals, etc. For authoritarians, power is a zero sum game and might makes right, so a strong ruler must be at the helm and armed to the teeth so as to stay that way.

In Trump’s world there is no such thing as shared power. There is no such thing as equality. There is no such thing as real relatedness. There is only the power held by the “alpha” male and those who attach themselves to him to receive his largesse.

But there is an alternative. It is one that was described decades ago by Alfred North Whitehead who stressed that God shares power with the world, and that God indeed acts in the world, but in a persuasive way, not a coercive way. His philosophy resonates with scientific knowledge in asserting that the strongest systems in the biological world are web-like matrices or ecosystems, and all organisms are intimately interconnected. In Process and Reality, Whitehead tells us that the “Galilean origin of Christianity” shows us a God who is not a “ruling Caesar,” not a “ruthless moralist,” nor an “unmoved mover,” but instead reflects an image of God that “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love…Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved…” (PR, 343)

God is no demagogue. God’s power is not authoritarian. If it were, the symbol of a god-man hanging and dying on a cross would be meaningless for Christians.

God has given humans freedom and creative power. Above all, God seeks relationship based in friendship and love. If we want a relational world where power is shared, then we must claim – and share – our power and take the action necessary to ensure that such a world becomes our reality.

1 comment

Add yours
  1. Howard Pepper

    Sheri, I may have known of this blog before (at least enough to bookmark it!) but must have forgotten! Good to see it up and this is a good post! I hope to come back and follow the links when I have some time later. (We met briefly after your presentation at “Seizing an Alternative” last year.) I’m intending to get re-connected with your work and others and “pitch in” as I can. … Actually BEEN doing that a little, but too much out on my own island. See you! Howard Pepper.

+ Leave a Comment