An article in last week’s New York Times carried an all-too-familiar story: An announcement was made in February in a factory in Indianapolis that produces furnace and heating equipment that production is being moved to Mexico, where labour costs are significantly cheaper (about $19 per day, as opposed to the American rate of more than $19 per hour). It is announcements like this that have been seized by Donald Trump in his attacks on free trade as he strives to find ways to rebuild the American economy and, as his slogan proclaims, to make America great again.
Trump has attracted popular support, despite cries of racism and misogyny. Many supporters are ignoring those negative elements aside as they look to him to save jobs and grow the economy. His supporters are fearful and angry—a breeding ground for misogyny and racism. In the global village we live in, with the news of the world at our fingertips, we become distracted, upset and even angry over what is going on in America and around the world. Our fear or anger might arise from reports of job losses or racist statements and violence at Trump rallies. We might feel a sense of powerlessness in the face of terrorism in Lebanon, France, Turkey. It is easy to become fearful and disenchanted and angry, and that anger, as well that a sense of powerlessness, can lead to violence. Violence erupts sometimes against ourselves, against the ones we are closest to, or against those we target as bearing responsibility for the ills of our lives or the ills of the world. An interesting article appeared in the recent edition of the United Church magazine, The Observer, quoting educator and theologian Parker J. Palmer. He notes: “Violence arises when we do not know what else to do with our suffering.”
Former moderator of the United Church Martin Tindal comments that “none of us is immune from suffering. Too often we retaliate in word or action against whomever we see as responsible for our pain. We just don’t seem to know what else to do.”
Certainly, suffering can produce anger and it is not just personal suffering, but also that which comes from systemic injustice and disempowerment. As anger builds without a specific outlet or target, hate speech, racism and even violence emerge. In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, set in the dustbowl of the 1930s, as the tenant farmers of Oklahoma are being bulldozed off the land, one man takes a rifle and threatens the driver of the bulldozer. He is told the driver is just an agent of the bank, with a manager and board of directors who get their orders from New York. Frustrated, angry, the tenant farmer shouts: “But where does it stop? Who can we shoot?” Disempowerment and frustration lead to an anger with no clear outlet.
It is clear that Trump has tapped into this anger. Rather than trying to resolve it, he fans it to a fuller fire. Anger becomes fear, hatred and violence. We have seen the targeting of protesters, of minority groups, and across the U.S. we have seen the violence that has targeted individuals, groups, churches, mosques. It is interesting, and troubling, to note that in a culture fearful of terrorist attacks by fundamentalist Muslims, over five times as many Muslims in North America have been the target of violence than have committed acts of violence over the last two years.
I write this as I look ahead to the Christian Holy Week, a week of observance of the journey of Jesus to the cross, walking the way that has been called the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. The journey of sorrows continues, in the Christian tradition, past the cross to the celebration of new life and new hope at Easter. It is a reminder, to me, that disempowerment, despair and even suffering can lead us forward not to violence – even when we are victimized by it – but to renewal and hope. The way forward is not hatred, but love; not despair, but hope; not death, but life; not violence, but renewal. Certainly I hold this hope at an individual level. I long for this to be a way from anger and towards renewal also at community and national levels, that we work together to support the dignity and rights of all people in overcoming the injustices and ills of the world.