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Monuments Of The Past Vs. Movements To The Future: My 2024 Vote

Like many Americans, I watched the June 27th Presidential debate in horror. It was difficult to watch the repeated lies of Donald Trump and the general impotence of Joe Biden. It struck me that these two men are the last vestiges of a declining commitment in American politics that privileges white men. Or at least this is my hope. Both Trump and Biden represent the society that was built by people who look like me, for the benefit of people who look like me. Of course, one candidate is preferable over the other because of his commitments to the pursuit of a more equal and just nation. Yet it can be hard to differentiate between the two based on certain similarities. Chiefly, these are old white men, monuments to an increasingly irrelevant time when power coalesced exclusively around their demographic.

What are we commemorating?

As historian Lynn Hunt observes:

“Monuments commemorate: that is, they recall the past and solicit veneration for it. As a consequence, …they inevitably incorporate a kind of religious feeling. Yet monuments are always made for political purposes; they assert power, …Because of this association with power, changes of religious affiliation or political regime often entail monument destruction as well as monument creation.”

This Presidential election cycle reveals an effort by many Americans to hang on to the monuments of the past, but at what cost? Considering the changing demographics on the cultural landscape, it is evident to me that we are all experiencing the tensions of managing these changes. Changes requiring the dismantling of the systems of privilege. The institutions that have always given preference to those who look like me must be willing to drastically change if they are going to survive. American Christianity isn’t immune from these necessary changes. It has a long association with complicity endorsing the status quo instead of tearing it down.

Are we moving in the right direction?

The fusion of conservative politics and American evangelicalism has created an impediment to the gospel of Jesus, which stands in stark contrast to the mechanisms of power now being asserted in his name. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament reveals a Jesus who relentlessly challenged the systemic powers of control favoring those his society ostracized. Those who were marginalized because they didn’t wield the kind of influence reserved for the rich and connected were the very ones Jesus embraced. Compare this disposition of Christ in favor of the poor and outcast, to the demeanor of Trump and his followers who insist on asserting power.

Recent legislation in Louisiana mandating posting the Ten Commandments in public schools reveals the hypocrisy of fundamentalistic Christianity. This fundamentalism wields the levers of political power, and is willing to spend tax dollars in support of displays of Old Testament laws, yet refuses tax dollars spent in the pursuit of New Testament Beatitudes. The mandated teaching of the Bible in Oklahoma schools is counter to anything practiced in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples served society in love; they did not mandate any kind of allegiance nor wield political power. In fact, when Jesus was challenged to assert himself as a king, he refused to do so. When Peter wielded an actual sword in the defense of Jesus, he was admonished by our Lord to “Put away your sword.” Yet, so many Christians in modern America insist on continuing to weaponize their faith. They discount the one command that Jesus gave us to simply “Love one another.” It is far easier, it seems, to post commandments than it is to live them.

Principles matter

On the other side of the aisle, Joe Biden continues his increasingly fragile grasp on the Democratic nomination for president. Imagine how different the conversations around this race might have been if Biden had faced real challengers during the primary. Or perhaps even stepped aside in favor of a new generation of leadership. Instead, this is the dismal choice we now face in November. Men committed to monuments embracing the past at the expense of movements that will shape the future.

And even though I still intend to cast my vote for Joe Biden in November, his lackluster performance in the debate does give me pause. I don’t think I’m alone. But certainly, I can’t fathom ever casting a vote for Trump based upon his repeated lies, obfuscation, and multiple betrayals of the American people in service of himself.

I hold out hope, that despite Biden’s challenges, he remains the only political opponent who has ever defeated Donald Trump. Whether he can do it again remains to be seen. And if he does, what then?

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

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