Digesting the American Presidential Election

Trump's election is an opportunity for the international body of believers to show a new way forward for the American church

On the day after the election, my husband sat with two immigration volunteers going over our Irish citizenship application. The timing was ironic and I can assure you it had more to do with scheduling conflicts than an intentional act of protest. But nevertheless, that’s where he found himself on the day Billionaire-Businessman-Populist Donald Trump became American-President-Elect Donald Trump.

I’ve thought a lot about the essay I wanted to write here today. I have some notes written and scratched out, potential thoughts on things like earthly or heavenly citizenship, on nationalism and freedom of religion, on the church in America and the church in Ireland, on our people back home and our people here.

But I will admit now that what I thought I would write about last Wednesday is not what I will write about today. What I thought happened last week is not what I realise is happening now (and has been happening for quite some time). And while I pound through the five stages of grief at an epic pace, I understand that my choices – and the choices my friends and family have made – are more complex than they appear.

Not that it helps all that much.

 ***

Tim is an older Irish gentleman who, along with his wife, cares for his grandson while his daughter teaches in the middle-east to earn enough experience so she can return home as a teacher. He chats with my husband in the mornings as they deposit their boys at the school gate, and we mingle in the afternoons at that same collection point.  

Friday happens to be the first day post-election that I collect my children from school (praise be for a Grecian distraction for the better part of last week), and I talk myself through it. Head down, Karen, I say. Just go about your business.

Because I know what’s coming. It’s the same conversation we’ve had for the better part of two years, and this is its denouement

Tim spots me and sidesteps his way towards me, “Aw, Karen, how’s that about your countrymen?”

“Aw, hiya Tim,” I sigh. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

We chat about this for awhile, and he wonders what will happen to the 50,000 or so undocumented Irish living and working in America. I tell him I don’t believe the Irish have anything to worry about, that they’re not the right demographic to be on Trump’s radar.

I hear the same fears on the news, concerns of mass deportation affecting the Irish, the worry over multinationals leaving Ireland and relocating back to the States, not to mention the confusion over whether Enda Kenny would still receive that coveted invitation to the White House for St Patrick’s Day (good news; he did).

“We have enjoyed a special relationship with the US,” reflect Morning Ireland’s reporters. “Is that in danger now?”

I’m asking a different question. Why should the undocumented Irish (presumably white) receive preferential treatment over the undocumented people of colour?

What is a "special relationship," exactly?

***

It’s important for you to know that many American Christians voted for Trump not out of support, but out of desperation. When I read the stats, that 81% of white self-identifying Evangelicals cast their ballots for Trump, my heart sank to depths I’d long forgotten. That’s a stunning statistic, no matter which way you spin it. When I questioned the resonance of that fact, many of my American friends quickly and graciously helped me put it into context.

This was not a vote for him, they said. It was a vote against their current realities: monthly health insurance costs far exceeding their house payments, delayed or unpaid veterans' benefits, the ever-reaching arm of government extending into churches and Christian ministries and threatening financial or legal risks, jobs disappearing or given away to cheaper, foreign labour.  

These were very real felt needs of middle-America, so we call it (that’s where I come from, too). Being here in Ireland, I didn’t see those needs in front of me enough to know they existed, to realise they were significant enough to annihilate the status quo and put such a man in charge of the country.

And also really, really hating the alternative. 

We all agreed on the importance of truly listening to one another, to pushing past the chaos, the memes and the prejudices, and understanding why this election was so hard, and why God-fearing people felt forced to make a very difficult and very unpopular choice.

The only thing absent from these discussions? The distinct moral quandary an amoral presidency presents to American believers, especially the ones that put him there.

*** 

I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been afraid to go beyond my front door in the last few days. The news is still filled with American fallout and protests and the very real fears faced by ethnic and religious minorities, women and the disabled. They’ve been put in the crosshairs of the President-elect — whether we want to admit it or not — by people of faith and colour like me.

So when the doorbell rings at 9:00 on a Saturday night, and standing in my doorway is the beautiful Syrian mother of my daughter’s classmate, I am beyond delighted. She’s having a birthday party, and our girl is invited. She apologizes for the short notice, but I don’t care about that at all.

She came, I think. She didn’t have my number, so she came right to the door, to me, to us. She knew we were American and she didn’t care. Our daughters are friends, we live just a couple hundred yards apart, we share a community and a country.

The news is not her reality, and it’s not mine either.

***

Ireland, I’d like to ask you to pray for America. To pray for the Americans who live here with you now, and for the church in America who will struggle mightily working her way through this. The international body of believers can lead well when our brothers and sisters in the US are struggling to balance spiritual needs with the practical ones, the Kingdom of Heaven with our human kingdoms here on earth.

I’d also like to say: don’t worry about your invitation to the American table across the sea. You are welcome to mine just next door. Together we can be a safe harbor for the broken, the sad, the marginalised, the alien. No man or political power can keep us from doing that.

And if they do, shame on us.

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Karen Huber

Originally from Kansas City, Karen is a freelance writer and expat mom now living in Dublin, Ireland. Together with her husband and three children, they work in community development, the local church and creative arts.