Last week when Trump said he wanted the country “open by Easter,” a Fox News anchor referred to it as the “great American resurrection.”
The reference to the Easter tradition, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, is an obvious attempt to signal to Trump’s evangelical base that this president really is a person of faith, a leader who makes promises of a biblical proportion, just in case they’d started to question that.
You might say it was a smart, necessary move on the part of team Trump. After Christianity Today’s editorial called for Trump’s removal just three months ago, the promise of an American resurrection tells evangelical audiences they can trust again in a leader whose past and current promises have been confusing, corrupt, chaotic, and very often anti-Christian.
Evangelical pastors often portray Trump as a flawed, Davidic character–that is, a broken leader tempted by “fleshly desires” who at the end of the day does the right thing. So long as Trump’s flaws are key to his perfection, the president can do no wrong. And the call for an American resurrection helps reinforce that King David archetype of the beloved broken leader.
There’s one problem though. Everyone seems to have forgotten how the resurrection works: death comes first.
Sure, you might say, the idea here is that by the time Easter arrives, the worst will be behind us. But if it’s not, being resurrected for the purpose of dying in greater numbers sure seems, well, backwards.
That’s even more unnerving when the most devout in this country live in places where rural hospitals have all but disappeared or where governors are ignoring the advice of scientists to their own demise.
I suppose, in time, there may indeed be a “resurrection” of some kind, if you take to believe in or hope for some afterlife. But in talking about the here, the now, what’s right in front of us, we’re staring down an exponential loss of life, not a rising up of it, not a resurrection.
And as people begin dying en masse, let’s be clear about who and what they’re dying for, before it gets any worse. In a world where we were asked as a society during the Reagan administration to ease the “burden” of taxes on the wealthy and where we were later asked to collect the crumbs the rich would surely trickle down to us if we just gave them more money, we are now being asked to die, literally, so the rich can maintain their wealth.
This was underscored when the stimulus package the president just signed included a tax cut for the wealthiest 1%. You are being asked to die so Jared Kushner and Donald Trump can get a real estate tax break.
I mean, let that sink in for a moment.
Let it sink in what you and your family are being asked to do so “American” corporations–many of whom don’t even pay taxes–are able to continue profiting off our backs as well as our deaths.
Maybe the saddest part is seeing how many of our fellow citizens welcome this policy of death, even celebrate it, without ever realizing what’s actually going on. Watching Trump’s poll numbers tick up this week makes abundantly clear people don’t quite comprehend they’re being asked to die for his pocketbook. Worse, there’s too many of us who know everything this administration does is wrong yet feel so disempowered or feel, so strongly, the need to remain congenial with one another, that we choose something between apathy and brow-furrowing rather than ever allowing our real, justified anger to rise to the surface.
Often, those who did allow their anger to rise to the surface over false threats of yesteryear (i.e. recall the anger over “death panels”) are many of the same rural “Christians” who love that they’re currently being spoon-fed lies by those in power. Lies, after all, are one way to calm fears for a populace that is not equipped to process more frightening realities. So, this gun-obsessed, Jesus-loving, superficial country that can’t stop talking about ending tyranny and always protecting its freedoms would simultaneously, willfully lay down and die because the state convinced them that’s the patriotic thing to do.
Nevermind that it’s a form of slavery when you’re told to sacrifice yourself for someone else’s profit, patriotic or not.
And for all these “Christians,” what they’re being told to do couldn’t be more contrary to the early Christian movement. When Paul references picking up your cross to follow Jesus, he doesn’t mean sacrificing yourself for Caesar, for the business of the state. The sacrifices that come with Christianity are intended to be deeply personal sacrifices made out of love, of friendship, of duty to serving the most vulnerable of society–of real human connection. The sacrifices Christians are asked to make for the sake of one class group maintaining its control and power over others is precisely how Christians were made into martyrs in the first century as they refused to do the bidding of the state.
It’s an interesting dichotomy: laying down your life to benefit those who hate you, out of your own ignorance versus laying down your life out of a shear refusal to cooperate with those who hate you. Either way, the state is, in fact, guilty of tyranny and murder of its own people.
I think that’s exactly why it’s so important to qualify just how far the lies of the state have gone. There is the argument that if the state’s economy fails, things will be far worse for people than dying of coronavirus. Repeating the mantra, to paraphrase, that we “must not let the cure be worse than the disease,” Trump has insisted that suicides would go through the roof if the economy fails as a result of quarantines and social distancing. It should come as no surprise that this is a blatant lie. According to a 2009 study published by scholars at Princeton University, “Population health did not decline and indeed generally improved during the 4 years of the Great Depression, 1930–1933, with mortality decreasing for almost all ages, and life expectancy increasing by several years in males, females, whites, and nonwhites.” Viruses kill en masse; a broken economy for the elite is something we can and have survived.
All of this boils down to the reality that authoritarian rulers rely on constant fear to maintain their power and control. That’s all this is, and people who are deeply devout–often raised by authoritarian parenting and often turning to an authoritarian God–are the first to look to a leader who will say whatever, whenever, even to their own detriment and death.
But the characteristics of the sacred in ancient Christian contexts are not that of an all-powerful, authoritarian God who rules with lies and fear. The Christian story when it’s viewed through the lens of its first century milieu is a tale of a vulnerable God–born in a barn, forced to flee as a refugee into a different country when his life is threatened, son of an absent father ridiculed throughout his life for being a bastard, and mocked, flogged, beaten, and executed by the anti-Jewish state, by those in power. In the story, his resurrection comes in spite of their attempts to kill him off, his power a reminder that his vulnerability–even the vulnerability of his ultimate death–could not end his movement.
That’s just not an American resurrection. Resurrections in America aren’t for the vulnerable; they’re for the wealthy. Resurrections in America aren’t for the refugee; they’re for the white, Anglo-saxon, abled and straight male. Resurrections in America happen only for the elite and because of death, not in spite of it.
These lies, and many more, demand we find our voice, resurrect our righteous anger, and if we’re to die at the hands of the state, we do so because we made them kill us, not because we capitulated to their demands.