Mistaking Things for Their Opposites

This piece appeared in the newspapers shortly before Christmas in 2018


In a previous column, I described how mystified I am about how a lot of patriotic conservatives could support a President who is manifestly damaging — and quite likely betraying — the nation they love.

Whatever the means by which such a transformation is accomplished, one identifiable result is that it induces people to systematically mistake things for their opposites.

That case – of conservatives believing themselves to be acting as good American patriots as they give their enthusiastic support to a President who is quite probably in cahoots with the United States’ main adversary in the world – being but one example.

Nor, I wrote, does their perception of themselves as patriots seem to be troubled by the fact that, whether treachery ends up proved or not, the President they are supporting has shown himself downright creative in multiplying the ways he’s acting like a wrecking ball on the fundamental pillars of goodness in the American system.

So these patriots are supporting a President who has

  • widened what was already a dangerously excessive gap between the richest and the rest
  • divided groups of Americans against each other
  • damaged the system of American health care
  • left the American environment increasingly defenseless before the forces of greed
  • debased our political discourse
  • attacked freedom of the press
  • assaulted the rule of law
  • diminished the standing of the United States in the world.

Somehow, many are persuaded by the MAGA hat despite all the evidence that Trump almost unerringly finds ways to tear down American greatness.

But it is not just in seeing such a President as a champion for their patriotism that we can see Trump supporters’ mistaking things for their opposites.

We can see it also when people who are good Christians in their church communities give their support to a leader who represents the very opposite of the spirit that Jesus presented in his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Yet these Christians in the Republican base support a leader who continually picks fights, who turns every issue into “Us against Them” — never “Love Thy Neighbor” or “Do unto others…”

Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful,” which leaves us to wonder what enables a Christian to support a leader who would rip young children away from their parents – people seeking asylum as American law allows — and who inflicts these cruel wounds on families explicitly for the purpose of deterring other people from coming here to seek asylum.

I can’t stop marveling how the Republican politicians and the right-wing media have succeeded in transforming these followers of a Savior whose message was one of love into people who, in their politics, are drawn to a leader who works to inflame their hatreds: how they have boarded a political vehicle that’s fueled by hatred of the media, of Democrats, of immigrants, of Muslims, of people who are not white.

Trump-supporting Christians frequently declare that Trump is himself a “Christian,” despite Trump revealing himself at every point to be just the opposite, probably less “Christian” in spirit than any President ever.

At the most fundamental level, this day-is-night misperception by the patriots and the Christians are particular manifestations of one central underlying error: that the people on the right have been led to mistake the evil for the good.

And this indeed is one of the chief ways that evil works in the world. To gain the power to make the world worse, evil deceives good people into seeing the evil as the good.

It is this moral and spiritual error that has made the Republican base so problematic for America in these times. Many good people serve as the source of power for a political party that

  • systematically lies
  • caters to billionaires hungry for me (i.e. serves the spirit of greed)
  • makes the relationship between the parties one of political war,
  • makes false accusations for political advantage
  • exploits racial prejudice and hostility,
  • unleashes the profit-seeking corporate world upon the natural environment without adequate safeguards,
  • demonizes their opponents,
  • routinely violates good traditions (like how to deal with the debt ceiling, and the tradition that respects the right of the President to do his constitutional job to name the person to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, with an unprecedented act of theft of a Supreme Court seat)
  • strips American citizens of their right to vote (because they’re likely to vote for the “wrong” party)
  • serves the fossil fuel industry in its pursuit of short-term profit, even at the cost of our children’s and grandchildren’s future in a world where the earth’s climate has been destabilized
  • presents no vision for a better America.

That sure doesn’t look like “the Good” to me.

Deceived into mistaking the evil for the good, thus consistently mistaking things for their opposite, people can unwittingly serve the force of brokenness.

I’ve been watching it happen for a quarter century. And of all the broken places in our world right now, this is the one that most powerfully draws my attention, and the one that most hurts my heart.

It is also the piece in the picture that most makes me afraid for our future.

It is frightening that people – even people in a free society, with the truth available to any who seek it – can be led so far astray.

It is disturbing what it shows about both the power of evil and the reliability of the human material with which we must build a more whole world, lest we send this civilization into a grim and painful kind of disorder.

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