On not being anti-Trump

Jun 2, 2016 by and

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During the past winter and spring, we have had conversations with Amish and Mennonite neighbors regarding the U.S. presidential candidates. Although our denominational press seems almost unanimous in its condemnation of Donald Trump, on a local level here in Ohio, we find considerable positive interest in Trump’s candidacy.

Although other candidates merit discussion, here we’ll focus on Trump because of the reactions he has evoked and in trying to understand why elements of his candidacy appeal to some Amish and Mennonites. This discussion is not to endorse a candidate but to note issues, owing much to Trump, this election cycle has highlighted. We have even found some approximation of Amish and Mennonite values and expectations of state officials. In other words, we are not anti-Trump.

The importance of work and fair trade

Trump has highlighted the importance of work and jobs, and he has championed the biggest producer of jobs in a market economy, the private sector. In this emphasis on local production, he is as mainstream as the ABC Evening News segments of Made in America with workers loudly cheering at the end. But his greatest insight is that productive work in whatever form — service, technology, education, business, agriculture or manufacturing — is ennobling and honorable. This is a traditional Anabaptist value.

Trump’s jobs rhetoric gives dignity to manufacturing and manual labor. Although this is a smaller segment of the economy than a half-century ago, it is still an active component. Government has a vital role in regulating fair-trade agreements that do not unduly prejudice the American worker.

At the present time, we have made the bargain that it is better to lay off workers in the U.S. in order to purchase cheaper products from other countries. Trump is asking the American people to review whether the current arrangement has the right balance. Perhaps we would be willing to pay more for products made in America. This policy may give more Americans employment and at higher wages. This seems to us a reasonable discussion.

Orderly immigration and borders

The presidential campaign has raised the issue of orderly immigration to relatively safe, free and democratic countries. As Christian charity, all people who wish or are in need should be able to come to North America and the Western European democracies. In the same way, in Christian charity, all people should have access to land and properties.

But the nation-state is not a charity, and control of its national borders as well as its citizens’ property borders has value. We believe immigration is good, and laws should be reformed to make legal arrival more welcoming in the spirit of the Philadelphia Harbor and Ellis Island. These places were the entry of many of our ancestors and neighbors in an earlier era. Today, Trump is proposing southern-border designated-entry points for orderly immigration by building a wall along the Rio Grande.

Although we’re ambivalent about the wall idea, its intent of providing for orderly immigration seems appropriate for a nation that believes in the rule of law. We join the Western European nations in this difficult discussion of refugees from national and tribal tragedies. We would only note that it is hard for Anabaptist and other Christian communities to thrive without laws that provide security, religious freedom, peace and land ownership. Many of us grew up with “line fences” — generally quite helpful.

Modest use of the military in foreign policy

Trump has indicated he believes in negotiating to solve conflicts and doing so out of strength, not weakness. As near as we can tell, Trump proposes limited use of the military and would avoid actions like the recent democracy projects in the Middle East. George W. Bush tried to establish a democracy in Iraq with an invasion and occupation. Barack Obama’s foreign policy has continued a variation of this same project in helping to overthrow authoritarian and corrupt governments in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Ukraine. And Obama has greatly increased the use of drone warfare.

In Trump’s view, these interventionist projects have failed, are bankrupting the economy and often result in increased tribalism, anarchy, violence and refugees. A Trump presidency might be closer to an older bipartisan tradition, which, while maintaining a strong military, was reluctant to enter foreign wars. There are no easy answers, because some would claim the Western democracies might have saved lives in Rwanda and in the Balkans with more military intervention.

Trump has raised an important issue: the need to reduce the role of military intervention in American foreign policy. We could see Trump translate his business dealmaker approach into a more realpolitik (rather than idealistic) foreign policy. It’s a debate worth having on how to achieve a safer and more peaceful world.

The value of hope

Trump is a confessing Presbyterian nurtured on Norman Vincent Peale’s preaching on the power of positive thinking. By itself, this approach to Christian faith is heresy from an Anabaptist perspective. Our tradition has had a strong sense of the tragic — martyrdom being a part of the Christian story.

But as a part — and we emphasize a part — of our history and worldview, optimistic thinking has been a support in Christian and Anabaptist history. If we worked and were faithful, there was hope, and life might be better.

In America, this mix of secular and religious hope has helped people raise families and nurture civic associations — most of all, churches and other faith communities. This hope recognizes the limits of government in creating healthy communities.

This modest hope also recognizes that our true hope is in Christ and the church. Earthly kingdoms are not abiding cities. This hope sustains us, and we’re thankful for fellow congregants, many of whom will disagree with our political analysis, who join us in this Christian hope.

But Trump’s modest hope also recognizes the difference between our expectations of a religious and a government leader. Our ancestors used to talk about half-Anabaptists as neighbors and state authorities who provided some religious freedom and justice for nonresistant Christians. From an Amish-Mennonite spiritual economy, Trump is admittedly less than half-Anabaptist regarding nonresistance, monogamy and humility.

But Trump is not applying for church membership. He’s running to be our lead magistrate. So we’ll work and hope, and in the meantime remain, at least for now, not anti-Trump.

Levi Miller is from Wooster, Ohio, and Daniel Miller is from Walnut Creek, Ohio.


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