Saturday, January 21, 2017


We have a new, and very different, political regime in America; and, it is fitting to ask how the new administration might affect the Episcopal Church schism in South Carolina. What might the Trump presidency mean for the schism?

First let's ask a couple of questions for background.

How did we get here?

Donald Trump was elected president basically by the angry white working class man. Trump, the veteran TV performer, was ingenious at knowing how to tap in expertly to his fear, anger, frustration, resentment, prejudice. Trump brilliantly stoked his feelings against women, African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, and Asians.

In Trump's election, I was most disappointed and puzzled by his overwhelming support from self-described "Evangelical Christians." 80% of them voted for Trump. According to letters to the editor, many conservative Christians believed Trump was God's agent and the election was divine intervention. Really? Look at Trump's personal life. He has been married three times. He has been publicly accused of sexual assault by at least twelve women. He is on record of boasting about sexual assault against women. It has been demonstrated that 70% of what he said in the campaign was untrue. He attacked, smeared, and ridiculed all of his opponents not to mention whole swaths of society. At the same time, his opponent was a model Christian with an impeccable moral record. I understand that Evangelicals want to overturn Roe v. Wade and think that Trump will appoint Supreme Court justices who will do that, but this is problematical. It is far from certain that Scalia-like justices will reverse Roe. This decision has been the law of the land for nearly half a century and has been upheld repeatedly by federal courts. Another Scalia will not guarantee the repeal of Roe. Throwing away one's moral principles on the outside hope of a Supreme Court justice is indefensible.

Much of the emotion of Trump's voters came from basic economic changes that were beyond anyone's control, particularly the shift from a manufacturing to a service/technology based economy. Good paying factory jobs are disappearing. Low paying service sector jobs are rising. Recently a major car maker opened a new plant near my home offering 2,000 assembly-line jobs starting at $18/hour. 75,000 people applied. The line stretched for miles. This has been repeated numerous times all around the country. Unfortunately, there is really very little that Trump, or anyone else, can do to change this new reality. The white working-class man has a legitimate economic fear. 

There is another factor at work too that I think people have overlooked. For the last quarter of a century American has been dividing ever more into separate and hostile social elements. Our old unity is dissolving into disunity. The dysfunction of our federal government is a manifestation of this. Throughout the Twentieth Century, until 1990, the U.S. faced a common threat that more or less forced the various elements of society to unite: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. By 1990, the Cold War was over and there were no more unifying external threats. Soon "terrorism" emerged but it was too divided a force, too amorphous. Even after 9-11 "terrorism" did not do the job of uniting the country. In other words, the U.S. defeated all its great enemies, became unrivaled and supreme in the world, and then became a victim of its own success. With no more external threat to unify the people, the old internal divisions, long smoothed over by external threats, erupted into major conflicts. People turned against each other. In the U.S. government, conservative Republicans declared war on the Clinton presidency. Clinton was impeached but was eventually spared. The Election of 2000 added to the stresses. President George W. Bush's inept handing of the aftermath of 9-11 greatly magnified the divisions. He gave two unnecessary and very expensive wars and, by borrowing the money for them, gave the worst economic recession since the 1930's. On the face of it, the election of the first African American president in 2008, and reelection in 2012 brought people together, but this was not really the case. There was an explosion of racially-driven reaction against Obama so that he lost his majority in Congress in 2010 and thereafter. That is where Donald Trump came into the political picture. He became the champion of the racist "birther" movement claiming that Obama was an illegitimate president. He rode this starting place to electoral victory in 2016. His win was racist-driven revenge against Obama. Hence, American social divisions are worse now than they have been at least since the 1960s. In short, America is falling apart internally because we have no external challenge to unify us. In a way, we Americans are victims of our own success.

I have been thinking lately of historical parallels to America's situation of today. The closest I can come up with is the late Roman Republic. Rome had a republican government from 509 to 27 B.C.E. This was a complicated set of assemblies and magistrates based on old social divisions. Perhaps it should be described as quasi-democracy. The system worked relatively well as long as Rome was defeating its enemies. Her last great rival, Carthage, was crushed in 146 leaving Rome the undisputed master of the Mediterranean world. The overall effect of these wars was to make the Roman rich much richer and the poor poorer. In Rome, internal tensions exploded as social groups clashed in a long series of conflicts among Roman social classes after 146. To oversimplify, in the long run the propertied classes seized control and turned the old republican government into a dictatorship and then an empire under an emperor ("law and order"). The Roman Republic fell not because Rome was declining, but the exact opposite, because of its success. I think this is similar to America's story of today.

Where Are We Now?

There are presently two power bases in Washington, the president and the congressional leadership. 

Trump was/is a demagogue. He very cleverly played to his audience to get their votes. He has no core political principles. In his past, he has been on various sides of various issues. For much of the time he favored a woman's right to abortion. The great constant that does drive Trump is overriding ego. This "trumps" all. He has the maturity of a third grade bully on the playground. A person such as this can be easily manipulated, as we are seeing with Putin. What is important to Trump is not political or social policy but his self-concept. This is why he Tweets endlessly. He will not let one slight pass without a response. What this will mean now, is that the Republican leaders in Congress can manipulate him by appealing to his ego to get what they want.

The other center of power is the old conservative Republican leadership in Congress. They have a definite agenda and have already started enacting it. They controlled the very first day of Trump's presidency: --raised FHA mortgage payments by average of $500/yr, --had the justice department abandon a civil rights case in Texas, --empowered officials to counteract Obamacare. Trump went right along with all of these with hardly a glance. This says to me that the real power will rest on Capitol Hill. We are in for a major reversal of a great number of progressive reforms. In short, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer, just as in late republican Rome. Only time will tell whether the American constitutional system, unlike Rome, can survive the present strains of social conflicts.

What Might This Mean for the Schism in South Carolina?

The next step will be to see the decision of the SC Supreme Court. It was appear eventually. If the Episcopal Church side loses, it is almost certain to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a good chance that SCOTUS will take the case. It refused to take an appeal from Texas probably because the state supreme court had not rendered a decision. It only remanded to the lower court with directions. SCOTUS will be reluctant to get involved until it has something definitive on which to act. The SC Supreme Court decision will most likely be definitive.

Trump and his congressional allies will appoint at least one new justice to the Supreme Court, probably more than one. They are certain to choose highly conservative, Scalia-type, judges. However, this might not guarantee a defeat for the Episcopal Church. It depends on how the justices define the matter at hand. If they see it as a social issue, they are likely to side with the local dioceses. If they define it as a constitutional matter only, they may go to the Church side. Separation of church and state is a bedrock American principle. A strict constructionist is likely to take this seriously and let the Church alone to settle its own problems. Thus, a conservative Court, does not necessarily mean it will side with the local entity against the national Church. Besides, federal courts have entirely sided with the Church on parochial disputes. Remember too that same-sex marriage was decided by a supreme court with a conservative majority. 

Bottom line---the Trump victory strengthens the hand of the local diocesan side but does not guarantee its eventual victory in court.