Van Ens: Losers bet on winning by intimidation
What strategy works best when relating to people: offering a receptive hand or threatening with clenched fists?
Christianity opts for handshakes, not hammer blows. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described a Roman centurion marching with heavy gear. This Roman soldier ordered a Jewish bystander to carry his burden for one mile, as military custom dictated.
“Surprise this Roman bully,” Jesus advised Jews chafing under the one-mile protocol. “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:41). Astounded by this generous response, the centurion might go light on the Jewish conscript, motivating this soldier to carry his own spear or shield.
Former Grand Slam tennis player Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) endorsed Jesus’ ethic that rejects winning by intimidation. “True heroism …,” declared Ashe, “is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
Although Jesus espoused and Arthur Ashe practiced this reactionary ethic, it does not draw viewers to reality TV shows. They watch contests pitting “winners” intimidating “losers.” Viewers get hooked on antics of bachelors who cheat on bachelorettes, housewives who claw at glamorous look-alikes and business tycoons who devour competitors. Apprentices “achieve success” by screwing challengers.
Winning over negotiating, getting ahead over helping those limping behind, cheating over playing on an even field mobilize reality TV junkies to stay tuned.
President Donald Trump intimidates Hispanic immigrants on the southern border, ordering them to go back to their native countries. At a park in Panama City Beach, Florida, in early May, the president’s banter included advocating violence against immigrants.
He energized supporters, asking, “How do you stop these people (immigrants)? You can’t.”
“Shoot them!” hollered a woman in the crowd. Flashing his trademark smirk, Trump wisecracked, “That’s only in the Panhandle you can get away with that statement.”
The president dismissed critics who implicate his combative slurs on race and immigration for causing hate crimes. Leaving the White House for Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, to visit victims of mass shootings, Trump blistered opponents, claiming his rhetoric “brings people together.”
“Is love a tender thing,” asks Romeo as he shudders at its sometimes-negative results. “It is too rough. Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like a thorn.” Although Romeo was describing romantic love, Trump romanticizes his racist threats against immigrants and absolves himself of any nasty consequences.
He adopts this intimidating style as a giant bet. The president gambles his supporters will adore harsh putdowns spewed against Hispanic immigrants. Such verbal hostility gives anxious Trump’s supporters a sense of power to combat changing U.S. demographics that show surging Hispanic growth.
The president kicked off an intimidating presidential campaign by descending an escalator in the Trump Tower, as if he were a Roman emperor whose bet on winning handsomely paid off. Trump fondly remembers this in-your-face entrance. His blunt message excited chanting crowds: lock up “rapist Mexican immigrants” whose entry into the U.S. threatens white America.
Winning by intimidation sometimes works because almost half of U.S. citizens voted for Trump who slurs alleged intruders “invading” our southern borders.
The Wall Street Journal’s senior correspondent Gerald R. Seib pinpoints why winning by intimidation arouses a sometimes violent, raucous following. Convinced Trump’s combative style works, “there are those who are thrilled at his willingness to give voice to their grievances, their fears and their belief that they are no longer treated fairly by their own society.
“They feel their concerns are mocked and belittled by the established powers, so they actually see the president’s confrontation style as the aspect of his approach that they admire most.”
The 2020 presidential election is more than a choice for who leads our nation. It is a referendum on whether the Christian ethic, generosity towards migrants striving for a better life, survives.
Or, will an ethic contradicting Christian faith —winning by intimidation — prevail? In the 2020 presidential election, will most American voters “go the second mile” in aiding immigrants or cash in on winning through intimidation?
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.