In the circles we run in, it seems the close of every year since, oh, let’s say 2016, has been met with a sigh of relief. To quote Merle Haggard, we have felt, “If we make it through December, we’ll be fine.”
It doesn’t quite feel that way with this approaching new year.
Of course, this has nothing to do with how incredible or miserable 2023 may have been. This year has had its ups and downs, which have all been extreme.
War has continued in Ukraine, and another is now waging in the Middle East. The responses in the U.S. to both wars have, yet again, revealed our historic challenge of understanding history and context.
Waning interest in support for Ukraine threatens a longstanding commitment to hold Vladimir Putin’s imperialist dreams in check.
Our inability to have a conversation about rising antisemitism on the one hand, and the longstanding Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank on the other, plays into the hands of those on both sides of the conflict who are hell-bent on getting away with their violent actions against innocents.
Here in the U.S., the overturning of Roe vs. Wade has brought about fear and uncertainty for women. Medical professionals, confused about new guidelines and concerned about liability, are denying women the care they desperately need. Women with financial privilege are traveling across state lines to receive abortions, confirming the suspicion of many that ending Roe wouldn’t end abortions. It would simply end it for the most marginalized and vulnerable.
The issue has also unveiled political realities about red-state women that have surprised many, as every significant off-year ballot initiative regarding abortion has tipped in the direction of the pro-choice cause.
On the other end of the spectrum, based on my Instagram feed, around 87% of the U.S. population had the joyful experience of seeing Taylor Swift live during her Eras Tour. And even though they have lost four of their past six games, the football team Swift owns is still first in its division.
And speaking of joyful experiences, much of the country finally returned to theaters this summer, largely during one weekend when “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” opened on the same day. Some viewed both films on the same day, mimicking the roller coaster of emotions 2023 brought.
Here we are, though, on the cusp of 2024, the year we have been dreading. Sadly, I have no plans to throw a rhetorical curveball your way. What you probably think I’m referring to is what I am actually referring to.
The most significant achievement of Donald Trump isn’t that he convinced a segment of the population to fanatically wear his hats and fly his flags in their yards and from their pickup trucks. Instead, his crowning achievement is convincing another segment of the population that the elections he competes in are like all the others they have ever voted in.
These people would never dream of wearing the hats or flying the flags. In fact, they see themselves above that. But they also see themselves above the other people who take Trump seriously. They roll their eyes when Trump mirrors the rhetoric used by Hitler, but not because Trump echoed the rhetoric of Hitler. Their disdain, instead, is aimed at those who point out that Trump is using the rhetoric of Hitler.
These are the self-proclaimed “reasonable middle” that desperately wants to believe 2024 is no different from 2012, 2008, etc. They assume a second Trump term would be like the first one, in which reasonable checks on his power prevented him from acting on his worst impulses. This ignores the reality that in his first term, it was his desire for a second term that restrained him from following through with his most heinous proposals.
Because Trump has convinced enough people to believe that 2024 will be a routine political year, it feels like we are, to quote far-right politician Liz Cheney, “sleepwalking toward a dictatorship.”
Warning against the prospect of a second Trump presidency is not partisan politics as usual. If it were, I would advocate for a more measured approach toward our election-related content at Good Faith Media in 2024.
But because Trump peddles the politics of fear and hate and places the lives of the most marginalized among us in danger, we are duty-bound in 2024 to speak up. And listen, our speaking up will have little to do with electing Joe Biden to a second term. Whatever anyone thinks about Biden, this isn’t about him.
Even so, if 2023 has taught us anything, it is the time-tested maxim that “we must not become what we hate.” Our struggle must not be with people but against ideas.
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, pastor and writer Jonathan Martin wrote a powerful reflection on the Trump phenomenon. Though I am often uncomfortable with the Pentecostal stream of Christianity Martin came from, that world (and the Bible) gave him a helpful toolbox of language to use during these times.
Martin writes: “Even when we attempt to engage such powers constructively, we must be cautious. When we make war against the side we think is unjust or wrong, the very soul-draining energy of the side we think we oppose has a way of getting into us…For so many who are on the wrong side of these principalities, the world is a scary place right now — and the Church, which often seems ambivalent to matters of race and justice, does not feel much safer.”
Martin ends his long piece by admonishing sons and daughters of God to speak out. Seven years later, I can’t think of a more fitting way to approach the new year than by making his words our mantra:
“So much sucks right now, I know. It is good and right to make space for the grief. But for God’s sake, in the days to come — man and woman of God…
Don’t speak from the center. The center already has more than enough people speaking for it. The center does not need your protection.
Speak for and with the One who was crucified outside the gate.
Speak from the margins.
If you will not speak from the margins, don’t you dare claim to speak for God.
We need you. I need you. The world needs your prophetic voice.
Don’t pontificate, damn it.
Prophesy. Prophesy. Prophesy.”
And so we will.
Senior editor at Good Faith Media.