Donald Trump has spent much of this election intentionally undermining Americans’ faith in civic institutions, sowing doubt in everything from the media to the democratic process itself. But his cynical campaign has found a target much closer to home for me: The prospect of his election has forced me to grapple with how I perceive the nature of God.
I came to faith later in life and have never been too flummoxed by the question of why God lets bad things happen. I believe that if God is truly omnipotent and omniscient, then surely God is the only entity that could understand God’s plan. I simply believe that there is a plan, and that — on some universal scale that my merely human mind can’t comprehend — it is a benevolent one. I may not be able to see the curve, but the arc of the universe bends toward justice and all that.
This faith in a basically benevolent universe has seen me through personal tragedies and helped me grapple with social ills. I have been able to hang on to the belief that individual, even generational, pain does not cancel out joy and love and creativity and humanity’s slow, steady march toward something better.
But the prospect of a Trump presidency? All the millions of people who could suffer should that occur, the ones who live in the U.S. at risk of vigilante violence and certain erosion of rights, and the ones outside our borders whom he might carpet bomb — or nuke? The prospect that a loathsome serial sexual predator whose greed knows no bounds could be rewarded for his piggish behavior and a lifetime of abusing power ... with more power? With the most powerful office in the world?
That idea threatens to break my faith in a way that the deaths of friends and family, and the witness of grave social injustices, hasn’t. It’s just too much.
I can comprehend how to handle his election on a practical level. I think I know how the resistance would handle it. I can imagine the flowchart of organizing and preparation we would need to get together. Journalists might create guidelines for how to support each other’s work, and help with legal fees when the libel laws inevitably get “opened up.” We’d need to preserve history, too, lest his supporters try to rewrite the nation’s past as Trump has rewritten his own. Activists would organize protests and figure out how to welcome and train newcomers to the tradition of mass civil disobedience. Allies outside our borders would welcome the expats, probably. And ... I guess I’d also become a prepper?
That stuff I can process. It’s a nightmare scenario, but it’s not unthinkable. Oppression may come, but we can fight it. We can do something. Our actions against injustice might be futile or foolish, but people would be taking action, littering Twitter with hashtags (for as long we have Twitter) and showing up at rallies (for as long we have rallies) and writing outraged posts on liberal websites (for as long as we have unfettered access to the internet) and giving money to progressive groups ... for, um, as long as that’s allowed. (There’s a worst-case scenario here in which none of these things last very long, of course.)
In all the ways people have resisted despots in the past, they will do so in the future, and I have seen evidence in the run-up to this campaign that many Americans would resist our home-grown caudillo. But I also know that resistance to a despot almost always comes too late to stop the really bad stuff from happening. In any case, should Trump win, it would indicate a level of rot in America’s soul that no hearty band of like-minded do-gooders could easily undo. Even if our protests (or Trump’s own not-insignificant incompetence) could prevent the mass deportation camps and a loss of basic freedoms, the mere fact of Trump’s victory would make me question just how much decency there is in the world. That majestic but gentle curve in the universe’s path that I have placed so much trust in would be all but invisible.
And that’s what I can’t really get my head around. No, that’s not quite right: I can’t get my heart around it. I know that there are people who have faced horrors on this scale, and greater, with their faith intact. I know it’s possible to do that. I just don’t know how I would.
If the polls are correct and Hillary Clinton wins on Election Day, the sigh of relief I’ll breathe will come with a little more force behind it than most people’s. I wish I could say that’s because her election would be proof of God’s benevolence, or God’s existence. Instead, I think I’ll feel the got-out-of-that-one jubilation of a kid on a snow day. It won’t be that I’ve passed a test, or that God passed mine; there just won’t be a test.
Then again: It’s all a test. God is testing me, and I am testing God, any time I choose to frame events that way. If I look hard enough, I can find a thousand reasons to believe — and a thousand reasons to not believe — every single day. I’m fairly sure that the tragedy of President Trump would overwhelm all the small acts and small gestures that make up my own personal patchwork of evidence, but I can’t know that now. I would need a little more faith.