Gaga. That’s what did it for me.
I was keeping it together, happy for my liberal friends as they rejoiced in the second coming of Joe Biden into the White House, but then… Gaga.
I’m not against Lady Gaga. I thought the meat dress was cool, I liked her work in A Star Is Born and her music is fine. But watching her sing at Joe Biden’s Inauguration, I lost my willingness to rejoice with liberals around the world.
Gaga is emblematic of the problem. Not bad at what she does, but clearly selected yesterday because of her appeal to younger Americans and how she is perceived (at least by some): wildly free and artistic, edgy and cool. Except she isn’t. That’s her outfits. She’s part of the stable of Pop music that has been manufactured for years to do anything but challenge young audiences – focus grouped and market-segmented to be branded in a slightly different way while being almost indistinguishable, artistically, from any of her mass produced peers – like the ‘bad-boy’ in a boy band.
And that’s what Joe Biden is. Perceived by conservatives (and the lunatics of the Proud Boy and Q-Anon movements) and liberals alike as a socialist threat to the status quo, he just looks that way compared to Trump. Like Skillet seems like heavy Christian music if all you listen to is Bethel. Joe Biden is wearing a dress made of progressive meat, but his songs are just like those of any commercial chanteuse. He may be better than Trump, but he’s not going to solve anything.
And there is a lot that needs solving. America is one of the richest countries on earth and yet people die or become destitute daily because of treatable medical problems. It is a nation whose highest values are liberty and equality, yet racism is endemic and the economic system dooms hard working people to poverty while others get rich off inherited privilege. As Christians we have to recognise that these problems are not merely political, they are spiritual.
Our Christian duty
Most Christians recognise our Matthew 25 duty to feed the hungry, to care for the widows and the orphans, to help the neighbour in need regardless of their race or station. We may disagree on whether the state or market is the best mechanism (and that is a significant division within the Church that we must talk about more). But right now, a larger and more important division exists within the Church as it does in secular society, one that transcends old categories of Left and Right. The division is between those who believe our world is mostly fine as it is, needing some minor adjustments, and those who believe significant change is needed. I think of the first as ‘lukewarm’ in the biblical sense, when it comes to change. For me, the most disappointing are those on the Left – people who see poverty, racism and endless wars on the weak, and rightly think that should change – but resist change that is too radical, too large. They want the same song, in a better style.
The division is between those who believe our world is mostly fine as it is, needing some minor adjustments, and those who believe significant change is needed.
In this way, Joe Biden is Gaga: the American President we all deserve. He is the candidate who will not rock the boat, who will let us ‘return to normal’. But followers of Jesus must recognise that normal was not that great for far too many people. For too long, we’ve allowed ‘normal’ and shallow obsessions to be our idols.
Just as music marketing execs obsess over some shtick that will make a singer (primed with songs from the same songwriting units supplying every hit-producer) stand out from the otherwise identical crowd, so we have focused on parts, instead of the whole of political life. The Christian Right has obsessed over abortion. The Left, over Trump and his obnoxiousness (and Russia, for some reason). Very little of our segmented loyalty has been about broader, deeper policy that shares the concerns of the prophets for communal justice. If we did care about these things, my people the liberals would not be rejoicing over the Biden inauguration, they’d be getting ready for another fight – this time with a Democrat – to make the changes America (and the world) needs.
Not a radical
Joe Biden is better than Trump. But that is an extremely low bar. When you get right down to it, he’s against Medicare for all, he has actually defended billionaires and tried to reassure the rich that the status quo is not threatened by his presidency. Conservatives who fear that he’s a radical leftist are sadly wrong (from the point of view of those of us who believe radical change is needed to make America and the world more just). That’s not a reason to hate him. But it is also no reason for rejoicing. Biden doesn’t represent radical change (rejoice, those who fear it), he represents stability. If you like where America is now, Joe’s Presidency will change very little. It won’t get worse, but no radical changes will make it better. Small alterations in tone and some stopping of the slide to the right is the best we can hope for. But some of us were hoping for so much more.
If you like where America is now, Joe’s Presidency will change very little
The mistake most of us made over the last few years was to be taken in by the superficial. Conservative evangelicals convinced themselves that Trump was one of theirs because he made the right noises about some very specific issues. Progressive Christians are rightly pleased that Biden doesn’t say “We love you” to people wearing pro-Holocaust T-shirts, but let’s be honest: many liberals don’t care about the ideology of any President unless it is grotesquely abominable. That’s why they are still dewy-eyed about Obama and so rarely call him out for not closing Guantanamo or accelerating America’s drone assassination programme. Small, lukewarm changes are what they want.
I believe Donald Trump has emboldened elements within American society to greater racism and less love and grace for fellow human beings made in the image of God. I believe he has muddied the witness of Christians with his cynical exploitation of our faith. I think he’s a bully and an opportunist with little moral compass. But, while I’m glad Trump has gone, I am not breaking out the bubbly over the Biden inauguration. I’m happy to give the new singer the benefit of the doubt, but I’m waiting to hear their song.
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