What Donald Trump teaches all of us about Original Sin

Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of Super Tuesday primary and caucus voting.Reuters

The voters of the USA are right to be angry about the state of their political system. It is broken. They are right to be angry at Washington's gridlock. It is dysfunctional. This has led many to throw in their lot with Mr Donald J Trump, which is for some a gut reaction, but for others a genuine calculation. In fact there are multiple echoes in anti-establishment movements in other countries, including the UK.

But if my stumbling DIY experiences are anything to go by, unless you pause for a moment to understand why something is broken, your attempts to fix it can end up making things much worse.

So I agree with Donald Trump that politics is broken (and I work in politics), but where we may differ is that I believe a deeper reality is also operating. Politics is broken because we are broken. As individuals and as a human race we are disappointingly imperfect. Problems arise when we prosecute abstract constructs like 'politics' or 'the media' and ignore the reality of human nature. Doing this avoids having to make reasoned and prayerful judgements about what people say and do. The truth is we are all at times glorious and at times appalling. So it's not surprising that politics is at times glorious and at times appalling, but so are banking, education, religion, journalism and any other sphere of life you could wish to mention.

In our laziness and insecurity we often feel the need to blame someone else for our problems. We blame bankers, then we blame newspapers, then we blame politicians. I think there is much to critique about our current banking system, our media and our political system but to do so via lazy stereotyping of a 'people group' distracts us from both the structural injustices in the systems and the flaws in ourselves.

If we are believers, we should not be surprised by the reality of sin. My wife Jen and I have just named our beautiful daughter Jubilee. It's a biblical principle that reveals God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that left to our own devices we default to selfishness. That was the case at the time Leviticus was written and it is still painfully so now. This selfishness is expressed as individuals and in the systems and institutions we create. This applies in all the spheres of life, including politics. We cannot help it. Sin manifests in the structural as well as the personal; they are intimately connected.

So here is the paradox at the heart of the Trump phenomenon. To believe that someone will bring a fresh wind of meaningful change simply because they are from another walk of life is being naïve to the reality of human sinfulness. And it seems almost masochistic to hope for a new dawn when the new hero has the very same character flaws being decried in politicians.

The prophet Daniel served in the midst of a regime that makes present-day politics look positively virtuous. His example should stop us recoiling from political involvement. But we often miss a glaring truth. Daniel didn't bring blessing on the nation because he brought in some fresh ideas from the marketplace. He effected change because of the content of his character and the strength of his personal integrity, maintained by a relationship with God. The same was true of Esther, Joseph and Obadiah. You need to be different to bring real change, not just sound different.

I don't know if Donald Trump is any worse or better than me or the next person. And you can't wait around for a perfect candidate. And God can use anyone, whether I like it or not. I think however we are seeing how the perfect storm of reality TV, power, celebrity, social media and 'success-infatuation' amplifies a character. His success tells us as much about us as viewer-consumers as it does about the guy who is having some fun and seeing where the journey takes him. A twisted part of me even grudgingly admires that. But the end result could be anything but fun for many people. Change is not a virtue in itself. That is the myth of progress.

The biggest irony is that in this strange time when what we know about human nature seems to have been suspended, it is the voters who most passionately believe in original sin that are swinging behind Trump. But it would appear they have a bigger appetite for destruction than redemption as far as politics is concerned. 

Anger can be good and justified, but anger that hasn't first been offered on the altar often bears bad fruit. Let's hope that in time we will all see that our leaders are just like us, and that a revolution without a revival may feel good at the time, but disappoint us in the end.

Andy Flannagan is a London-based, Irish singer-songwriter who was previously a hospital doctor. He is director of Christians on the Left and one of the directors of Christians in Politics