Donald Trump Has Taught Us the Value of Western Humanism; One Effect of the President's Bizarre Behaviour in His Early Days in Office Is to Remind Us of Our Roots in Christianity

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 17, 2017 | Go to article overview

Donald Trump Has Taught Us the Value of Western Humanism; One Effect of the President's Bizarre Behaviour in His Early Days in Office Is to Remind Us of Our Roots in Christianity


Byline: Theo Hobson

THE black cloud of Donald Trump's presidency has a silver lining. A surprisingly large one, in fact. It is prodding us to remember who we are in the West, after decades of complacent forgetfulness. Instead of shouting abuse at him we should try to articulate why he does not feel like a fully legitimate leader. And that means articulating who we are.

So who are we? What is our core creed? Some of the old attempts at naming it now feel inadequate. "Democracy"? It has proved a rather blunt tool in recent decades -- some electorates vote for theocracy, others vote for nasty nationalists (or preening populists).

"Liberalism"? It has become an unhelpfully loaded word. Also, it is just too ambiguous -- does it mainly mean economic liberalism or social liberalism? And so the old favourite term for Western values -- "liberal democracy" -- feels flat, tired and messy.

These terms are too impersonal, formal, official, cold. They refer to systems of politics. Something fuller is needed. A definition that refers to people's everyday habits of thought, or "habits of the heart" -- not just to the political system that they approve of.

Trump helps us to see what it is. In a sense he reminds us that the personal is political. For what sets him apart is his character. He has shown himself to be a man who lacks the decency and humanity we expect from leading public servants -- from his locker-room bragging to his relentless self-promotion as a winner in a world of losers. This spills over into his political utterances: his admiration for the violence of the Russian state, and his desire not to seem "innocent" in comparison, is an offence against the humanity that we expect a Western leader to show.

In other words, Trump helps us to see that our basic creed in the West extends beyond politics in the normal sense. I think the term "humanism" is needed. This is what Trump offends against: the huge vague belief that all human beings should be treated well. It might sound hopelessly naive, vague or earnest but the core creed of the West --underlying its political system -- is the belief that all human lives matter and should flourish, and that part of such flourishing is the freedom to express one's core beliefs; it of course entails "human rights". You could call it the faith of the West.

This is a high ideal that no government can fully adhere to, but all Western governments should speak of it with the greatest respect. It is simply our noblest tradition that we strive to respect the rights of all, that we reject the doctrine of might is right.

So let's call it humanism or, because it is expressed in non-religious terms, secular humanism. It's about time we stopped taking it for granted. We are in the habit of thinking it is too vague and nebulous for serious people to focus on, a soft-hearted distraction from the nittygritty of practical politics. But in fact it's naive to ignore the question of our underlying public creed. If we do, other creeds fill the vacuum.

It is evidently in a state of extreme disrepair. But not meltdown. Trump's election does not prove that humanism has been ousted as the creed of America -- fewer than a third of Americans voted for him. …

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