Barbra Streisand is the top-selling female artist of all time, worth $400 million and second on the all-time popular music charts (ahead of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones), exceeded only by Elvis Presley. She has recently emerged as a secular Jewish opinion-maker, whose message to America is that we are in dire straits. Her fear reminds us that the omnipresent entertainment industry has enormous power to shape our thinking and behavior. Her cry rises from the depths of emotion: “Every morning I wake up, holding my breath while I turn on my phone to see the latest news. I think to myself, ‘It can’t be worse than yesterday.’ But when the news loads, I think, “Ohhhhh, yes, it is worse.”
She sees two enormous problems raining on her parade—the current President and the conservative politics he espouses. And, as the final words of the song say: “Nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on my parade!” In theory, Streisand might have found a soft-spot for a fellow member of the entertainment industry who rained on many people’s parades with his famous words: “You’re Fired!” One imagines that he has used these words many times since leaving his TV show behind! His provocative and insulting tweets might have brought a chuckle to public entertainers like Streisand. No doubt it is not Trump’s style so much as his politics and policies that offend Streisand so deeply. In this, she is a good representative of a large part of America’s population that shares her problems with the current administration. She would gladly be able to say, “You’re fired!” to Trump for the following failures:
- Trump “fired the director of national intelligence in an effort to suppress the truth about Russia interfering in our elections again.”
- “He’s purging the government of anyone with any expertise who doesn’t bow down before him.”
- “No wonder doctors report that more people than ever are anxious and depressed. Since 2016, we’ve been dragged down into the mud of Trump’s swamp. He has demolished our standing in the world with his laughable boasts and breathtaking ignorance.”
- “He has put the security of this country, and our planet, in a precarious position by abandoning the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.”
- “The ‘beacon of hope’ that is America could be extinguished if he’s given another four years…we must bring back dignity and grace. We must care about the facts, the planet, each other and the least fortunate among us. We need a new America, without pollution, without obscenities, without insults, without revenge. We need to restore the nobility of truth … and only then will America be great again.”
- “He’s a one-man weapon of mass destruction … so reckless that he almost started a war. That’s Trump’s world. It’s a place of paranoia, hypocrisy and lies.”
Rarely has such exaggerated criticism and vitriolic hate been unleashed against the dignity of a sitting president. The emotional torrent of insult finishes with Streisand’s ultimatum: We can’t go on like this. It’s too dangerous. The land I discovered when I arrived from Europe as a student in 1964 was a land of civilized democracy and mutual respect. Political parties disagreed, but they seemed at least to be able to talk about things together and even collaborate on programs that would benefit the public. In the melting pot of many ethnic groups there was still general agreement on the shape of the pot. What has happened to America the Beautiful, the city on a hill? Alas, this lack of civility in public discourse is driving us away from civility and toward civil war.
Streisand’s fierce anger and verbal tirades are not unique to her. A few months into the current presidency, Congresswoman Maxine Waters called for Trump to be imprisoned and put in solitary confinement. She also said of Trump, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” “He is the most prolific, consistent, good-for-nothing liar this country has ever experienced.” Donna Brazile, former DNC leader and Fox News contributor, in a “polite” political debate on live TV, told RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, “Go to H….” We have seen the disturbing image of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warning Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh that they will “pay the price” if they vote for any law that would restrict abortion. “You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions,” he declared. Such an action, on the steps of the Supreme Court, challenges the very status of the third, co-equal branch of our government, an independent judiciary, and the personal safety of its judicial officers. Such verbal violence shakes the very foundations of the Union.
In his popular book, Why We’re Polarized, Journalist Ezra Klein posits that identity politics has become a new religious doctrine. Over the past fifty years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.
While this is doubtless true, the various identities in the past were able to maintain civic discourse. So what has really happened? Andrew Sullivan, well-known author and columnist with New York Magazine,suggests that we have a religious divide between tradition Judeo-Christian values and the new kid on the block, “secularized religion.” He argues that politics is filling the “[religious] need for meaning” in those who grew up in a secular society. He writes:
Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being,…religion [is] a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying ‘Truth’ or God (or gods).
Sullivan’s own religion is interesting. He is an openly gay, practicing Roman Catholic.
Accompanied by deeply religious passion, politics is taking its place as a religion in conflict with theistic belief. When I arrived in the USA in 1964, there was a strong common belief in God as the theistic source of life and human rights. Since the Sixties the emergence of what Sullivan calls “secular religion” rejects God in favor of the notion of self identity, by which all individuals have the divine right to self-identity. This kind of self-centered religion can only create a culture of deep conflict, like the one we see today—in Technicolor. How else could forty-four Senate democrats—including all six Democratic presidential candidates—vote against the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act? Could these wise senators favor infanticide if their own ultimate identities were not fixed on their own political success?
When Joe Biden halted in quoting the Declaration of Independence, most considered it another of his famous blank-outs: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are…you know the thing….” But perhaps his gaff was less a memory lapse than a sense of embarrassment, knowing that any mention of the Creator’s name has become taboo among secular progressives. The “thing” to which Biden alluded but could not bring himself to say is “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This rejection of God must be reversed if America is ever to recover its founding principles. Christians must take up the challenge to bring both understanding and acts of kindness—both words and deeds. Too many Christians attend too many churches that have become entertainment venues, preaching religious versions of Hollywood rather than offering serious worship and deep, biblical instruction.
What can Christians bring to this time of religious conflict? We must bring both theological understanding of who God is as our Creator, holy and distinct from us, a Twoist God who demands our worship. But we must also bring acts of sacrificial love. Only the great Creator God can save us by expressing true, ultimate, selfless love. This God of utter holiness comes in his Son to bear our sins at the hands of violent men and to grant us redemption. As those knowing God’s love for sinners, Christians must bring love and forgiveness to those who oppose us. We can never engage in violence but must forgive “seventy times seven,” loving, not hating; blessing, not cursing; overcoming evil with good; and praying for our enemies and for those who persecute us. Not only does God demand this from us; he also enables us through the power of his Spirit to do what seems impossible, humbling ourselves in the service of the Lord. As Paul told the Galatians, we can only live a forgiven and forgiving life through faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. This is the power of the gospel in our world, and the truth that Barbra Streisand, President Trump, Democrats and Republicans all need to hear: God our Creator is our only Savior.
 Simon & Schuster (January 28, 2020).