At the close of the US Election campaign, Donald Trump exhorted the American electorate to vote to fulfil their dreams. Again and again after the election the media have talked about how people have longed for a simpler, better time. Trump seems to have used a marketing technique of strong images that may not be connected or add up to a coherent picture to gain public attention. The quetion of how fantasy and reality relate seems to run throughout the Presidential campaign.
Yesterday evening at Mass it struck me that liturgy opens up ways of realising reality in many dimensions — length of our steps be they hobbling or striding, breadth of Christ’s arms stretched on the cross and of our arms reaching out to each other and stretching out to receive Communion, heights of heads erect and bowed and of sky, time of syllables and of breath. Our spirits are constantly reconfigured by these distances.
Reality in its fantastic variety and complexity is the obverse of fantasy projected onto reality in desperate wilful hope. It seems to me that desperate wilful hope is what is at the root of the UK Independence Party in the UK, Trump in the US, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, the Front National in France, and so on. Regular people certainly do have legitimate grounds for resenting globalisation. Some liberal commentators were largely dismissed for suggesting that globalisation was at the root of the disempowerment that Islamic fundamentalists have been tapping into. Maybe it’s part of that same trend, though.
We will have to see how the tension between globalisation and the widespread desire for more local identity and control plays–if not for a simply simpler, better time–plays out. It seems to me that globalization involves, at least as portrayed in purely negative views, a loss of particular reality –local community, connection to means of production–in favour of abstract transnational financial power fuelled by consumer culture–what we might call empty images.
In experience human contact and human “being” exceeds the promises of consumerist images. Humanity goes beyond first impressions. Disabled people show this most clearly. If we are to relate fully to each other in all of our variety we must go beyond first impressions. A Paralympic athlete may impress us because she achieves so much when seeming so impaired. But maybe the old lady in the wheelchair whose carer struggles to get her onto the bus is just as important. Her mundane life is not as attractive to our fantasy because she is not going faster, further, or higher than what we would expect. Those expectations are calibrated to what able people do.
In short, it seems to me that connecting with deep reality in liturgy–length, breadth, height, time, touch, breath, change–is an antidote to Trump, UKIP, etc which seem poised to replace globalisation’s abstract power with the abstract power of nationalism. Instead of abstract power we can rediscover the power of particularity, not as abstract categories assumed to be worthwhile but as persons, breaths, words, touches, bread broken and exceeding bread, wine poired out for each and for all. We can respond to popularism as we redisocover being people.