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President Trump’s ethics are pre-biblical
By Henry Bucher, Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities, Austin College
Jul 7, 2017
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On July 3, 2017, the Washington Examiner, quoting a spokesperson for Melania Trump, noted that the First Lady had warned that whoever attacked the president, ‘my husband would punch back ten times harder.” The Hebrew scriptures were speaking to this type of over-reaction by drawing a line of limitation: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”( Exodus 21:24).  Even here, the action should be done only in retaliation. Since most people always see themselves as victims retaliating to a previous injustice, the outcome has less to do with justice and more to do with which adversary is more powerful.

In my courses on Africa and the Middle East, I often find myself trying to explain how timeless issues such as poverty, population growth and oppression are often inter-related.

    -Do people in the Global South tend to mindlessly have more children?

    -If many babies die before they are five, and parents want support as they grow older, is that reason enough?

    -What about the need for more help on the farm or in a business if one is fortunate enough to own a piece of land or a business: so often most people are controlled by others?

By chance, I came across a brief sentence from Exodus with reference to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt populating so fast that Pharaoh’s fear led to his decree that Hebrew male babies should be killed. The next sentence (Exodus 1:12) states: “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied.” This timeless statement is the oldest testament I could find to the issue we often face today: those in power think power is the answer; and then take an action that produces the very opposite of what was intended!

In another class on economic development in Africa, I try to explain how land ownership can lead to control over labor, wages and working conditions. After teaching the course for many years, I came across one verse from Proverbs (13:23), which illustrates how ancient these contemporary issues are: “The fallow ground of the poor yields much food, but it is swept away through injustice.”   Indeed, in the Global South, people who work the land may never eat what they produce because the best goes to the global market.                        

Today, I am going in the opposite direction by starting with a verse from Isaiah (10:1-4), trying to relate it to today’s global realities. The prophet is speaking around 2,500 years ago in ancient Israel:

“O, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right…What will you do on the day of punishment, in the calamity that will come from far away? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth, so as not to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain?”

If you can assist me in interpreting this for the world today, send a note to hbucher@austincollege.edu.