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The Illusionists of Hope can be Defeated with the Real Thing

Reverend Joe Haward considers how a dedication to rooting out corruption and accepting the realities of the present can provide an engine for change

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: PA Images

The Illusionists of Hope can be Defeated with the Real Thing

Reverend Joe Haward considers how a dedication to rooting out corruption and accepting the realities of the present can provide an engine for change

In Christopher Priest’s novel, The Prestige, we learn the art of the trick, consisting of three parts: “The Pledge”, where you are shown something ordinary; “The Turn”, where the magician makes it disappear; and the final and hardest part, “The Prestige”. The key element is that people want to be fooled; being mesmerised is part of the act. 

US President Donald Trump simply requires his followers to believe, to be caught up in his act – an act that, like Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s, has been developed through narcissism and entitlement.

Part of the tragedy of such men holding offices of immense power is that their incompetence, pride and selfishness reveal them to be incapable of growing into the jobs they have been given. When these men speak of hope, it is nothing more than the propaganda of magical thinking, of “The Pledge”; the beginning of the trick to captivate the crowds.

The past four years have represented “The Turn”, during which their ideas of ‘hope’ have disappeared; exposed to be as empty as many of promises they make. These deceivers maintain the act of illusion, inviting their captivated followers to simply believe, to have faith, to trust that “The Prestige” moment will be their crowning glory. However, “The Prestige” of both these men’s time in leadership has been destruction –furthering the inequalities and injustices that the most vulnerable have endured generation after generation. 

Myths and legends were created by the ancients and warned us of such traits; trickster gods and devils summoned the worst in people in order to use this for their own advantage. How often have we seen this played out in recent years?

Trump and Johnson peddle the illusion of hope, not rooted in the reality of truth and the common good, but for their self-ambition and in the interests of their powerful friends. 

A Midnight of Despair

Hope is a concept that trips lightly off the tongues of politicians as they conjure nostalgic memories of a better past and a brighter tomorrow.

The sight of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd until he chokes to death or news of a man with disabilities starving to death because his benefits were stopped can convince us that the horizon of hope has given way to the midnight of despair. The wider threats to democracy within both countries – from far-right and libertarian elements, data micro-targeting and vote suppression – is a real and present danger that will not go away easily.

Yet other voices beckon us to not give up, to discover the power of true hope.

The apostle Paul wrote “for such men are… deceitful workers, transforming themselves into… ministers of righteousness, they whose end will be in accord with their works”. In part, hope is the commitment to expose the swindlers to the light of truth, an ushering in of a new dawn in which they reap what they sow.

Ancient writers once said that “we who have fled for refuge should have a mighty encouragement to lay hold of the hope set before us: which we have as an anchor for the soul, safe and unyielding”.

Hope refuses to ignore the realities around us, holding fast, like an anchor, to the truth of our shared humanity, and what is possible in our collective pursuit of the good. As we gaze into the long spectacle of human history, sparks of hope leap out from the pages as we remember those lives that pursued love of neighbour and justice for the oppressed.

Hope reminds us that the midnight of despair has been driven back many times as communities come together in solidarity, standing firm against oppressors, and giving a voice to the voiceless. Hope is grounded in an honest assessment of the past, a truthful grasp of the present, whilst looking to a future of our collective human flourishing over a selfish will to power. Hope is the hard work of exposing corruption in order that such goodness can prevail.   

Martin Luther King Jr wrote that “even the most starless midnight may herald the dawn of some great fulfilment”.

We are at a crucial point of history where the midnight of corrupt power threatens to overwhelm. Yet we are bound together, each a neighbour to the other, and it is here that hope can find a way through.

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