Neither reason nor faith can reach neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, and other loathsome Trump followers. They have found their leader and he has found them.
But those who are committed to following the teachings of Jesus—as they understand them—are in a different category. We undertook our effort to change their minds because we thought some evangelicals might be open to reason and to moral considerations that reflect those teachings, as we understand them.
(CLICK HERE to read our original appeal to Evangelicals, urging them to remember their values and thing about their children.)
We didn’t think they’d tolerate their own children, much less a grown man, mocking a handicapped person. We wondered how long they’d look the other way. We wondered what excuses they’d find for the outrageous lies and bottomless self-dealing that defines the most corrupt public figure in our history.
We’ve been disappointed. But we’ve also been gratified that so many more evangelicals have found his behavior not just disqualifying but downright disgusting.
We’ve focused on evangelicals who live in Florida and Michigan because they are battleground states and because our motives are political. We want to help those (former) Republicans, Democrats, law enforcement officers, military and security officials—retired, resigned, fired, and still serving—who have stepped up to try to pull down this dangerous demagogue. He’s been spewing garbage all his life but now, spraying his virus
wherever he goes, is infecting countless Americans, not only his supporters.
Many evangelicals doubted that anything we wrote would cause his supporters to reconsider. This comment about one of our Facebook postings was typical:
“I started to send this to some Evangelicals I know and gave up as a lost cause . . . They have closed minds. They believe DJT reads the Bible and attends church regularly.”
I don’t know whether any minds have been changed by anything we’ve written. But I do know that his support among evangelicals has weakened. Polls have confirmed this.
Nor did I think this exercise would change my own thinking. And insofar as my fear and loathing for this sinister creature is concerned, it hasn’t. But the events of recent weeks and some pro-Trump comments did cause me to think harder about both the time we’re living in and the nature of the dark forces he embodies and represents. Though I don’t follow the same blueprint to make sense of this world, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve moved closer to ideas that evangelicals believe or claim to believe about God and the Devil. More on that later.
Before I go any further, if anything I say here offends some of you, it isn’t my intention. I write as much to clarify my own thinking as to engage in a debate, let alone an exchange of insults.
The first and most obvious lesson I’ve learned is the political importance of evangelicals. I came late to that understanding. Some learned that lesson long ago: those who run for office, their political managers, and the lobbyists who organize evangelicals so as to help their business clients pressure the government for things they don’t deserve. That’s the business they’re in. We’ve written elsewhere about Ralph Reed, a quintessential example of one such political operative. CLICK HERE to see Ralph Reed’s history.
DONALD TRUMP: THE CHOSEN ONE?
Many evangelicals claim that Donald Trump is the “Chosen One.” Here’s what some have said recently, in response to direct challenges to that opinion from Fed Up New Yorkers.
“The man that wins the election will be the one that GOD placed into the office, no matter what political party.”
“Do you think it was a coincidence that Ginsburg passed away before the election? Do you think it might have been divine intervention?”
Former energy secretary Rick Perry, an evangelical Christian, said:
“God has chosen Donald Trump ‘to rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.’”
But what about all the corruption and cruelty? Perry elaborated:
“God uses imperfect people through history. King David wasn’t perfect. Saul wasn’t perfect. Solomon wasn’t perfect. And I actually gave the president a one-pager on those Old Testament kings . . . .”
For the many commenters on Fed Up New Yorkers’ website and Facebook pages who agree, this president’s authority doesn’t come from the American people; it derives from God. It’s not for us, they insist, to question how God carries out His plan.
Americans who embrace this idea are willing subjects to their ruler. Subjects, not citizens. That is a very long way from the fundamental principle our country was founded on.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Patriots risked their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to overturn the very idea these evangelicals argue. They refused to be governed by anyone who claims that rulers derive their power from God and are subject to no earthly authority.
It’s downright shocking to see so many American not just accepting, but embracing, the Divine Right of Kings. It’s less surprising that these misguided souls are urged on by the Republican politicians and evangelical preachers who support Donald Trump, who brandish the Bible and wrap themselves in the flag, who call themselves the “true” American patriots.
For reasons I’ll get to in a moment, I won’t dispute those who believe that God has put Donald Trump in the White House. Or for that matter, that God put Hitler in control of Germany, Idi Amin in control of Uganda, Fidel Castro in control of Cuba. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s accept the premise: that God did put all
those rulers in power, including Donald Trump.
But I can’t accept the idea that Americans aren’t citizens but subjects who must not question this president’s behavior. Subject who don’t dare hold him accountable in our courts and at the ballot box.
Might these incompatible ideas of an unaccountable president and a democratic government be reconciled? Until I came across a statement from a public figure whose beliefs and politics are the polar opposite of my own, I didn’t think they could be. Before I get to her statement, I’ll just say what I believe.
Along with billions of others, I haven’t taken Jesus as my savior. If we’re all doomed, so be it. The doctrinal disputes between people of different faiths—and especially those among co-religionists—hold no interest for me, except insofar as those who hold these different beliefs seek to impose them on those of us who don’t.
I don’t know that I believe in the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub, Iblis—or the countless other figures by which different cultures personify evil.
But we all know there are dark forces in human nature. We’ve witnessed entire nations gripped by them. Too often, laws, rituals, social norms, and institutions—the thin covering of civilization that conceals and restrains
these dark forces—are ripped apart. When that happens, when laws become simply what the ruler says they are, when a man comes along who claims to be the Chosen One, and when so many millions of people believe him, those forces are unleashed. And unspeakable evil occurs.
I don’t have a biblical blueprint or roadmap that marks my journey through life to whatever its final destination might be. But I recognize patterns of experience in my own life that tell me self-interest, if nothing else, leads me to be as honest as I can be and to behave decently towards others. Whether from religion or simple folk wisdom, we were all raised with those principles: “Honesty is the best policy. Do unto others . . . , As you sow so shall you reap. Be careful what you wish for. Pride goeth before a fall. It is more blessed to give than to receive.” These and so many other proverbs are rooted in scripture but they are also life lessons we can learn by paying attention to the patterns of one’s own experiences.
About those who claim to see these virtues in Donald Trump—honesty, kindness towards others, giving rather than receiving, and so forth—well, I don’t believe them. I think something else is motivating them. These are not virtues one associates with our “grab ’em by the pussy,” “punch him in the face” president. For him, no handicapped person is too vulnerable to mock and no dictator is too evil to support.
Evangelicals make excuses for his abominable behavior: he has repented, asked God for forgiveness, his sins are washed away, and he is saved. No. I don’t think even they believe this.
But Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, may be on to something:
“. . . everything happens for a reason . . . I think God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change.”
God puts people in power for lessons and for change.
I can accept, for the sake of this discussion, that God did put Donald Trump in the White House to teach us some lessons, and for change.
What lessons have we learned? What change is coming?
What lesson did you take from watching a sadistic man with a badge pressing down on the windpipe of an unarmed, helpless Black man pleading for his life, while fellow officers stood by, until that man was dead?
We’ve seen a vast outpouring of protesters—Black and White—in every city and all over the world. And we’ve seen a group of White women, arms linked, protecting peaceful protesters, Black and White, from vicious attacks by armed men with and without badges. For me, the worldwide, multiracial protests and the support for Black Lives Matter were tremendously inspiring and hopeful lessons.
We learned contrary lessons, too. Some came from watching Donald Trump defend the young man who came to the Kenosha protest with his assault rifle and murdered two unarmed protesters. Some came from watching heavily armed men without badges or identification of any kind bundle protesters into unidentified black SUVs and driving them to unknown destinations. Those lessons: it could happen—it was happening—here.
Could a sharper moral line have been drawn? Between the homicidal police officer, the men in the unmarked vehicles, and the young man with his assault weapon—and those women with their arms linked?
What lessons have you learned?
From watching Donald Trump leading his delirious supporters in chants of “Lock her up” to hearing his demand that the attorney general bring bogus prosecutions against his political opponents and critics,
what change would you say he is seeking? The essential parallel question is this: What change do you want?
Is there any doubt that “God’s Chosen One” seeks to impose on our country a regime much like that of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s gangster president-for-life, the absolute ruler who poisons his critics abroad and murders his opponents at home?
Could God, through Donald Trump, be shining a bright light on the horrific things we’ve done, or that we’ve allowed to be done in our name?
When the president rips children from asylum-seeking parents and indefinitely locks them up in primitive conditions, has that given you any second thoughts? Some of you have written that Obama built the cages, that Obama did this and Hillary did that, as though you don’t approve of these heinous practices—but that it’s not Donald Trump who’s responsible. I won’t dignify those comments by taking them seriously.
It’s easy, of course, to turn away from the sight of brown-skinned children, foreigners, far away on the border. Not so easy to deny what’s happening in our own communities. As Trump spreads the deadly virus to his unmasked supporters, who in turn spread it to their loved ones and their communities, does that disturb you? Are you one of the cheering multitude?
The list of contradictions between Trump’s actions and religious principles is too long to set out here. But do you think God is pleased that so many millions of His children live in poverty while a handful of people have billions? And that everything Donald Trump has done has deliberately widened that gap?
(Some Evangelical leaders have taken note of those contradictions and abandoned their support for Trump. CLICK HERE to hear what they have to say about Trump, and why they have decided to back Joe Biden for president.)
Do you read it as a sign of God’s pleasure that forest fires are raging across large parts of America? That once-in-a-hundred year floods are occurring every year? That an out-of-control deadly virus is infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans? That we are poisoning our air and water? That our roads, bridges, tunnels—our entire infrastructure—is crumbling? That we are heating up the earth to a point of no return?
Or could it be that “God’s blessing in disguise,” to use Donald Trump’s speculation on why he was stricken with the coronavirus, was to shine a light on the fragility of our democratic institutions, which he has bent to his will? Is it through Donald Trump that God is shining a bright light on the corrupt natures of those who allow—even applaud—his monstrous behavior?
Calls to “Lock her up” and “Lock him up” are only a small step away from “Let’s lynch them, boys.” And about those swastika-wearing neo-Nazis, the David Dukes of the world, the Proud Boys and the plug-uglies who are urged to “liberate” states whose elected officials don’t go along with the Chosen One? Are those the people you align yourself with?
If you’ve learned none of these lessons, and if you’re passing along to your kids the role model of this president as God’s Chosen One—If you’ve learned nothing from these past four years—God help you. God help all of us.
A final word.
I’ve said I’m not sure I believe in the Devil or whatever names people give to human evil. But we can admit that at various times we’ve all felt fear. We’ve all been tempted by ambition to do or at least contemplate doing bad things. Call them character flaws, corruption or what have you, these aspects of human nature that we all struggle with. I think most of us win those battles, most of the time.
But with Donald Trump, we’re experiencing something very different. He is a malign force that senses the smallest speck of corruption around him. Whether it be fear, greed, ambition, or lust for power, he senses it, absorbs it, and grows stronger.
I believe that’s what we’re seeing in the men and women in his government and, sadly, in his children. And it’s what I see in his rallies.
We can put it in religious terms and say that he’s capturing the souls of his corrupted victims. Some have made a deal with the devil, giving him their souls in exchange for wealth, or power, or whatever it is they want. It’s a familiar theme in literature. It’s very much part of traditional Christian belief.
But we needn’t go there. New Yorkers have been watching Donald Trump operate for years. Wayne Barrett, New York’s great investigative reporter, wrote about Trump’s uncanny ability to ferret out and exploit corruption in others:
“He had prided himself on never having met a public official, a banker, a lawyer, a reporter or a prosecutor he couldn’t seduce. Some he owned, and others he merely manipulated . . . . Over the years,
Donald had devised a strategy for every significant public official in his path . . . . Tempting, captivating, inveigling, and baiting those with public power were the tricks of his trade, and for the moment, Donald, preserving miraculously his air of innocence, was its unchallenged, brash new champion.”
Barrett died before Trump’s inauguration. Had he lived, he would have seen, as we’ve all seen, this strange Trump phenomenon play out among the highest-ranking (Republican) officials, virtually swallowing them whole, along with evangelical leaders, reporters, television hosts, and most important, millions of Americans. Maybe God did place him in the White House for lessons and change. In just a few weeks, we’ll know a lot more. I’m hopeful most of us have seen the light; have learned our lessons; and have resolved to change.