“One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power.” – Bill Moyers
I hesitate to jump on the Stop Trump bandwagon now. Polls indicate 70 percent of the people don’t like him, and I hate to look like I’m susceptible to peer pressure.
Possibly my hesitation grew out of 30 years of communicating for church and ecumenical organizations whose tax-exempt status required we keep our political views to ourselves.
But as New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow said on his Facebook video last week, Trump has gotten on my last nerve.
As a mere voter, I can drop the guise of thoughtful neutrality. I have never liked Trump, even when he appeared to be – In the words of Times columnist Maureen Dowd, a “braggadocious but benign celebrity.” I thought the New York Daily News got it right last year when Trump said he would run for the highest office in the land: “CLOWN RUNS FOR PREZ.”
The Daily News headlines also summed up why voters would laugh at the Donald. “Insults Mexicans.” “Vows border wall.” “’I’ll be greatest.’” “Ad-libs circus speech to formally announce.”
But as the 2016 campaign commenced and Trump began winning Republican primaries, I stopped chortling.
What on earth was happening? Everything about the campaign defied logic. Even Nate Silver, the pollster known for his uncannily accurate predictions of the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, has been consistently wrong this year. Silver and other pollsters failed to predict Donald Trump’s rise and they blame the vastly underestimated anger of voters, the unforeseen weakness of the Republican National Committee, and the rapaciousness of media to boost ratings by focusing on the Donald’s bloviating charisma.
Pollsters also did poorly on the Democratic side, failing to anticipate Bernie Sanders’ strong showing over long-time front-runner Hillary Clinton. My friend Kurt Meyer, a Democratic leader in Iowa, was among the first to notice Bernie’s strength and signaled the Clinton campaign, “Objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they look.”
The media distorted the true nature of the Democratic campaign by concentrating on Clinton’s use of private email when she was secretary of state, and by resurrecting long debunked rumors of her past life without checking their veracity on scopes.com. The media have also tended to let Sanders slide by not pressing him to explain where he would get the trillions of dollars necessary to implement his proposals, and by not examining how comfortable the electorate would be with an avowedly socialist president.
But it is the Trump campaign that raises the hackles of this old church journalist.
Earlier this year I didn’t worry about Trump’s more inexplicable proposals, such as building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, expelling 11 million undocumented aliens from the U.S., barring the entry of Muslims, punishing women who have abortions, or using tactical nuclear weapons to combat ISIS. I didn’t worry because I figured the American people would never allow him to get away with it.
In the weeks since he clinched the GOP nomination, Trump showed little sign of moderating his views. He suggested a judge assigned to a case involving Trump University should be disqualified because he is of Mexican descent. And following the terror assault on LGBT persons in a nightclub in Florida, he renewed his call to ban Muslims from the U.S. and accused President Obama of being somehow responsible for the attack.
Why didn’t American primary voters stop Trump when they had a chance?
Charles M. Blow has a theory. Millions of Americans struggle to hide that racist bone they claim they don’t have in their bodies and Trump has given them the opportunity let it dangle. Trump’s unabashedly racist statements give racists a comfortable place to stand, and they have come out of the closet in droves. “(Trump) is a racist,” Blow insists in a recent Facebook video. “He’s a sexist. He’s a nativist. He discriminates on the basis of religion and ethnicity … This man is the presumptive nominee of a major party in America and this is because Republicans have been cowards about dealing with the poison that they fully know is in their midst.”
Republican leaders have done little to disguise their racism. Some of their resistance to an African American president, such as their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, might have been politics as usual. But their unrelenting, systematic contempt for Obama – most recently manifest by their refusal to acknowledge the President’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court – ensues because they know the closet racists in their base will reward their recalcitrance. One can almost hear echoes of Randy Newman’s satirical song from the 2012 campaign, “I’m Dreaming of a White President.”
Among the more sobering things about Trump are his vainglorious efforts to wrap his ideas in the arms of faith by pursuing the votes of Christian evangelicals.
Some evangelicals have returned that embrace, including two scions of evangelical doughtiness, Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Billy Graham’s son Franklin. But that doesn’t mean most evangelicals support Trump and, as both Christianity Today and Atlantic magazines have pointed out, most don’t. They are as afraid of his ideas as most other thinking persons of faith.
In one of the lowlights of the GOP debates, Trump refused to recite a single bible passage, leaving the impression he had no memory verses locked in his curiously coifed head.
That is perfectly understandable. What could be more unpleasant for a rich man than an immersion in Scripture? The bible offers no comfort to the rich. Jesus himself routinely lambasted persons of wealth. Especially unpleasant for the high-net-worth few is the anecdote of the rich man who basks in luxury, scarcely noticing the wretched beggar who is starving and dying of psoriatic ulcers beneath his table. The beggar dies and goes to heaven, while the rich man was consigned to the torments of hell. (Luke 16:19-31).
Then there the story of the rich young man who abandoned Jesus when he was told to sell all he had and give the proceeds to the poor. (Matthew 19:21)
And the best-known anecdote is Jesus’ oft-quoted remark that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven. (Mark 10:24).
For many, that’s very bad news. Bad news for Trump. Bad news for the Koch brothers. Bad news for Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham. And bad news for most of us. Because millions of us who fall far short of the celebrated one percent are nevertheless richer than Luke’s rich man could possibly imagine. Worse, most of us in that category are as indifferent to the 45 million U.S. residents who live below the poverty line as the rich man was indifferent to Lazarus.
It is astonishing that Trump, who routinely boasts of his fortune and interprets it as God’s favor on him, shows little evidence he is concerned about persons living in poverty, or has empathy for undocumented residents, Muslims, unmarried pregnant teenagers, or the millions of innocents who would be collateral damage in the wars he proposals.
My guess is that churchy stuff bores the Donald and he will do anything to keep it at a distance, even write a check. The late Arie Brouwer, former general secretary of both the National Council of Churches and the Reformed Church in America (RCA), once told me this story about Trump:
Some time ago, the Reformed Church was in the midst of a major capital funds campaign.
Trump was known to attend worship services at Marble Collegiate Church in New York, the RCA church where Norman Vincent Peale had been pastor. The RCA leaders speculated Trump might be a good bet for a seven-figure gift to the campaign. They met with Trump in his Manhattan office and carefully laid out the good things that could happen if the campaign reached its goal. Trump listened politely, occasionally checking his watch, but rose from his desk before the sales pitch had been completed. He pulled out his checkbook, wrote out a check for $75,000, and escorted the group out of his office.
That’s a generous gift by any calculation, but the leaders were deeply disappointed. Arie said he had dozens of buttons created with the words, “I Trumped Trump.” The buttons were to be pinned to the lapels of anyone who gave more than $75,001.
The story suggests a breakdown of communication on both sides. I don’t know if the buttons helped raise money, but they surely slammed shut the door between Trump and his church.
One can only wish that Trump had better access to spiritual direction. If only he was indeed the religious man he claims to be. I would welcome evidence that he heard the words of Jesus, paraphrased by many other faith leaders including Hillel, Buddha, and Mohammed, to assert God’s greatest commandment to humankind: love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
As one reads through Trump’s political proposals, it appears he thinks the greatest commandment reads like this: Never get closer to God than oblique references to “the man upstairs,” and never let your neighbor get in your way.
If Trump, the media, and the voting public pursue the designs Trump exemplifies, I fear the “making American Great Again” balloon will swiftly collapse. We will become a nation isolated from the rest of the world, feared and scorned, surrounded by walls, and hampered by a citizenry that fears anyone who is different from them. The Trump formula for greatness is a recipe for international decline, internal division, and encroaching weakness.
If voters decide to pursue the course Mr. Trump has set, I fear we may find ourselves living in a nation – and in a world – where the spiritual guidelines of Jesus, Hillel, Muhammad, and Buddha will be distorted beyond recognition. And soon the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 will evolve to create a more comfortable tent for Trump supporters:
Happy are the rich, for their earthly kingdoms will inspire the poor to greater diligence.
Happy are the comfortable, for their luxury can be a constant source of consolation.
Happy are the aggressively assertive, for few will dare deny them anything.
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for self-aggrandizement, for they will always be sated.
Happy are those who show no mercy to foes and critics, for they will be infinitely satisfied by their conquests.
Happy are the jaded and pragmatic, for God prefers those who help themselves.
Happy are those who decry appeasement and diplomacy, for God smiles on the strong.
Happy are those who smite their critics and lay waste to their opponents, for God loves a winner.