Donald Trump is an evil man in the most banal sense of the word. And by “banal,” I don’t mean trivial; any man with Trump’s wealth, fame, and connections certainly has destructive potential to be taken seriously. I simply mean that there is nothing particularly unusual or ingenious about his wickedness.[i]
Biblically speaking, his malevolence is nothing new under the sun. He is Solomon using women as objects of amusement and pleasure.[ii],[iii] He is Pharaoh identifying resident aliens as the enemy, isolating them from the local population, enslaving their bodies and exploiting their strength.[iv],[v] He is Pilate, with his casual contempt for the land he would govern.[vi],[vii] He is Herod, with his monument-building and ruthless aspirations to political greatness.[viii],[ix] He is, in other words, a dangerously flawed human being gleefully plumbing the depths of our human potential for awfulness. Millions of us love him for it.[x] And millions of others can’t tear our eyes away, though we may wish to.
That said, what kills me isn’t Trump. Just as Jesus said, “You shall always have the poor among you,” we will also always have megalomaniacal dickweeds among us…often contributing to the perpetuation of poverty, but that’s a topic for another post. What kills me, as always, is the so-called Christian response to him. On the one hand are the Christians who piss themselves with joy every time some toxic vitriol about a) brown people, b) women, c) people with disabilities, d) non-Americans, e) prisoners, f) have I missed anyone? comes out of Trump’s mouth. On the other hand are the Christians, like yours truly, who secretly pray for a stray asteroid or one piece of bacon too many to simply remove Trump from the human equation.
Obviously, any celebration of evil (on the one hand) or prayerful exercise of evil (on the other hand) is patently un-Christlike. I think Trump delights some Christians because he openly displays the rottenness that contaminates the human heart, particularly American human hearts with our conflicted and self-contradictory history and national identity of “liberty and justice for all”/slave-holding, genocide, and oppression of women and foreigners. In this respect, Trump gives us a vicarious thrill when he spouts off about women bleeding out of their eyes (“or wherever”), or prisoners of war as “losers,” or roughing up brown people exercising their right to free speech. I’m sure a great many Christians agree with their ever-lovin’ hearts and minds with the hateful sentiments behind such comments, but on some level, I think we all find Trump entertaining because yes, “he just said that.” And it touches a similarly corrupt chord in all of our hearts.
Being a political liberal and a “progressive” Christian, I’m generally self-congratulatory about taking the moral high ground on social and political issues But when Trump strums those corroded strings in my heart, in that soft, mealy spot in my own character, I respond as most of my kind do: with hot, righteous, but not altogether justifiable indignation. Then, being a proper religious, I pray. I’d be lying if I said I pray for Trump’s welfare, or for the heart-healing I think his ardent fans need. No, I pray for Trump’s destruction.
The great political theorist and ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr, wrote that only power can confront power and an evil and corrupt establishment cannot be brought down with sit-ins and kumbaya.[xi] An apt political observation, but it doesn’t stand up to Jesus’ command to love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.[xii]
I can’t for the life of me think of how to pray, with integrity, for The Donald, nor for many of our national and global leaders who seem bent on building empires for themselves on the backs of other nations and of their own people. The best I can do is grieve my sin (yes, I just said that) and let God do the praying for me. Paul wrote in his final letter, the letter to the church in Rome: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”[xiii]
We don’t know how to pray as we ought, or live as we ought, or hold each other or our public officials accountable as we ought because to do so would cast a circle of light over all of our sins.
[i] These terms probably seem quaint or even archaic. “Wickedness,” “evil,” and “sin” don’t see much play in my progressive Christian tradition, which is one of many ways educated, white, liberal Christians quietly acquiesce to the viciousness of our society: we patently refuse to call it what it is.
[ii] I Kings 11:1-3, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650964
[iii] “18 Real Things Trump has Actually Said About Women,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/18-real-things-donald-trump-has-said-about-women_55d356a8e4b07addcb442023
[iv] Exodus 1:8-22, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651105
[v] “Debunking Donald Trump’s Five Extreme Statements about Immigrants and Mexico,” http://www.forbes.com/sites/doliaestevez/2015/09/03/debunking-donald-trumps-five-extreme-statements-about-immigrants-and-mexico/print/
[vi] Luke 13:1, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315651271
[vii] “Hey Trump, Don’t Use “Crippled” as a Metaphor for America,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-kuusisto/donald-trump-and-the-crip_b_8510368.html
[viii] “History Crash Course #31: Herod the Great,” http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48942446.html
[ix] “How Donald Trump Abandoned his Father’s Middle-Class Housing Empire for Luxury Building,” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/08/10/the-middle-class-housing-empire-donald-trump-abandoned-for-luxury-building/
[x] A long, but fascinating article in The Atlantic features thirty reasons, from all along the political spectrum, for why so many Americans support Trump’s presidential bid: “What do Donald Trump Voters Actually Want?” http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/donald-trump-voters/401408/
[xi] I confess, this is a bit of a paraphrase. For Niebuhr’s actual position, see Moral Man in Immoral Society.
[xii] Matthew 5:44, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315653551
[xiii] Romans 8:26, http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=315650687
[xiv] Illustration by Canadian artist, Dominic Philibert, http://dominicphilibert.blogspot.com/2010/09/donald-trumps-for-clarktoys-trailer.html
© Marian the Seminarian 2015