Donald Trump Is Not The Messiah
There’s a certain kind of liberal who thinks that the culture war was something conservatives made up to get votes. This is not only wrong, but absurd. As James Davison Hunter, the sociologist who coined the term, has explained, what we call “culture war” describes a real phenomenon of people within a polity whose deepest beliefs about cultural matters (as distinct, I suppose, from, say, economics) put them in an irreconcilable position with those within the polity who do not share those beliefs.
In a past era, whites who believed that racial integration was intolerable were locked in a culture war with those who believed segregation was intolerable. If you understand segregation strictly in terms of political rights, you’ll miss the core of it. The South built an entire culture around white supremacy. The racial conflict didn’t become a culture war until one side tried to subjugate the other. The fight against segregation was right and necessary, but it was also a culture war.
From the pro-life point of view, so is the struggle for the right to life of the unborn. You, pro-choicer, may oppose that struggle, but you should at least recognize that the people who wage it are every bit as committed as you are to their moral position. The only way to end the culture war is for one side to defeat the other, politically or otherwise. But then, something else will come up. It’s baked in the cake with a fragmenting society like contemporary America’s. Liberals who fault conservatives for waging culture war are blind to the way they are usually the aggressors in these contests. They blame conservatives who are trying to defend what they have for not having the decency to surrender.
Ross Douthat has a column today about how Joe Biden has chosen a fierce progressive culture warrior, Xavier Becerra, as his secretary of Health and Human Services. Excerpts:
In the best-case scenario for Biden, the Trumpian voter-fraud narrative could set in motion a Tea Party redux on the right, with fringe characters and Trump loyalists successfully primarying established G.O.P. figures — but without the high-unemployment economy and the Obamacare fight that enabled the Tea Party Republicans to take the House in 2010. Instead, a radicalized Republican Party campaigning on a supposedly stolen election while the Democrats campaign on prosperity and normalcy could set up the rare midterm scenario in which an incumbent president’s party actually picks up seats.
If you want to know how the Biden administration could blow this opportunity, though, look no further than his just-announced choice to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra.
No cabinet agency is likely to be as prominent as H.H.S. during the first year of the Biden presidency, given the upcoming vaccine rollout and the slow unwinding of public-health restrictions. And for a campaign that placed so much emphasis on the idea that disinterested expertise and capital-S Science should guide the coronavirus response, Becerra is a peculiar choice: a partisan politician from a deep-blue state whose health care experience is mostly in legal battles with the Trump White House over Obamacare, rather than in health policy or medicine itself.
Douthat says Obama made culture war from the Left a priority. More:
It was inevitable that a Biden administration would pick up some of these threads. But Becerra is the pick you make if you intend to pursue a lot of them, since that’s where his qualifications lie — as a partisan warrior on issues like guns and immigration and as an abortion-rights maximalist who has used his attorney general’s office to sue the Little Sisters of the Poor after a Supreme Court decision in their favor and to pursue felony convictions against the pro-life filmmakers who made undercover videos of Planned Parenthood executives talking about the sale of fetal body parts. (That prosecutorial push was denounced for “disturbing overreach” by the Los Angeles Times editorial page, which is not exactly noted for its pro-life sympathies.)
As John McCormack of National Review puts it, to understand how social conservatives feel about Becerra, imagine if a Republican president elected on a promise to heal partisan wounds and deal with a pandemic nominated Rick Santorum as his first secretary of Health and Human Services.
Always remember and do not forget: when the media gushes on about Biden as a Catholic president, note that he nominated as his HHS secretary a politician who went after the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Now, it is imperative that the Right get its act together to fight this — first, by holding the Senate for the GOP, then by developing a coherent counter-strategy, and pursuing it with discipline. It appears, though, that the Right is going to spend itself on fighting a quixotic battle for Donald Trump, from whom the election was allegedly stolen. Trump himself is reported to be considering skipping the Biden inauguration and flying to Florida to announce his 2024 candidacy at the same time Biden is sworn in.
If that is true, and he really goes through with it, it will be the most disgraceful and unpatriotic act we have ever seen from a US president. Having Donald Trump traveling the country for the next four years campaigning will tear the country apart. And because it will be difficult for any conservative to take on Trump within the Right, it may destroy the Republican Party’s chances of coming up with a strong, viable candidate for 2024, a year in which conservatives will likely face Kamala Harris.
The stolen election narrative is becoming a new religious phenomenon. Do I believe that there might have been election fraud? Sure. It’s a big country. But do I believe that Team Trump can prove it, or that it flipped the election? We aren’t seeing proof of that. I was talking to two friends last week, both conservative lawyers (one of them I know for sure voted for Trump). Both said there is a chasm between what Trump’s team is telling the public about the case, and what is actually in their legal filings. The court filings are pathetic, the lawyers said. Clown-car stuff. But see, this is the kind of thing that ordinary people — that is, people without legal training — can’t easily understand. One of the lawyers said that voter fraud might well have happened, but if you can’t show evidence in court, you’ve got nothing. That is the problem here, for Team Trump.
Unlike Eric Metaxas, I don’t believe that it is clear that God is on Trump’s side, I don’t believe that Trump will be inaugurated, and I certainly don’t believe that Trump is worth dying for. Nor do I believe that it’s worth killing America to save Donald Trump’s political career. I did not vote for Joe Biden, and I devoutly hope that the Republican Party holds the Senate and prevents him from doing his worst. I hope that I am a patriot who cares about what’s best for the country. I do feel alienated from America, often, and I expect at some point in my lifetime to have my loyalty to this country challenged by something anti-Christian that the state does. If that happens, I hope and pray that I have the courage to defy the state.
But this Trump thing ain’t it.
There’s going to be a series of big Christian pro-Trump events in DC and elsewhere next week, the “Jericho March.”Take a look at their self-description:
The title comes from the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), the Book of Joshua, Chapter 6. In it, the Israelites circled the besieged city of Jericho six times, and on the seventh, blew their trumpets, and the city wall fell, allowing them to take the city. (Wikipedia tells the story.) It is hugely important that Trump supporters associate their crusade to overturn the election with the taking of a city, and with God’s favor on their cause. Make no mistake: this is a total combining of Trumpism, nationalism, and Christianity. The list of dignitaries who are participating includes one Catholic bishop — Strickland of Tyler, Texas — and a prominent and respected Orthodox priest, Father Hans Jacobse.
I don’t get it. I don’t get putting the cause of Christianity behind Donald Trump like this. Trump appears to have lost the election, but even if there were solid reasons to believe that he had it stolen from him, is it really wise to bring Jesus Christ into this partisan political dispute? Donald Trump did not die for my sins, nor did he trample down death by death. I have not been paying attention to the Jericho March world, but poking my head into the blog of George Michalopulus, an Orthodox Christian layman I used to know when I was living in Dallas, and someone who is identified by the Jericho March organization as a “religious leader” who will be part of the DC rally next week — well, it’s eye-opening, to say the least. Michalopulos approvingly quotes this statement from another blog, writing “It really says it all, doesn’t it?”:
And so knowing the stakes, we return to Trump, standing at the crossroads. He will soon be faced with a monumental choice. He can submit to Biden’s fraudulent victory and willingly vacate the Presidency, or he can refuse to do so and maintain control by any means necessary. The former will result not only in Trump’s personal ruination (likely including imprisonment), but the ruination of his family, and the destruction of the United States discussed above. The latter would almost assuredly kick off an outright civil war, and even if Trump’s faction should prevail, would embark the U.S. down an uncertain and uncharted path of American Caesarism. And yet, however grim these two possibilities are, Trump must indeed choose one of them over the coming weeks. His hand has been forced. The die must be cast.
I hope and pray that Trump can rise to this moment, and that not only is God not done using him as a cudgel of divine punishment against the wicked powers of the world, but has in fact preserved and prepared him for precisely this opportunity, when all the cards are on the table and every player has gone all-in. Now is the time Trump must act decisively. He must be prepared to use the full power of the Presidency and his authority as Commander in Chief to crush his enemies, who are the servants of the evil one and who work to bring America fully under their Satanic one-world system. After he has fully exposed the attempt to steal the election, he must use his authority under the Insurrection Act to arrest and/or kill everyone who participated in this plot. He must arrest the leadership of the Democrat Party, everyone of significance in the mainstream media, the major players in big tech, and the numerous other globalist string pullers and heavyweights behind the scenes who are mostly unknown to us (i.e. Soros and his ilk). These people have outed themselves as enemies of America and must be treated as such.
Trump won the election in a landslide. He has the loyalty of the American people. He has the loyalty of the police and the military. It is within his power to take this fight and to win it. If he submits to the forces of the NWO, we are doomed as free people and must spend the rest of our lives seeking only spiritual solace (if this is God’s plan, so be it, we will endure until the end). But perhaps there is yet hope, and the final hour of America has not yet come. Perhaps Trump will cross the Rubicon and take the fight to the forces of darkness, beating back the globalists and giving the United States another chance to turn things around.
American Caesarism. This leader of the Jericho March is calling for a coup d’etat against the United States, and invoking a divine mandate to do so. My God.
I’m speechless. Look, I believe that soft totalitarianism is coming, and though I believe Covid is a real crisis, I also believe that powerful people are going to take advantage of it to push for bad things. But the idea that Donald Trump is our only hope — really? Really? The idea that he has the mandate of heaven, and that Christians should be prepared to see the Constitutional order destroyed for the sake of Donald Trump — it’s just beyond crazy. I would never, ever submit to the dictatorial rule of Donald Trump, and it is utterly appalling that Christians would say that doing so is what God would have us do.
Politically, I have very little in common with the Evangelical commenter Michael Gerson, but he’s right in his column today:
Elsewhere Metaxas predicted, “Trump will be inaugurated. For the high crimes of trying to throw a U.S. presidential election, many will go to jail. The swamp will be drained. And Lincoln’s prophetic words of ‘a new birth of freedom’ will be fulfilled. Pray.”
Just to be clear, Metaxas has publicly committed his life to Donald Trump, claimed that at least two members of the Trinity favor a coup against the constitutional order, endorsed the widespread jailing of Trump’s political enemies for imaginary crimes, claimed Abraham Lincoln’s blessing for the advance of authoritarianism and urged Christians to pray to God for the effective death of American democracy. This is seditious and sacrilegious in equal measure.
What has come over these Christians? Understand me clearly: I believe that the Biden administration will be bad for people and causes that I very much care about. I believe that conservatives — Christians and otherwise — should do what a political opposition is supposed to do: oppose, as effectively as possible. But that’s not what these people are talking about. They’re talking about blowing up the entire system unless Donald Trump can have his way. Yappy Catholic crazy person John Zmirak likens me and other Christians who don’t sign on to the Trump post-election crusade to Nazi collaborators. And Eric Metaxas, who has been a friend of mine for over 20 years, promoted that column to the skies. This is where the heads of a lot of Christians are these days: Donald or death.
I have prepared myself mentally for a time in post-Christian America when Christians would be seen as a menace to society, and unpatriotic, simply because we are faithful to our God. If this has to come, then let us meet it like Christians: with deep prayer fueling meaningful resistance, culturally, religiously, politically and otherwise. In fact, my current book encourages Christians to start forming networks now for mutual support when open resistance to soft totalitarianism becomes necessary.
But come on, to have an incumbent political candidate — especially one as flawed as Donald Trump — lose an election in the midst of a global pandemic that he has not handled well is not the same thing as the imposition of tyranny. Let’s be serious here. If we are to resist the regime, then we have to have exhausted all peaceful, orderly means possible. We have not done that, or even close to it. What this seditious batsh*ttery is doing is giving would-be authoritarians on the Left the excuse they need to suppress us. And it’s making conservative churches look ridiculous in the eyes of others, driving people away from the church — to say nothing of repelling natural conservatives who don’t regard the continuation of the Trump presidency at the cost of the Constitutional order as the will of Almighty God.
And look, if we really are going to conclude, after prayer and deliberation, that our sacred duty, as Christians, is to support the overthrow of the Constitutional order and the establishment of autocracy — a radical move that would only be justified under the most extreme conditions — then for heaven’s sake, let’s not rubbish everything our forefathers bled and died for to preserve the political viability of … Donald Trump!
To be fair, I shouldn’t assume that all Jericho March people believe what Michalopulos does. Still, the conflation of Trumpist nationalism with Christianity is very bad for the church. I say that as a conservative Christian who believes in a broad nationalism (as opposed to Davos-style internationalism). I think the “Stop The Steal” movement is mistaken, but I would not be so alarmed by it were these leaders not tying it to fidelity to God. The progressive Left in this country is bonkers; that we know. Must we on the Right show ourselves to be every bit as shipwrecked on the reef of ideology? Every minute we spend on trying to salvage Trump’s pride is a minute we are not spending on building a meaningful, substantive resistance. And it is de facto helping people like Xavier Becerra by neutralizing conservatives and Christians who would be open to fighting against whatever the Biden administration attempts, but who don’t want to be associated with sedition and religious extremism.
Donald Trump is not King Messiah. The Republican Party is not Biblical Israel, and neither is the United States of America. Our salvation does not depend on maintaining political power. Stop acting like it. We live in a country that’s falling to pieces, in a society that is corrupted by the collapse of the family, the failure of churches, the poisoning of academia by ideology, and on and on — and returning Donald Trump to office will do almost nothing to reverse that toxic tide. We conservative Christians can’t even keep our adult children in the church, but boy, we sure are going to go to the mat to keep Donald Trump in office. It makes no sense.
UPDATE: A reader who is a pastor writes:
Agree with 95+% of what you shared today, but…ha ha:
Having greater zeal for politics than discipleship, to include any particular candidate, is a mark of what has brought upon us the state of the “church,” such as it is, in America today.
Nevertheless, I have empathy for those criticized, enough so that some no doubt would tend to characterize me similarly, although many of “them” find my positions on such matters confusing to angering from their point of view.
Nevertheless, a key point you might ponder is that many do not believe soft totalitarianism is anything but transitory in nature and therefore ultimately only a segue to harsh totalitarianism. While it would not be the classic “fair reading” of your work, the reality is that for those looking through these lenses, there are things that you write that actually motivate them in ways that you criticize. Whereas some read an historical account of a tragic period of time and deeply ponder and identify with those who suffered, others immediately think that if various individuals had been more assertive, perhaps even more radically willing to engage before the dark winter fell, that somehow tragedy could have been avoided.
In short, there are individuals who believe this very moment is their last chance to keep not soft totalitarianism, as you have defined, but rather some of the worst, most harsh elements of systems historically found in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and various fascistic regimes from coming upon them and their country. They perceive the American Left as having worked for over 100 years to destroy the Constitution and now, having so thoroughly infected and degraded the American political system, their last chance to save the constitutional Republic is by such means as you have brought up, rightly with grave concern.
While those with messianic zeal toward Trump are indefensible from my point of view, troubling, even a part of the problem upon which they are fixated, like the flip side to a coin, I am very open to the potentiality that the fears driving them may actually, in a relatively short time, be proved true.
I don’t know. Maybe so. I’ll tell you what I see in somefolks I know who have given themselves over to Trump at this level (as distinct from those voting for him as the lesser evil). I see people who rightly discern disorder in the wider world, but who do little or nothing to address the disorder in their own lives. A pastor once told me that most of the people in his conservative church were all wound up about what the liberals were doing to disrupt America — and they were right! — but they had no interest in thinking about how their own total immersion in consumer culture, and the ways of suburban America, were undermining their own Christian discipleship, and malforming their children. The threats were always Out There, never internal. The answer was always Vote Republican, consume the correct media/social media, and to sort one’s own opinions to absolve oneself from doing anything meaningful.
I was present for this conversation between a MAGA parent and a skeptical adult child:
Parent: “What’s wrong with the church these days is they don’t teach the Ten Commandments anymore.”
Child: “Can you name the Ten Commandments?”
I got into an argument not long ago with one of my own Trumpy relatives, who was griping about how the country is going to hell, and people have lost their morals, and so forth. Yeah, I pretty much agree, I said, but listen, I asked, when was the last time you went to church, not counting Christmas? I knew that my relative was one of these people who gets up on a soapbox to complain about everybody else, especially the Damn Democrats™, but never, ever turns that critical eye inward, or towards conservatives. My interlocutor complained that the church wasn’t worth going to, because blah blah blah.
Y’all know I am death on the Woke, and their aiders and abettors. But I have the feeling that a lot of the sentiment among the MAGA militants is indignant but shallow. Let me use myself as an example. Here’s a story I’ve told here about myself. When I was younger, and deeply involved in Catholic culture, I had this idea that if only we would get the right Pope, and the right bishops, that the problems in the Church would turn around. Well, we had a good Pope (this was the JP2 days), but he was unwilling to act right, according to me. I remember a dinner we had at my place in Brooklyn, with me and some fellow conservative Catholic friends. As usual, we were bitching about what bishops and others in the institutional church were failing to do.
A priest who was present said that we were right, but he challenged us not to sit passively by and wait on the hierarchy to get its act together. He pointed out all the possibilities we had to get together with other faithful Catholics, and to feed ourselves from the wisdom of the Church — and to prepare to catechize our children. The priest was 100 percent right. I can’t say what the others present did or didn’t do after that night, but I know that I fell right back into bitching about the failures of others.
We all do it. And hey, we complainers were not wrong about the faults of churchmen! But that was all we were willing to do: find fault with others, but not do any hard work on our own to address the effects of the problem where we could. I don’t say this to let lousy bishops or failed politicians off the hook. But I do say it as a criticism of people — myself included — who act like holding strong opinions and voting this way or that is all that can be expected of us.
I am not telling people to be politically passive. But it’s frustrating to see people giving themselves over to political passions and would-be solutions that don’t actually have a lot to do with what most threatens the church and the moral condition of our country. As far as I recall, the last Democrat I voted for in a Congressional or presidential race was Michael Dukakis in 1988 (not counting writing in Wendell Berry in 2008). We have had sixteen years of GOP presidential governance since then (twenty-four if you count the Reagan administration before it). We have had GOP control of Congress for some of those years. Has the culture been saved? I would reckon that conditions are probably better than they would have been had the Democrats been in charge all that time, but come on: Republicans in power have not prevented the decline in religion, the fragmenting of society, and the dissolution of the traditional family. And it’s not fair to have expected them to do all that; politics cannot make up for failures in religious life, education, family formation, and the rest.
If you have the time, go read the transcript to the 1998 PBS Frontline documentary, “The Lost Children of Rockdale County.” It’s about a syphilis outbreak that raged through a high school in a prosperous Atlanta suburb. What the disease investigation revealed was a teenage culture in which promiscuous sex was common, and the kids were being raised not by attentive parents, but by pop culture and themselves. This was in a ruby-red Republican suburb in the South. A suburb filled with churches. But what was wrong there, no politician could have fixed.
UPDATE.2: A reader e-mails:
UPDATE.3: The Arizona Republican Party wants to know if you will die for Donald Trump:
UPDATE.4: Reader Jonah R. comments:
[Quoting me: ] “Y’all know I am death on the Woke, and their aiders and abettors. But I have the feeling that a lot of the sentiment among the MAGA militants is indignant but shallow.”
This is sad but true. The biggest Trump supporters I know, including my own extended family, are nominal patriarchs of families where middle-ages kids are shacked unmarried with their latest boyfriend or girlfriend. Their grandchildren, glued to social media on their smartphones, know nothing about Christianity and have rarely if ever set foot in a church. MAGA Grandpas rarely attend church themselves. Despite having a solid work ethic and many other admirable qualities, they’ve failed to preserve and pass along their faith and their culture within their own families, and they want to blame “the left” for what their kids and grandkids have become.
When Trump was campaigning in 2016, Rush Limbaugh delighted in telling a story about how Trump kept their golf date one Sunday morning, even though it was Easter. Neither of the two men knew it was Easter. Limbaugh spun this as a sign of Trump’s integrity, because he kept his word and didn’t cancel at the last minute. Has anyone asked Eric Metaxas or those priests attending that march why they’re rallying behind a gigolo who’s so out of touch with Christianity he doesn’t have Easter on his calendar?