More recently, however, the populist right has taken on a distinctively religious tone. Rather than offering a vision of salvation, it has embraced a certain eschatology — a theory of the end times. The threat of liberalism, in this view, has become so dire that the wrong outcome of a presidential race could mean the end of U.S. civilization. One appalling defense of Trump dubbed 2016 the “Flight 93 election,” on the theory that conservatives have but two choices: “charge the cockpit” or “die.”
But the appeal of Trump and his supporters is distinctive. It is used as a mental preparation for extreme measures. If the political world is really headed toward disaster, then the normal political tools — things such as civility, persuasion and governing skill — are outmoded. If it is really just minutes to midnight for America, then maybe the situation requires an abrasive outsider willing to fight fire with napalm. Desperation increases the appetite for political risk.
There are serious dangers to the cultivation of desperation. It transforms opponents into enemies. It turns compromise into heresy. And it paves the way for authoritarian thinking and measures.
Hmm. I tend to see Trump as a kind of katechon holding back the deluge, but I don’t take seriously those people who claim that God has his hand on Trump, and certainly not in any eschatological way. The election that ends Trump’s presidential career will be like a dam break. A lot of pent-up energy from the left is going to roll down like thunder. I don’t believe a single presidential election could make or break the United States. Our decline is not primarily political; political decline is one manifestation of something broader and deeper. Once Trump and Pence are out of the White House, a lot of things that were held back will be free to be expressed by the Democrat that takes over. Those who are concerned about religious liberty had better be laboring now to get ready for what’s coming.
UPDATE: I guess I should clarify one thing. I believe that there is, as St. Paul says, a “katechon” — some mysterious thing holding back the eschaton. I certainly do not believe that Donald Trump is that thing, in the particular Christian meaning of the term. I am speaking of Trump as a katechon, in a narrow, wholly political sense. I think the Trump-and-the-End-Times literature that has emerged among a segment of Christians is not to be taken seriously. But what should be taken seriously as a political phenomenon is the widely held view on the Right that after Trump, a deluge is coming. It is fair to say that Trump has played a role in intensifying the deluge, but at this point, it can’t be stopped. Maybe conservatives can muster enough votes to win the White House in 2024 (assuming a 2020 victory), but eventually demography is going to win. Conservative Boomers are dying out, and the young are very, very much on the Left. This is what I’m talking about.