I was relieved when Jerry Falwell, Jr. recently compared Donald Trump to Jesus because, well, I’d been having some trouble knowing what to make of The Donald, and the adjective ‘Christ-like’ hadn’t sprung to mind. I don’t know why. Other adjectives had, but not that one.
The Falwell family had been helpful to me before. I didn’t know the Telletubbies were homosexual role models until Jerry Sr. made that clear, or that “Gay folks would just as soon kill you as look at you.” True, I’d often felt threatened by gangs of weapons-wielding gay people; I’d just never realized the threat was so great. Nor had I understood that AIDS was “not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, [but] God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” I mean, I just hadn’t thought of that. Nor, finally, had I realized that the September 11th attack was the direct result of gays, feminists and other ACLU types pissing God off, leading Him, apparently, to recruit Al Quaeda terrorists to murder 3000 people (the majority of them not gay) to teach gays a lesson.
What I’m saying is that the Falwells had taken the scales from my eyes before. Still, Jr.’s insight was a humdinger, and once it had rattled down the chute and clunked into the can marked “knowledge that passeth all understanding,” I couldn’t believe my own blindness: “Idiot! It’s obvious as the day! The humility! The wisdom! The disdain for earthly riches! The championing of the poor and the meek against the powerful!” I could picture The Donald, in His righteousness, cleaning house, making a whip of cords and driving the merchants and the moneychangers out of the Temple. I could see Him, in His Iron Age robe and sandals, hairpiece a-bristlin’, accusing them of turning the Temple into a den of thieves through their commercial activities, thundering, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade."
It’s so obvious once you see it.
But hang on a sec! If Donald Trump is Jesus Christ – I think I’m getting the hang of this – then Marco Rubio is clearly The Enlightened One, Ted Cruz, um, the Prophet Muhammad, Carly Fiorina, Kali the Goddess of Death, and Jeb Bush, Ares the God of War, returned to us in the shape of a guinea pig.
Dr. Ben Carson? Tough one. Maybe Yoda? Wikipedia informs me that Yoda is “said to be of a ‘species unknown’ . . . whose syntax has been analyzed and discussed by academic syntacticians, who found it somewhat inconsistent, but could extrapolate that it has object-subject-verb word order.” I think I’m very close on this one.
Seriously, anybody besides me feeling like Alice lately? What is this place? Look – there’s a Mad Hatter! And a giant, disappearing cat! And Donald Trump, wearing a crown of thorns. I mean, what the fuck?
(And how strange is it that in Alice in Wonderland, a Dodo advises Alice and her friends to dry off by running a Caucus Race, which consists of everyone running around in a circle with no clear winner?)
It may be time to take Wonderland seriously, ‘cause we’re there. According to a recent piece in The New York Times, Trump has a commanding lead among evangelical voters. How has this come to pass? Well, because The Donald’s family obviously “means everything to him,” because his intentions are pure, and because “he is the only one who can pull us back from the abyss.” What abyss, you ask? Well, you know, the abyss.
How do we know Trump our Lord and Savior has returned to us at last? Well, apparently because he’s taken to saying, “I try and do nothing that’s bad.”
No harm in trying, I guess - he sure is off to a slow start.
Of course, when pressed, some of Trump’s supporters interviewed in The New York Times hedged a bit.
A street preacher from Ohio admitted he didn’t actually know if Trump was a man of God, then added, “I’ll tell you what, if he isn’t, he’s talking like it.” Which was good enough.
Another grumbled, “If he’s a Christian, then he’s probably a baby Christian, because there’s a lot of not having the self-control.” Ouch!
Yet another, more cheerful, began by stating that he was “sick and tired of politicians” but that Trump was the boy for him because, “He does not deny God’s existence,” neatly overlooking the fact that no politician in the history of the Republic ever did deny God’s existence; that, to the contrary, politicians have been out-holying each other for 200 years while happily overlooking their own behavior, and that if there ever actually was a politician who took leave of his senses and refused to sing in the choir he’d instantly materialize in the political morgue with a tag on his toe.
Lastly, there was Buford Arning from Statesville, North Carolina, who, after pointing out that Trump was “a Christian man” whose “personal life is saintlike compared to Bill Clinton’s,” cut to the chase and explained that what he really wanted was a Christian business-man: “We’ve had an administration the last eight years of someone that never ever hired anybody and was responsible for a payroll, who filled 90 percent of his cabinet with academia, teachers and professors,” Buford explained. “I want a guy that’s run a business. I don’t care if it’s a bulldozer and he’s cleared lots for 20 years.”
Which is fine (I might see his point regarding certain academics, and it’s certainly helpful to go into a summit meeting with Vladimir Putin having cleared lots for 20 years), but there’s a small problem with people like Buford demanding a candidate who’s, a) a Christian and b) a businessman, namely, that the first is un-American and the second anti-democratic.
To people like Buford (and the candidates on the right busily out-Jesus-ing each other to prove their worthiness for higher office) we might point out that there’s this small thing called the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (Oh, darn! That!) which not only establishes the separation of church and state but clearly specifies, in Article VI, that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
I guess Buford missed that lesson. As did Ted Cruz. And Dr. Ben Carson. And the rest of the crew. And the Republican Party as a whole and a large majority of the Democratic Party to boot. How, I’m not sure.
It’s not news. It’s the founding document of our nation. In a nutshell, it says that when it comes to running for public office, your beliefs regarding God are yours alone – that that information is not wanted here.
Of course, some folks might have a problem with that. The Puritans, for example, who believed that the minister and the magistrate should be one and the same. Cotton Mather would have considered it blasphemous to keep Jesus out of the discussion, as would Increase, his father (and Decrease, his son – sorry), but the thing is - the Puritans did not live in The United States of America. They lived in a theocracy not unlike modern-day Iran and entertained themselves, while praising the word of God, by burning witches at the stake. We may yet come around to that (it would be nice if we could hold off a while), but if we do, we’ll have to do it in the face of everything that makes us American.
But back to Buford Arning and his desire for a Christian businessman-President. (I don’t mean to pick on Buford, though I guess if you let yourself be quoted in the Newspaper of Record, you’re fair game.)
What someone should say to Mr. Arning and his friends is that just as demanding that a candidate pass a religious litmus test is profoundly un-American, wanting him or her to be a businessman is implicitly anti-democratic. Why? Because a corporation is an inverted democracy. Because the boss of a company dictates to his subordinates while a President is the people’s employee, hired (or fired, if need be), according to their will. Offhand, I can’t think of a worse qualification for the Presidency than to have run a company. No matter how decent or successful that man or woman may have been, the habit of power, of being feared and kowtowed to, is anathema to the office. You want a boss? Look to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and think again.
We don’t need a boss. Or a savior. What we need is an experienced, highly intelligent, just, public-spirited employee who has our best interests in mind, who understands that governing in a democracy involves constant battle and inevitable compromise, and who, above all, knows his (or her) place.
Will we achieve this? We’ll see. Getting off our asses will be key.
In a piece I wrote for Harper’s magazine a few years back – a piece I still think has some merit – I wrote the following, more or less; it’s my piece, so I can mess with it.
The real problem, I wrote, the unacknowledged pit underlying American democracy, is the 38% of the population who don’t vote. Think of it: a country the size of Germany – 83 million people – within our own borders. Many of its citizens, after decades of watching the status quo perpetuate itself, are presumably too fed up to bother, a stance we can sympathize with and still condemn for its petulance and immaturity, its unwillingness to acknowledge that in every election, there’s a better and worse choice. Millions of others, however, are adults who don’t know what the Bill of Rights is, who have never heard of Lenin, who think Africa is a nation, who have never read a book. I’ve talked to enough of them to know that many are decent people, and that decency is not enough. Witches are put to the stake by decent people. Ignorance trumps decency any day of the week.
Praise me for a patriot or warm up the pillory, it comes down to the unpleasant fact that a significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and gullible as a boxful of puppies; they’ll believe anything; they’ll attack the empty glove; they’ll follow that plastic bone right off the cliff. If they’re ever activated – if the wrong individual gets to them before the educational system does – we may live to experience a tyranny of the majority Tocqueville never imagined.
Regarding The Divine Donald, I’m reminded of Winston Churchill, who once said of a pompous rival, “There, but for the Grace of God, goes God.”