David French has an interesting formulation to describe the strange phenomenon of conservative Christians rallying around a man like Donald Trump. These folks are essentially asking the president to hate their enemies for them so that they can remain true to Jesus’s commandment to love their enemies.
Whatever misgivings they may have about Trump’s personal morals, at least he fights. And, if he loses, then there will be a pro-choice president who appoints pro-choice judges, and no one will protect them from infringements on their right to live by the principles of their faith.
What happens next, according to French, is that people are drawn in by their initial acceptance of Trump as their proxy and representative. Before long, they begin to rationalize that any criticism of Trump will weaken him and empower his opponents, so they refrain from criticizing him. Then they begin to attack his critics even when they agree with them: “They’ll echo Trump’s lies. They’ll defend Trump’s lies. They’ll adopt many of his same rhetorical tactics, including engaging in mocking and insulting behavior as a matter of course.”
French describes this phenomenon using the hypothetical older woman who is “so nice in person that you’d hardly think it’s real.”
…she loves Trump because she’s sick and tired. She’s sick and tired of the elite media deriding her faith as bigoted. She’s sick and tired of a political party that rejects the humanity of unborn children. She’s appalled at the way she believes the media have gone out of their way to destroy good men…
…She doesn’t necessarily like Trump’s lying, but the Democrats lie too, and if you read what she writes on social media, and you hear what she says to her friends, it’s full of condemnation against Adam Schiff, the Steele dossier, and the other laundry list of Resistance sins.
She doesn’t like Trump’s personal insults, but her political conversations are full of shock and anger at the opposition’s disrespect for a president she appreciates. That’s where she invests her emotion. That’s where she focuses her activism. Have you seen what The Squad says about Trump? The misdeeds freshman members of Congress loom far larger in her mind that the misconduct of the world’s most powerful man.
Here’s the end result—millions of Christians have not just decided to hire a hater to defend them from haters and to hire a liar to defend them from liars, they actively ignore, rationalize, minimize, or deny Trump’s sins.
Somewhere along the way, the idea of loving your enemies gets lost. Along with it, the standard against lying is abandoned. And, since Trump cannot be criticized and must be defended, every foul act in Trump’s history is either denied or ignored. Traditional norms of American government, like the separation of powers and Congress’s right to subpoena witnesses and documents, are thrown to the wayside because the president doesn’t abide by them.
Some of this is not unique to Trump. Leaders will transform the people who follow them and reshape the organizations they head, and to a certain degree, this is what we expect from them. But, a moral leader can appeal to people’s better angels and mold them into better fathers, mothers, friends, and citizens. A moral leader can provide people with the courage to risk their health and wealth on a bigger cause. The problem arises when an immoral leader reshapes people and organizations in a negative way.
Trump takes kind old ladies who worry about the unborn and transforms them into hate-tweeters. He turns upright and model citizens into apologists for sexual assault, white nationalism, business fraud, self-dealing and foreign interference in our elections.
For French, his primary concern is what this does to faithful conservative Christians. For the rest of us, the concern is what it does to the nation as a whole. As the core of Trumpism is the corruption of the national character.
When Martin Luther King Jr. sought to change the national character, it was in obvious need of changing. Trump supporters may feel the same about attitudes towards abortion or immigration. But they haven’t rallied behind a leader who wins people over with personal courage and Christian teaching. They’re not transforming people’s attitudes about the things they care about but are instead being transformed into immoral beings. The causes they champion are sullied by association with Trump and his extreme un-Christian behaviors and beliefs.
French doesn’t mention it, but the movement around Trump is increasingly described as cultish, and we see him compared to Christ more and more often. This, too, is heretical, and a threat to monotheism.
When I think about this cult, I keep going back to the song Ship of Fools by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. I picture a time right after Trump leaves power and his intoxicating effect has worn off.
The bottles stand as empty
as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty
but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all I yet may warn a few:
“Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag
atop no ship of fools.”
My main hope is that a leader will arise after Trump who leads these folks back in the right direction and who can restore their standards and morals. They’re ultimately victims of Trumpism just like everyone else, and French is correct to call them on it.