Faith

The Danger to Faith From the Cult of Trump

Forgive me, but I cannot slip away from Donald Trump. He will not go away. His awful influence does not abate.

In one line from today’s Revised Common Lectionary readings, the psalmist advises us thusly: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.” Yet Trump’s entire message — utterly devoid of consistency on policy, shifting from one day and even one hour to the next — boils down to: “Trust me, I consult myself and I know how to win.” The Trump phenomenon is a cult of personality, of id-infused feelings against no principle greater than that “the other” guy is dumb or corrupt and Trump isn’t.

So what happens, again and again, even from backers of Trump who are usually principled and somewhat logical, is that they answer argument with insult, and answer reason with aspersions on the motives of those who dare question the Great and Mighty Trump.

If the critic painstakingly lays out evidence upon evidence, fact upon fact, about Trump’s corruption, his lies, his viciousness, his habit of trampling innocents who get in his way, and his utter contempt for common decency — again, we’re talking incontrovertible facts, not opinion — without saying a single bad word against those who support Trump and indeed while often acknowledging the reasonableness of some of their frustrations … well, forgive this longish sentence, but… the answer from the Trump supporter inevitably takes the form not of a recitation of other evidence, but instead of a direct insult to the intelligence, the motives, or even the sanity of the critic.

“You are stark raving nuts!” exclaimed one longtime friend to me after a multiple email exchange in which not a single point I made was refuted other than by resort to “well, I heard Trump say X, and I believe him.” This expressed belief comes in the face of the voluminous evidence that Trump tells more mid-to-major lies in a single hour, by actual count (herein just one of literally dozens of possible links), than most other politicians even come within sniffing distance of.

The argument, such as it is, is that “things are bad; Trump is powerful and successful; therefore Trump will make it right,” even it it means doing one thing at morning and the other at evening while stomping on people both ways.

Again, this is putting faith, for a sort of salvation, in the whims of an all-powerful leader, rather than in the patient and cooperative work of many people striving in common use of human reason and human will. We would make of Trump a mega-prince and place our trust in him — and, as the saying goes, may the devil take the hindmost.

What does this have to do with faith? Everything. This is misplaced faith and misguided obeisance.

In the fact of such misbegotten uber-iddishness, the Psalm tells us this:

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Likewise, in Paul’s epistle, he spends almost too many sentences stressing that he received the gospel “not from any human source” but through revelation bolstered by faith. In the other readings, we are provided astonishing examples of God’s power when our faith lets it in: Both Elijah and Jesus are portrayed as raising to life, from apparent lifelessness, the sons of bereft widows.

Miracles come from God; but only from God. No single man, by man’s own will, works miracles. Human reason, used in concert, can ameliorate some earthly problems, but no Trumpian wizard can, by instinct alone, provide justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry.

The cult of personality is a sin, a sin of misplaced faith. It cannot save us, but if it goes too far awry it can certainly lead to ruin.