looking backward

I’m blogging too much, focused too much on the things of the moment, but I think the circumstances just may warrant it. It’s certainly hard for me to concentrate on anything other than the current political calamity. And since soon a new term will start and I’ll be back in my old books, here comes another round:

In my reflections on Donald Trump when he was running for President in 2016, I made one significant error: I didn’t think he would nominate responsible judges and Justices. I thought he would hand out judicial appointments like candy to friends and toadies. But it turned out that the judiciary couldn’t capture his attention, so he farmed out the decisions to others who acted on sound conservative principles. (Given how many of the very judges he appointed ruled against his recent frivolous lawsuits, precisely because they were honest conservative jurists rather than toadies, I wonder if he’s belatedly reassessing his priorities.)

But I think my more general assessment, made in June of 2016, has, except for one point, stood the test of time:

We all know what Trump is: so complete a narcissist that the concepts of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, are alien to him. He knows only the lust for power and the rage of being thwarted in his lust. In a sane society the highest position to which he could aspire is apprentice dogcatcher, and then only if no other candidates presented themselves.

If you put a gun to my head and told me that I had to vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, I would but whisper, “Goodbye cruel world.” But if my family somehow managed to convince me to stick around, in preference to Trump I would vote for Hillary. Or John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi. In preference to Trump I would vote for the reanimated corpse of Adlai Stevenson, or for that matter that of Julius Caesar, who perhaps has learned a thing or two in his two thousand years of afterlife. The only living person that I would readily choose Trump in preference to is Charles Manson.

The one point that I can’t now affirm is that last one, but only because Charles Manson is dead.

A few months later I published an essay about the Christian defenders and celebrants of Trump, in which I described the pastors who claimed that God had revealed to them that Trump was The Chosen One — perhaps in the mode of King Cyrus of Persia — and looked toward the possibility that his presidency might run onto the rocks:

These leaders have replaced a rhetoric of persuasion with a rhetoric of pure authority — very like the authority that Trump claims for himself. (“Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”) Consequently, their whole house of cards may well collapse if the Trump presidency is anything other than a glorious success, and will leave those who have accepted that rhetoric bereft of explanations as well as arguments. Presumably the most fervent supporters of Trump will argue (as Trump himself will argue) that his failures have occurred because others have betrayed him, have rejected the man that God raised up to rescue America, but this will require the replacement of the Cyrus analogy with another one yet to be determined. We can only hope that no one compares a failed Trump to an American Jesus betrayed by American Judases.

These claims to divine revelation have certainly been perpetuated by Eric Metaxas, who claims to have all the evidence he needs right there in his heart to prove that the election was stolen, and who has asserted, in classic “name it and claim it” style, that, no matter how things appear, “Trump will be inaugurated.” I’m sure that as I speak Metaxas and the other Jericho March leaders are writing Donald Trump Superstar and are debating whether the role of Judas is to be played by Mike Pence or Mitt Romney. I’m betting on Pence. (Update: I changed my mind.) 

More soberly, in that same essay I wrote this, wrapping up my reflections on the Christian True Trump Believers:

If all this sounds like a strange fantasyland of narrative, an imaginative world of what members of the Trump administration have taken to calling “alternative facts,” that’s because it is just that. The larger, and longer-term, effect of accounts like this is to encourage Christians to abandon the world of shared evidence, shared convictions, and shared possibilities, and such abandonment is very bad news for Christians and for America.

And lo, even as I foretold, it has come to pass.

j2020

For alternatives to all this nonsense, I’d encourage you to reflect on two essays: one by Michael Gerson that I quoted yesterday, and a cautionary message, both prescient and wise, written by my friend and colleague Frank Beckwith five years ago.