In what conceivable sense is Trump a “Christian”?
Today it is reported that Trump, by praising right-wing anti-feminist Phylis Schlafly, is seeking a “spiritual ally”, albeit one who has just passed on. Schlafly, you see, wrote a book called The Conservative Case for Trump just before she died. And yes, this is the same extreme right wing anti-feminist Schlafly who did so much to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
Spiritual ally eh? Tommyrot. Trump does not have “spiritual allies”. To have spiritual allies, Trump would have to believe in something bigger than himself. For Trump, the important thing is not whether to believe in God, but whether or not any God believes in Trump.
Besides which Trump has made it clear over and over and over again that he despises Christianity. One of his biggest boasts is that he never ever apologises. Now apologising (on a regular basis) is an absolute, foundational and defining quality of Christianity. You admit frailty and weakness. You admit wrongdoing and seek forgiveness. (That’s why honest Nietzsche hated Christianity so much.) Without confession, the very grammar of Christian thought and practice falls apart.
Trump, when he says “I’m a Christian” while also saying “I never apologise”, is basically saying “I’m a dolphin but I’m also a banana” or (more accurately) I’m a square but I’m also a circle”.
Ludicrously, in the same funeral address praising Schafly, he identifies with her supposed support for the “underdog” and her “taking on the elites”. Trump of course, ever since his remarkable career as school bully – has been a member of a monied elite that kicks underdogs to the curb on a regular basis. His seventy horrible years of life have consisted of using his family wealth and elite connections to wreck the lives of people less fortunate than himself. His coarseness is not an affront to “elitism” – it is the logical and predicable behaviour of someone to the manor born.
Trump can make these claims because, as a hereditary aristocrat, he doesn’t believe that he should subject himself to language. Words should mean whatever they want to mean – because he’s rich don’t you know? – and rich people shouldn’t have to abide by any kind of stable definition attached to words and phrases. It’s a Derridean deconstructionism – but only for the very wealthy.
Trump’s casual contradictions, his refusal to ever apologise, and his assertion of his personal wealth as personal merit place him not just at odds with Christianity but with the whole Abrahamic legacy of Rule of Law, the entirety of spiritual and theological structured thought that first emerged when a Near Eastern tribe started thinking of Deity in terms of a set of stable and knowable attributes – fixed laws and standards.
Trump’s own “America First” rhetoric is telling. Trump does not believe in a God of Heaven and Earth. Trump believes in a God who always puts America first – in other words – a petty tribal deity. Trump’s God has more in common with the Baals and Dagons of the Old Testament – a raw sense of power that serves a particular interest. A Baal or a Dagon might ask its adherents to be nice to widows and orphans one week and really stick it to the widows and orphans the next. The whole history of the Old Testament, is the story of the conflict between these Pagan tribal potencies and a God concept that respects Law and offers a version of ethical consistency.
Trump also said in the same oration regarding Schafly that
“She never stopped fighting for the fundamental idea that the American people ought to have their needs come before anything or anyone else…”
For Trump, America should not serve God. God should serve America. “God” is just a name for a sense of crude entitlement that the people of one particular nation state apparently deserves to feel. Trump’s God is a small god indeed.
Of course, phrases like “America First” and “Britain First” serve a miserable, myopic and claustrophobic travesty of patriotism. This so-called “patriotism” refuses to accept that one’s nation should ever seek to be part of anything bigger than itself, or want to sacrifice anything on behalf of any larger idea. How can anyone take pride in a nation that only ever puts its own interests “first”? (The events of last June provoke in me a sense of profound national shame.) A nation worth taking pride in is a nation that gives, a nation that contributes, a nation that wants to be part of a larger and more generous human endeavour.
Certainly Trump’s “America First”faux patriotism is a real insult to those brave Americans who fell at Omaha beach in 1944.
So how can someone who has no concept of confession, no concept of law, and no concept of any God bigger than a kind of national ego possibly call himself a “Christian”?
Well he can’t and he shouldn’t. He should call himself a Nietzschean, or a Canaanite, or a Philistine. And if he won’t call him any of those things, then others should. But the sad and sorry truth of the matter is that perhaps most people who self identify as “Christian” do so because “Christian” is a tribal not a spiritual concept for them – it’s a brand logo – a badge of privilege. And it is this profoundly pre-Christian – almost pre-Judaic sense of tribal entitlement that Trump is seeking to harness.