The rise of Donald J. Trump has been attributed to a variety of identity-driven frustrations spilling out of the dark depths of the American political right,, but Trump’s loyal supporters did not always include the heavy-hitting Republican demographic bloc of white Christian Evangelicals, estimated to make up one-third to half of the party’s active voters., As Trump’s political prospects steadily increased, and while many Evangelicals grew fatigued from his unrelenting vituperation of their preferred candidate, Ted Cruz, they grew to embrace Trump’s message, and later the man himself, voting overwhelmingly for him and now-Vice President Mike Pence in the general election.
Two days ago I witnessed President Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s speech was disturbingly nationalistic, hostile, and devoid of historical perspective. The crowd’s ecstatic response to his promise to “eradicate radical Islamic terrorism” certainly caught my attention as the line garnering the loudest applause. But today, that is not what haunts me most. Rather, I keep returning to the comment made by (noted Islamophobe) Rev. Franklin Graham directly after Trump’s speech. The reverend said, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”
Graham’s statement suggests divine intervention, or at least approval, at Trump’s ascent to power, a common theme applied to both Democratic and Republican presidents throughout history. George W. Bush was also thought by many to be directly anointed by the Lord and was said to have embraced the grandiose attribute dangerously in his role as Commander and Chief of the US military, employing a “messianic militarism” internationally., Not unrelated, Barack Obama was commonly believed to be the Antichrist, (by approximately 20% of registered Republicans, according to one poll), but so was Ronald Wilson Reagan, whose three six-letter names was thought to be a sign of the beast.
So which will it be for Donald Trump: good or evil? I imagine that among many Christians strongly adhering to some form of End Times theology, he will embody one archetype or the other, conveniently conforming to a pattern of events corresponding to whichever prophetic fantasy the believer already prefers. For me, Trump is at once definitely human in his dopey egotism and yet frighteningly threatening—not the second coming of Christ by any means, but nonetheless just as suited to bring about a catastrophic apocalypse.
A quick disclaimer before I begin: this post is not meant to serve as a fact-check to any one’s religious or spiritual beliefs. I consider that practice—trying to argue for one religion over another, or the existence of the divine—to be needlessly anti-social and entirely futile. This piece will not meet typical standards. Instead, it is meant as an illustration of the absurdity of absolute, fundamentalist beliefs in general. These beliefs, not based in facts but reinforced through a biased approach to interpreting significant events, can make us intransigently hateful, with the added severity of the perception of some sort of moral, divine mandate encouraging us to fight on. Furthermore, as we must now confront the reality that Trump’s fascist-style campaign promises and anti-media attitude will now be the official voice of the White House, it is more important than ever to recognize the absurdity and danger of idolizing our political leaders. And of course, it’s always fun to heckle DJT.
Claim: Donald Trump was chosen and exalted by the Christian God to be President of the United States.
Source: The hearts and souls of alt-right and alt-right sympathizing Evangelical Christians
Opinion: No. And he may kill us all.
Analysis: Apophenia is the human tendency to erroneously perceive meaningful connections between unrelated or random pieces of information (people, events, objects, etc.), what journalist and writer George Johnson identified as the source of conspiracy theories. But it also lends itself well to prophecy and biblically minded interpretations of current events.
Consider the following headline that was passed around the Internet in the days following Trump’s election win:
Nostradamus’ vague “predictions” are notorious for their malleability, easily molded to suit any historical event after the fact, but much more difficult to be of use for telling the future. Take for instance another article published November 7, 2016—one day before Trump’s surprise win at the polls:
Retroactive assertions of Nostradamus accurately predicting the rise of Hitler and well-known natural disasters have been thoroughly debunked and widely criticized., And yet, this sixteenth century charlatan still retains a large following, evidenced by a twelve episode series and a long list of subsequent documentaries on the “History” Channel.
There is a reason Nostradamus’ prophecies, which despite being wholly rejected by historians, still persist with such a feverish and devoted fan base: they impute order and meaning to the news. Religiously based prophecies then add a moral character to these events, which can be at times mundane, or seemingly random, or even viciously cruel. But these connections between religious belief and human psychology are well known.
How Donald Trump fits into all of this is a little more difficult to understand. He is not the ideal candidate by Evangelical standards—that might be his number two, self described “Evangelical Catholic” and defender of “religious liberty,” Mike Pence., No, Donald Trump has had his fair share of scandals, revealing a history of pathological sinning. And yet, Trump is not just tolerated by the Christian Right, he is extolled.
As one LA Times op-ed brilliantly points out, Evangelicals have become politically secularized. Thus most Christian conservatives support Trump on the basis of his policy and personnel choices, while overlooking his glaring character flaws. However, there are still many Evangelicals that hold to the belief in Trump’s divine (or divinely appointed) status. Take for instance the following excerpts from an article titled “Signs of divine intervention in Trump victory,” written for far-right “fringe” publication, World Net Daily, known for its “conspiratorial and apocalyptic” viewpoint:
“Like a scene out of the film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ people had begun to pray. But not just in one small town. Across America. And around the world. Simple acts of faith heralded the first faint wisps of a breeze that would soon become a storm that would shake the world. It began in Jerusalem. Christians from many nations gathered in the heart of Israel to pray and fast for the fate of the United States. Americans knelt on stage as the faithful prayed. Organizers instructed them to pray like never before for a just God to deliver his most Christian nation. They called it the Jerusalem Global Gathering.”
“A large prayer group had gathered in Dallas, hosted by Ken Copeland ministries. It was broadcast by the Daystar channel. Presenters David Barton and former Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., invited viewers to join in prayer. Daystar has a global reach of 400 million potential viewers. As they prayed, something began to stir. ‘At the precise moment we began broadcasting on Daystar,’ Bachmann told WND, ‘as the polls were still open, and a national audience of believers joined together and prayed in concert, we literally saw the race break in favor of Trump.’ ‘At that very minute.’”
“’We knew it was at the exact same time that believers joined in corporate prayer on behalf of voting for a godly platform. Believers brought the Lord into this election, and that made all the difference,’ added the devout believer. ‘That is the story of last night’s victory. I have no doubt. The strong right arm of a holy God heard the prayers of His people and graciously answered our prayers,’ Bachmann reflected. ‘It truly explains the Trump victory. I have no doubt. No man can take the credit. Only the strong right arm of a merciful God.’”
This “divine intervention” theory for explaining Trump’s stunning win—despite many polls predicting a landslide in Clinton’s favor—is actually quite popular within religious conservative circles; I found copious similar examples of individuals purporting the same belief. However, a minority of these believers take it a step further, claiming that not only is Trump chosen by God to be President, but he is actually divine in nature.
As a quick side-note, I think it is important to update my original claim that this phenomenon seems to be localized to American Christian Evangelical circles. This is not the case. I have also found evidence suggesting that some Jewish Zionists (both in the US and in Israel) also hold to the belief in Trump’s divinity or godly inspiration.
These Messianic Trump ideas are certainly on the fringe, but they are growing more visible. One blog with an awesome URL (trumpmessiah.blogspot.com) greets visitors with an image of Trump’s face with halo of glorious orange rays emanating from behind his thoughtful eyes, which aim toward a simple, yet powerful question, “Is Donald Trump the Messiah?” While it is possible that this blog was set up as an ironic statement, based on its content I am leaning towards interpreting it as a serious examination of Trump’s holiness. I’ve contacted the blog’s administrator and will update if I receive a response.
But this is also not the only such example. Back in December, End-Times pastor Tom Horn discussed some unidentified rabbis who have been “looking at Donald Trump” and claiming “one of the rabbi’s (sic) illustrated how his name, the numerology of his name, actually means Messiah” and that these rabbis are doing research to prove that the President’s “bloodline goes back to the Davinic dynasty.” He concluded by saying that most of these rabbis see him as more of a forerunner to the Messiah.
Other Christian fundamentalists similarly question whether Trump could represent the second coming of Jesus Christ, which is prophesized to occur prior to or concurrent with the (for some) much-awaited eschatological event popularly known as the Apocalypse., According to some readings of the Book of Revelation, Christ returns in order to defeat the Antichrist, a false prophet and “man of sin,” who has been commonly connected to George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the Pope, all of which have had testy relationships with Mr. Trump.,
An Australian user going by the moniker “Anonymous Coward” posted the following on the Godlike Productions forum:
“Could Trump be the Second Coming of Christ? I’m a lifelong Christian but not very well versed in the Bible, but from what I know He fits all the signs, in His character and manner. And he came to rid us of Obama/Hillary, widely accepted to be the antichrist. And if true, doesn’t that mean He has come to usher in 1,000 years of American greatness as prophesied? Have others thought of this, or an [sic] I the first? And how can we prove it?”
Notice the use of the capitalized “He/Him,” usually reserved for members of the holy trinity. Another Twitter user claims, “I own a restaurant [sic]. Trump has appeared to me spiritually as the second coming of Jesus! Know HIS truth and feel his LOVE.” Numerous YouTube videos present arguments to assert the righteousness of the Donald and present him as the return of the Christian Lord and Savior, sometimes including anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic rhetoric, labeling Trump’s enemies as “demons.”
Again, these examples may simply intend to mock the fanatical devotion of some Trump supporters, but based on the apparently mainstream belief among Christian conservatives in the new President’s divinely sanctioned rise to power, I do not think it is beyond the realm of possibility that some of these instances could be genuine manifestations of an emerging Cult of Trump.
According to a 2010 Pew Research poll, 41% of Americans–that’s 41% of all Americans–believe that Christ will either definitely (23%) or probably (18%) return to Earth by the year 2050. 58% of white Evangelical Christians hold one of these views. Another poll, published in 2013, reported 41% of Americans believe that the world will end in their lifetimes, with 77% of Evangelicals and 54% of Protestants agreeing that “the world is currently living in the ‘end times’ as described by prophecies in the Bible.’”
With these severe, widespread notions about the current era, news stories and influential leaders take on cosmic significance among believers. Every major event represents a revelation of some evidence of impending doom. Clouded by the desire for clarity and the fulfillment of meaningful expectations, some believers ascribe divine purpose to both the momentous and the mundane.
The many sites that re-post news stories with Christian End-Times commentary finely comb articles for examples that can be compared to passages out of the Bible (mostly the book of Revelation, but also the Gospels, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others).
While such biased consumption of news is always dangerous, those who look at the world with this particular bent are uniquely vulnerable to blindly following orders. History warns that by aggrandizing our modern political leaders to the status of gods, we risk annihilation.
Japan’s Emperor Hirohito is perhaps the most famous and most tragic example of how widespread religio-nationalist devotion to a political leader can escalate into collective suicide. While not an officially recognized nation, the Islamic State is, for some of its fighters, an apocalyptic militia group led by a theocrat, Abu Bakr Al Bagdadi, committing unforgivable atrocities in the name of Allah.
As a side note, I realize that many, especially many within the Muslim community do not recognize ISIS as a Muslim group. Some do not believe that they have a correct interpretation of Islam, others see ISIS as more of a political organization, and others believe that they are falsely claiming to be followers of Islam in order to disparage other Muslims. I personally adhere to the belief that if someone claims to follow a certain religion, as long as no sufficient evidence exists suggesting they are lying, they should be taken at their word. I hope to dive more into this topic at a later time.
To return to my main point, the danger in labeling the United States a “Christian Nation”, led by a divinely appointed commander with his ear to God’s lips, is clear. It is also obvious to me that any Christian conservatives that simultaneously condemn ISIS for its fanaticism while openly calling for “Judeo-Christian values” to be at the foundation of American law and politics, and a basis for warfare and discrimination, are deeply confused.
However, beyond the moral faults of this delusion are its logical implications. Elevating our leaders to super-human status makes them infallible; blind observance of Presidential decrees will lead to grave mistakes. Free criticism of those in power is part of the system of checks and balances that make the United States at least somewhat democratic. It also ensures prudence in a position where every decision has the potential to change the world.
Donald Trump embodies neither of these vital traits. He actively restricts and discourages dissent, and is utterly unable to learn from his mistakes, as he refuses to recognize them. Subsequently, he also lacks caution and restraint, without fear of retribution from the “fake” and “dishonest” media or his loyal base.
Admiration for our political leaders teaches us how to be better people and increases government accountability, but religious worship of a populous figure has the opposite effect.
UPDATE FEBRUARY 2, 2017: I just came across a recently published article from USC’s Religion Dispatches that is highly relevant to this discussion. It fascinatingly chronicles a subset of Christian Evangelicals who believe that Donald Trump is ordained by God to destroy the world, and they couldn’t be happier about it. The piece is written by Nelle Smith, who was raised in this type of End-Times movement. It is certainly worth a read.