If It's Obvious It Can't Be True

So what is up with the Trumpophobia? This post made me think about posting about Donald Trump. Lots of people are trying to figure out how serious Christians who self-identify as evangelical could support a politician as raucous, impolitic, and self-important as Trump. I too sometimes wonder about it.

But when you connect Trump to Calvinism you’ve gone a bridge too far:

In the mind of the populist Calvinist, then, Trump is one of God’s “elect,” a billionaire because he is one of God’s great men on earth.

You’ll find echoes of this idea in the theology of the group known as “The Family” or “The Fellowship,” which sponsors the annual National Prayer Breakfast, and supports some of the most corrupt dictators on the planet. (Jeff Sharlet’s outstanding reporting exposed the group’s influence on Capitol Hill.)

For the record, let me say that the Pentecostal tradition to which Palin belongs is antithetical in many ways to traditional Calvinism. Yet, through the influence of the philosophy of Christian Reconstructionism (which theologized both capitalism and segregation along Calvinist thought lines) throughout the religious right, it’s fair to say that Calvin’s big-man theory of redemption holds sway in that religious universe.

Add to that the veneration of patriarchy and the strains of authoritarianism that characterize the religious right, and it begins to dawn on one just why Trump so appeals to the self-appointed guardians of the so-called “real America.”

Since when did American politics become so all darned polite, virtuous, and civil? Maybe it should be those things. But ever since we went down the road of partisanship (read two parties), politicians have splattered a lot of mud. Don’t forget that democracy itself is no picnic.

Democracy is that system of government under which people, having 60,000,000 native-born adults to choose from, including thousands who are handsome and many who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be head of state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies. (H. L. Mencken)

It’s as if everyone following politics has turned into classical music snobs and considers Trump the equivalent of Sinatra compared to Pavarotti or Enrico Caruso when in fact we are all used to casting our votes for Jay Z or Lil Wayne. Just yesterday I heard a quotation from Hillary Clinton where she described the options for the United States as among going backward, maintaining the status quo, and moving forward. Guess which one she is. Seriously?

I’m not opposed to making arguments against Trump. I have some myself. I simply wish that all the opposition didn’t begin with “yuck.” That so reminds me of the girls from junior high.


20 thoughts on “If It's Obvious It Can't Be True

  1. Adele Stan is just another scribbler who doesn’t understand Calvinism, no surprise there. Maybe she thinks Trump is Calvinistic because Norm Peale was his “minister” (regardless of the fact that Peale is far from orthodoxy even though he was connected to reformed theology).

    “In other words, looking at Trump more through the lens of economics and politics than through the ideals of Jesus makes his appeal look plausible (even if his religious backers need to use God-talk to justify their support).
    The lesson for today is that political analysis goes better without God.”

    Great summation, Dr. Hart.


  2. Concerning politeness in politics, don’t forget Jefferson was accused of being an atheist at a time when such an accusation was more severe.

    I’ve seen references to Calvinism in different discussions concerning the current presidential politics, as if Trump is a product of it. What a joke; Trump speaks highly of Norman Vincent Peale. He has had support from prosperity preachers. Have they encountered those Southern Baptists, who are politically involved, that can’t tolerate Calvinism and proudly accept being heirs of Anabaptists?

    As long as Trump keeps going around saying he is Presbyterian, while simultaneously denigrating the Adventist Carson or questioning whether you can find evangelicals among Cubans, people will keep pointing to Calvinism as an influence on him and evangelicalism. This in itself, using the presidential platform to openly question the religion of others, is reason enough to ignore such a candidate. The foolishness of criticizing an Adventist even though he can’t reference 2 Corinthians is funny.

    America deserves someone like Trump. I will do what Ted Cruz did just in case I need to abandon the American ship: I am going to become a dual citizen with Canada as well.


  3. Just in case someone was curious about the trumpet’s religion:

    Rutgers Presbyterian Church, which is in the same presbytery (geographical region) as Jamaica Presbyterian, asked “appropriate” church bodies to review Trump’s “standing/membership in our denomination.”

    That hasn’t been done, nor will it be done, for the simple reason that it cannot be done. Conceding a lack of “factual evidence that Mr. Trump currently holds membership in any local [Presbyterian] congregation,” Parsons said last month that “the discipline process that would be necessary to remove him from membership is not applicable.” Thus did a church steadily losing members since 1965 miss out on a great deal of publicity—Trump on trial!—if only he had ever joined.


  4. DGH, the yuck factor seems to still be predominant only among the chattering classes. I had lunch last week with a friend who had recently retired from a 30+ year career in public office- ones he had to run for and face real, live voters every 4 years. He asked me a question I had not thought about before– “What states did Romney carry in 2012 that Trump would lose in 2016?”. He is working for Rubio, but the pros are already thinking ahead to ” what if?”. Yuck factor be damned, come November 90% of the voters will break along shirts v skins lines. There is a huge divide between people who see political parties as vehicles to advance ideas and people who see them as vehicles to win office.


  5. all the opposition didn’t begin with “yuck.” That so reminds me of the girls from junior high.

    for junior high girls, it begins with ‘c’, “cute” ; for older girls, it begins with ‘c ‘, c.h.a.r.a.c.t.e.r


  6. Is it OK if we say “yuck” about all of them? What man has been in politics long enough to run for President who does not have yuck clinging to him? Or her?

    Here in Iowa, Trump is about to speak and a reporter says there are bald eagles flying overhead. It’s a sign, people. Christie is doing town halls in various bars, a tactic that sorely tempted me when he was at a local Irish pub. Huck is wondering why he was hot, now is not. Jeb is filling TV and radio with anti-Rubio ads (missing votes, a waffler), and Carson is slow-blinking his way through commercials about God and goodness with no mention of policies or qualifications. Cruz is going to do it for God, or maybe it’s the reverse. There’s an unconfirmed rumor that Rand Paul and Carly are running.

    Hillary is doing effective commercials that show her as a leader – look at her with Putin! My how her pantsuit looks good before the flag! Bernie is anti-bank and advocating free college for everyone.

    Not sure what Iowa ever did to deserve this.


  7. Cruz has captured the evangelicals this time, a coup that historically guarantees a top-two finish. Having said that, Governor Branstad has just recently come out against Cruz, an unprecedented intrusion of the Republican governor into the caucuses. The reason? Ethanol subsidies, a big issue for Iowa farmers. Cruz denies that he is against them but I’m pretty sure his big-oil supporters in Texas don’t believe him.


  8. But Buckley does “yuck” in a way that satisfies:

    What about the aspirant who has a private vision to offer to the public and has the means, personal or contrived, to finance a campaign? In some cases, the vision isn’t merely a program to be adopted. It is a program that includes the visionary’s serving as President. Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.



  9. Zrim,

    Is growing and managing businesses and employees and competing interests/perspectives less relevant than community organizing? Not in terms of performing presidential functions, but in terms of electability. Did narcissism hurt Obamas chances in 2 elections? Maybe things changed from 2000 to now, or maybe such sentiments gave the electorate too much credit both then and now.


  10. CvD, Obama never seemed to have the problem of narcissism. Then again, desiring the highest office in the land takes another breed altogether, a breed that includes among other traits a high dose of self-importance. In which case, the “they’re all the same” diagnoses applies in whatever direction.


  11. Why not Trump?

    Sure, he’s a crony capitalist whose success depended on his connections and astute manipulation of the law (including the bankruptcy code). But how is that attack going to sound coming from Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush?

    Is it really too risky to have a commander-in-chief who says he would not rip up the Iran deal and would not make stronger moves against Vladimir Putin in Ukraine unless our European allies ask us to — and yet soberly sensible to elect the chief architect of the Libyan debacle or a candidate who thinks it’s a good idea to trumpet Paul Wolfowitz as one of his key advisers?

    Or are we going to say we can’t elect him because he’s a jerk and a blowhard and has said awful things about women? Really? More awful than the things Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee have said about gay people? More inflammatory than the things virtually every Republican candidate has said about Russia or Iran? (I’ll take a leader who believes “Persians are great negotiators” over “Iran is run by a messianic suicide-cult” any day.) Or because he’s a man with terrible taste? You don’t think Trump would actually build a classier ballroom than Washington’s got now? Have you been to Washington lately?

    Yes, Trump is basically executing a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Is that supposed to make the civic-minded shudder? Does the Republican Party strike you as a particularly civic-minded organization? Is there any organization you can name more deeply deserving of being hostilely taken over in this manner?


  12. Trump even allows you to say so long to Ronald Reagan:

    Donald Trump is the apotheosis of America’s long slide into trash candidates for the presidency. It began with the assassination of John F Kennedy, who was our last truly independent American president, and has continued to this new low. Think about it. A large number of Americans are seriously considering voting for a man who is the embodiment of the worst in American politics from both sides of the aisle.


  13. Character schmaracter:

    This is what’s so frustrating about the Trump thing. I think George W. Bush is exactly the decent man Gerson says he is. And I think Trump is just as piggish as Gerson says he is. What’s more, I agree with Gerson that temperament in high office matters.

    And yet, all of Bush’s personal decency did not stop him from making colossal errors in judgment, most of all with Iraq, but not only with Iraq. That honorable gentleman, George W. Bush — and I’m not calling him that snarkily, note well — blundered the nation into its worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. And all his personal decency did not stay his hand as a torturer. Jimmy Carter was probably one of the most decent men ever to hold the office, but it availed him nothing as a leader. Gerson cites Richard Nixon’s paranoia as an example of how a president’s temperament can affect his performance in office. He’s right: character really is destiny.

    But it’s not always destiny in predictable ways, is it? The people who back Trump know he’s a jackass — and that’s what they like about him. They see it as a character strength, as in, “this guy is not going to let himself be taken advantage of, and he’s not going to let America be taken advantage of.” I think it’s a pretty serious risk to take, going with Trump, but holding up George W. Bush’s admirable gentlemanliness as a counterargument to Trump’s low character does nothing to bolster the case against Trump. Ronald Reagan was a famously nice guy, but by the end of the woeful Carter years, the American people were ready for an SOB, as long as he was a competent SOB.


  14. Francis Beckwith, who believes that deceased church members perform miracles, thinks Jerry Falwell, Jr. is a sucker:

    Trump is a damn good preacher. So much so that many evangelicals don’t seem to notice the un-Christian personal insults, slurs, arrogance, mendacity, and incoherence. Which just goes to show you that not only is a sucker born every minute; sometimes he’s born again.


  15. Admit it—what’s in power is obvious

    “The most effective form of censorship, of course, is self-censorship—which, in the intimate environment of a residential college, young adults are very quick to learn. One of the students at Whitman mentioned that he’s careful, when questioning consensus beliefs, to phrase his opinion in terms of “Explain to me why I’m wrong.” Other students— at Bard College, at the Claremont Colleges—have explained that any challenge to the hegemony of identity politics will get you branded as a racist (as in, “Don’t talk to that guy, he’s a racist”). Campus protesters, their frequent rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding, are not the ones being silenced: they are, after all, not being silent. They are in the middle of the quad, speaking their minds. The ones being silenced are the ones like my students at Scripps, like the students at Whitman, like many students, no doubt, at many places, who are keeping their mouths shut.

    The assumption on selective campuses is not only that we are in full possession of the truth, but that we are in full possession of virtue. We don’t just know the good with perfect wisdom, we embody it with perfect innocence. But regimes of virtue tend to eat their children. Think of Salem. They tend to turn upon themselves, since everybody wants to be the holiest. Think of the French Revolution. The ante is forever being upped

    So it is with political correctness. There is always something new, as my students understood, that you aren’t supposed to say. And worst of all, you often don’t find out about it until after you have said it. The term political correctness, which originated in the 1970s as a form of self-mockery among progressive college students, was a deliberately ironic invocation of Stalinism. By now we’ve lost the irony but kept the Stalinism—and it was a feature of Stalinism that you could be convicted for an act that was not a crime at the time you committed it. So you were always already guilty, or could be made to be guilty, and therefore were always controllable.

    You were also always under surveillance by a cadre of what Jane Austen called, in a very different context, “voluntary spies,” and what my students called the PC police. Regimes of virtue produce informants (which really does wonders for social cohesion). They also produce authorities, often self-appointed authorities, like the writing director at Scripps who decreed that you aren’t supposed to use the word crazy. Whenever I hear that you aren’t supposed to say something, I want to know, where did this supposed descend from? Who decided, and who gave them the right to decide? And whenever I hear that a given group of students demands this or says that, I want to ask, whom exactly are we talking about: all of them, or just a few of them? Did the group choose its leaders, or did the leaders choose themselves?

    Political correctness is not about justice or creating a safe environment; it is about power.



  16. Mencken—Alfred Knopf and I are here for the Bach festival. All day yesterday – the first day – we tried in vain to get some beer. This morning, having given up all hope of getting any help from the hotel staff, I tackled a taxi driver and he took us to a low dollar-a-day hotel in the region behind the railroad station. When we rapped at the door the bartender stuck his nose through a crack and regarded us suspiciously. He said, ”What do you want?” I answered, ”Some beer.” He then asked, ”Who are you?” I said, ”Two poor musicians.” Then he asked, ”Where are you from?” I said, ”New York.” He still seemed dubious, and so I held up a score of the B Minor Mass. Apparently he recognized it, for he at once opened the door and brought us in. His beer turned out to be excellent, and we got five glasses of it and a ham sandwich for 65 cents. . . .I am sorry that we discovered this excellent place so late. If we had known of it last night we might have put in a couple of pleasant hours drinking the beer. As it was, we sat in our hotel room drinking Scotch highballs. Scotch does not suit Bach. His music demands malt liquor. Bethlehem, Pa. May 16, 1931



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