Last Tuesday, Republican nominee Donald Trump received an endorsement from Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea. In DPRK Today, a North Korean periodical, the dictator praised Trump, calling him a “wise politician.” Positive feedback from the likes of Un should make us question Donald Trump’s candidacy.
To the international community, Un is regarded as a suppressive dictator. Rumors of purges and executions escape North Korea by way of defectors fleeing his isolated regime. Before taking power Un was barely seen in public. Details as simple as where he was educated and his age still remain shrouded in secrecy. What Americans do know for certain about the North Korean dictator is that his government has pursued an agenda based on antagonizing the world’s most powerful nations. Although North Korea is a small country that has quartered itself off from much of the modern world, its headstrong leadership poses constant threat to international security. Un’s praise of Trump comes as a surprise to many Americans who view Trump as a consummate patriot, his platform based on the promise to “Make America Great Again.”
As Christians, we do not want to pass judgment but instead look for the best intentions in our leaders and countrymen. In Jesus’ time, he revealed the evils of the Pharisees through his love of God. Jesus’ acts of righteousness, and the ultimate sacrifice of his life, carried the truth of his message. Jesus warned us to “watch out for false prophets” who “come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly [are] ferocious wolves.” How can one identify the false prophets among us who seek power and authority but do not truly love and fear God? Jesus said, “every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Throughout history, dictators who challenge democratic principles have been revealed to be false prophets, murdering and suppressing their opposition. They prop up their states with false promises and absolute power. We know them by what they don’t do or say: they don’t affirm God’s grace; they don’t show reverence for human life; they don’t love their enemy; and they claim their power as their own.
Many have speculated that Un’s endorsement comes with the wily assumption that a Trump presidency will de-stabilize United States’ dominance. Trump has, after all, threatened to remove U.S. forces from South Korea, which would make it easier for North Korea to overtake its neighboring country. Un said of Trump, “there are many positive aspects to Trump’s ‘inflammatory policies.’” Perhaps this was one of them. The nagging similarity between Trump and Kim Jong Un in their willingness to burn bridges and go to war makes us wonder about whether Trump’s presidency might bear good fruit. Jesus said, “by their fruit you will recognize [false prophets].” One of the fruits that have a bearing on the goodness of a leader is their relationships. Back in April, Trump stated that he would “get along with Putin,” Russia’s dictator of the last seventeen years, whose regime has been plagued by accusations of human rights violations. Putin is known to murder his critics and has invaded almost all of Russia’s neighboring countries, racking up a large death toll. Putin responded to Trump’s advances by saying Trump is “a very lively man, talented without doubt.” Trump gave the Kremlin chief an “A” for leadership.
We know that people are often drawn to power, loving the forces that threaten to dominate and exploit us. The great and venerated leaders of the second world war, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill understood the twin sides of destruction and salvation. Their war aims were not only to defeat their enemies but to create shared global prosperity. Their efforts bore good fruits, and we remember them as great and capable leaders. Jesus said there is a real and valuable difference between the fruit of a good tree and the fruit of a bad tree: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit.” America is a country which has long been on the side of the righteous. We cannot ignore the signs of Trump’s bad fruit, nor his association with branches that stray very far from the true vine of the Lord.
Allison Harrington is a Summer Fellow at Eleison Group, a faith-based political, governmental, and non-profit consulting firm; she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and holds a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tufts University. She is interested in American religious history and the intersection of faith and politics.