The Troubling Theology of Donald Trump

The Troubling Theology of Donald Trump July 6, 2016

trump.001Peter Wehner is a lifelong Republican who served in the Reagan White House and that of George H.W. Bush. In George W. Bush’s White House Wehner was deputy director of speech writing and later head of the office of strategic initiatives. He writes largely for The Weekly Standard and National Review. It’s safe to say the man’s conservative Republican bonafides are unimpeachable. This matters because Wehner scorched Donald Trump on theological grounds in an editorial in The New York Times yesterday, arguing that Trump’s guiding philosophy more in line with Nietzsche than Jesus.

Donald Trump tells us his favorite book is the Bible. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Eric Metaxas have all, to varying degrees, lauded Trump as the man of God the nation is looking for. Robert Jeffress (1st Baptist Dallas), suggested that anyone who stays home on election day and doesn’t vote for the Republican nominee is motivated “by pride rather than principle.” All this to say that conservative evangelical leaders are giving Trump their full throated support.

Wehner sees this as problematic chiefly on the grounds that Trump’s guiding philosophy runs contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Here are a few excerpts from his article:

Time and again Mr. Trump has shown contempt for those he perceives as weak and vulnerable — “losers,” in his vernacular. They include P.O.W.s, people with disabilities, those he deems physically unattractive and those he considers politically powerless. He bullies and threatens people he believes are obstacles to his ambitions. He disdains compassion and empathy, to the point where his instinctive response to the largest mass shooting in American history was to congratulate himself: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.” What Mr. Trump admires is strength. For him, a person’s intrinsic worth is tied to worldly success and above all to power…

In his comments to that gathering of evangelicals, Mr. Trump said this: “And I say to you folks, because you have such power, such influence. Unfortunately the government has weeded it away from you pretty strongly. But you’re going to get it back. Remember this: If you ever add up, the men and women here are the most important, powerful lobbyists. You’re more powerful. Because you have men and women, you probably have something like 75, 80 percent of the country believing. But you don’t use your power. You don’t use your power.”

In eight sentences Mr. Trump mentioned some variation of power six times, to a group of individuals who have professed their love and loyalty to Jesus, who in his most famous sermon declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are the meek,” who said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” and who was humiliated and crucified by the powerful.

To better understand Mr. Trump’s approach to life, ethics and politics, we should not look to Christ but to Friedrich Nietzsche, who was repulsed by Christianity and Christ. “What is good?” Nietzsche asks in “The Anti-Christ”: “Whatever augments the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is evil? Whatever springs from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases – that resistance is overcome.”

Whether or not he has read a word of Nietzsche (I’m guessing not), Mr. Trump embodies a Nietzschean morality rather than a Christian one. It is characterized by indifference to objective truth (there are no facts, only interpretations), the repudiation of Christian concern for the poor and the weak, and disdain for the powerless. It celebrates the “Übermensch,” or Superman, who rejects Christian morality in favor of his own. For Nietzsche, strength was intrinsically good and weakness was intrinsically bad. So, too, for Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump’s entire approach to politics rests on dehumanization. If you disagree with him or oppose him, you are not merely wrong. You are worthless, stripped of dignity, the object of derision. This attitude is central to who Mr. Trump is and explains why it pervades and guides his campaign. If he is elected president, that might-makes-right perspective would infect his entire administration.

I supposed one could find analogous reasons to scorch Hillary Clinton as well. She is not above power politics by any stretch. However, the center of Wehner’s argument does not apply to Clinton, nor is she the candidate to whom evangelicals are pledging allegiance to in full force.

Like it or not Wehner has put his finger on a significant problem for evangelical Christians.

All of this is important because of what it says about Mr. Trump as a prospective president. But it is also revealing for what it says about Christians who now testify on his behalf (there are plenty who don’t). The calling of Christians is to be “salt and light” to the world, to model a philosophy that defends human dignity, and to welcome the stranger in our midst. It is to stand for justice, dispense grace and be agents of reconciliation in a broken world. And it is to take seriously the words of the prophet Micah, “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God?”

Evangelical Christians who are enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump are signaling, even if unintentionally, that this calling has no place in politics and that Christians bring nothing distinctive to it — that their past moral proclamations were all for show and that power is the name of the game.

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  • Tim

    I think calling it “Theology” might be giving a bit too much credit.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    This criticism is all based on a false premise: that the “theology” of the evangelical leaders is based on things like the Beatitudes and Matt 25 “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me.”

    That’s not the Christianity that I’ve seen from the evangelical leaders lining up behind Trump. They are about power and riches.

    It makes perfect sense that they would endorse him. It’s a reflection of the hate-the-evildoer message they preach. They aren’t about love, they are about bigotry. Trump is a natural.

  • charlesburchfield

    Yes!

  • pagansister

    IMO, Trump is about as far from any kind of Christian as he could be. He will “kiss up” to any large group that he feels will support him. He will say anything to get endorsements, including claiming to be a Christian. . All Trump cares about is himself.

  • atalex

    This only confirms what I’ve believed since 2012 when the evangelical community rallied around Mitt Romney, a high priest of Mammon — that if the Antichrist ever does come to power in this world, he will be a US President who came to power with the overwhelming and gleeful support of evangelicals and who claims that it is his deep faith in Jesus Christ that compels him to grind poor people into a fine powder while plunging the entire world into war and destruction.

  • ravitchn

    Who wants a president with a theology?

  • Joe Monte

    I always thought that there would be some clever politician who would come along and finally expose the Religious Right for the unprincipled hypocrites they really are.

    I never thought it would be one of their own, though.

  • Shadowbelle

    Donald Trump does indeed have a theology, of a sort. It’s easily stated.
    “Donald Trump is God.”

  • Deborah Kukal

    These articles – his and yours – and the reactions I’m seeing from “ordinary Christians”, on Facebook, of horror at police shootings, and calls for mercy and justice – these all give me hope for our tribe. And make me feel proud of us being who we are supposed to be in the world…at least for a moment.

  • Robin Warchol

    I thought Pat Robertson also claimed Trump is a “devout Christian”. Whether one will vote or support him over the other, I honestly cannot fathom (and I’ve been around this a long time) how these so called “Bible believing” Christians can skewer Clinton for his affairs yet support a man that is on his third marriage after the others ended with affairs as well as making his millions off of gambling. I thought Dobson was on that commission that investigated gambling and it’s harmful affects and dumped Bill Bennett when his gambling addiction was exposed. All of this is deeply disturbing.

  • Brenda McCaskill

    If Trump is what true Christianity looks like count me out. I wouldn’t claim being a Christian if I said some of the things Trump said. What he said resonates with Satan and forces of wickedness.
    May the power greater than our power lead and guide us all!