Why the Comparisons between Jesus and Trump Make Sense

Why the Comparisons between Jesus and Trump Make Sense January 20, 2016

Never have I seen a political candidate with the power to change lives as much as what seems to be happening with Donald Trump’s candidacy. Of course, Trump’s catalytic powers turn people against him and even prompt some to question the legitimacy of religion in politics. I’m even convinced that the reason for the outpouring of denunciations of Islamophobia (even when those worries look just a tad plausible — can you say ISIS?) are primarily to disassociate oneself from Trump’s crude and xenophobic comments about Muslims.

I call attention to Matthew Lee Anderson’s thoughts about Trump (via Rod Dreher). According to Anderson:

… the Religious Right is as alive as it has ever have been. But this time, the grievances that animate them have flowered into an overt anti-politics, a willingness to trade the responsibilities of governance for the therapeutic cleansing of disruptive chaos.Trump and Cruz are dominating evangelicals—and Cruz has provided evangelicals what Trump has popularized, except in a (slightly) more respectable form. The life of the Religious Right is that of the undead: Theirs is not the politics of hope grounded in a vision of a common good for all people, but a nihilistic cynicism animated by resentment and anxiety. And therein lies a tale.

Rod Dreher adds:

Anderson says Evangelicals have made their own mess by tying their fortunes so closely for so long to the success of Republican politicians. He further says that Evangelicals voting for Trump or Cruz because they’re going to shake things up would be “an apocalyptic, anti-political judgment that our political order is beyond repair.”

Both Anderson and Dreher are mainly right. But I wonder where these sorts of criticisms of the Religious Right were among conservative Christians when Ronald Reagan was evangelicals’ candidate of choice. The point is not that Reagan is as objectionable as Trump or Cruz. It is that Christians who care about faith-based politics (though where Dreher will come out once he formulates the Benedict Option is unclear) only seem to notice the danger of mixing religion and politics when the candidate is so obviously wrongheaded. When the candidate is agreeable and electable they seem to forget the biblical command to “put no trust in princes.”

The irony is that on the same day that Dreher posted quotations from Anderson’s denunciation of Trump, the Benedict-Option leaning pundit put up an explanation of Trump that actually makes his supporters look not so crazy, this time from Michael Brendan Dougherty:

There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.

. . . What so frightens the conservative movement about Trump’s success is that he reveals just how thin the support for their ideas really is. His campaign is a rebuke to their institutions. It says the Republican Party doesn’t need all these think tanks, all this supposed policy expertise. It says look at these people calling themselves libertarians and conservatives, the ones in tassel-loafers and bow ties. Have they made you more free? Have their endless policy papers and studies and books conserved anything for you? These people are worthless. They are defunct. You don’t need them, and you’re better off without them.

And the most frightening thing of all — as Francis’ advice shows — is that the underlying trend has been around for at least 20 years, just waiting for the right man to come along and take advantage.

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.

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