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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

On Super Tuesday and Great Builders

Above: Building, or throwing?

One of the more interesting phenomena of the current campaign- which may be wound up by tomorrow- is how, in forty years’ time, Americans have gone from the born-again Christianity of one Jimmy Carter to the apparently stillborn faith of Donald J. Trump.

Carter was something new: he went well past the usual candidate bromides to discuss the role of an active faith in public policy. It worked, and it drew voters, although after four years had passed those voters passed the baton of deliverance in this life to a divorced actor who, if he did not embrace their lifestyle, did not flaunt his contempt for it, either.

By so doing evangelicals sold their souls and condemned themselves to wander, searching for the promised land, until 2016. Forty years have passed. Election after election has been a disappointment; they have been given festivals and free public dancing and thrown occasional hunks of red meat. “Where will they go?” their leaders laughed. “The Democrats?” 

But the people listened to new prophets, who raised themselves interpreting the entrails of the gerrymander, and competed, each in his own way, to out-Reagan Reagan. The Book of the Gipper was relegated to the apocrypha of past Republican platforms. The Book of Revelation promised new wonders and vengeful punishments.

And a new actor rose who promised to make them great again.

There the similarity ends. Ronaldus Magnus was a sunny proconsul, spreading the gospel of optimism and how, under his beneficent rule, the people could do anything they set their minds to. 

Donaldus Rex is the opposite. His is a message of spite and anger, of jealousy and fear. Everything is broken, and nearly irredeemable. A new idol is called for. Delphic utterances rule the day. A man on horseback will rule you and you need not worry about the details, even though much of what he does sounds like the utterances of false gods and golden calves. It does not matter because he is great and he will make you great and details are for naught because you have chosen the Deal-Maker.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.” 

He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?” 

“Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” 

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.

But in the new version, Moses shrugged over the broken tablets. “It was just the party autopsy report. I, too, would rather be in power, with a supine court of toothless prophets who call the auguries as they are told, and  the carnival barkers and money-changers in the Congress. So do I long for power, and to smite your enemies, and to take from them all the free stuff they grow fat upon, and confer it on myself, that I will follow anyone who promises destruction and confusion to my enemies, and that I shall, in the fourth year of every term of office, have a say in things of the future. Maybe. Except in North Carolina."

So determined are the angry people of God to pull down the temple and rule in the ruins that they are become the things they most hate. Their prophets, now being ruthlessly discarded as false and limited in anger, have all, in their debate moments in the sun, promised them the end of the black arts of political correctness by giving free rein to it for themselves and the angry people, to visit upon others. Peter Wehner, writing in The New York Times, explained today:
When Bill Clinton was president, evangelicals ranked moral probity high on their list of leadership qualities. Supporters of Mr. Trump, a moral degenerate, justify their support by saying we’re electing a president rather than a pastor. Why a significant number of evangelicals are rallying round a man who exposes them as hypocrites is difficult to fathom.
Part of the explanation is that many evangelicals feel increasingly powerless, beaten down, aggrieved and under attack. A sense of ressentiment, or a “narrative of injury,” is leading them to look for scapegoats to explain their growing impotence. People filled with anger and grievances are easily exploited. As the great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote, “We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement and where everyone has a grievance.”
Dreher is not alone in expressing wonder at these portents.
What stuns me is how my fellow evangelicals can rally behind a man whose words and actions are so at odds with the central teachings of our faith. They overlook, rationalize and even delight in Mr. Trump’s obsessive name-calling and Twitter attacks, his threats and acts of intimidation, his vindictiveness and casual cruelty (including mocking the disabled and P.O.W.s), all of which masquerade as strength and toughness. For some evangelicals, Christianity is no longer shaping their politics; with Mr. Trump in view, their faith lies subordinate.
Yet it goes beyond that. Trumpism is not a political philosophy; it is a purposeful effort, led by a demagogue, to incite ugly passions, stoke resentments and divisions, and create fear of those who are not like “us” — Mexicans, Muslims and Syrian refugees. But it will not end there. There will always be fresh targets. 
“Do unto others” is being transformed into Gore Vidal’s maxim, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” And the stonings must begin. In North Carolina, a week has seen the timorous governor, Pat McCrory, go from hero of the hateful, promising immediate legislative action to undo a Charlotte city ordinance setting a higher bar for fairness and inclusion in its bounds, to hounded, for not summoning a special session of the legislature immediately, there to strip every city in the state of the right to even think of what is standard operating practice in the prosperous cities and states of the land.

“No, no,” cries Tami Fitzgerald of the North Carolina Values Coalition, who stamps her tiny feet and demands that business-friendliness and democracy is doing unto others what you cannot get voters to do unto themselves, and making it sting. There are only two values: Fitzgerald relegating regulating the bodies of women to her male betters, and oppressing the mean gays.

We forget what we want or why we want it. We just want it now, and we want others laid low that we may better elevate ourselves on their backs. Wehner explains:
At its core, Christianity teaches that everyone, no matter at what station or in what season in life, has inherent dignity and worth. “Follow justice and justice alone,” Deuteronomy says, “so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” The attitude of Thrasymachus is foreign to biblical Christianity. So is Trumpism. In embracing it, evangelical Christians are doing incalculable damage to their witness.
But we will have power, respond the faithful, and The Donald will wield it without mercy except to those who deserve his favor, and we will be great again. There will be so much greatness. There will be a wall, a beautiful tall wall, with a door. And then he will let us build a tower, filled with businesses shamed home by trade penalties, and congress members ready to cajole and do deals, and it will reach to heaven itself. Money will flow to us. And we will be great again.

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