In last week’s “Skeptic’s Collection" column, I started out discussing the multiple reasons that monotheistic religion is fundamentally inconsistent with the most basic tenets of any free society founded on and governed by principles derived from the European Enlightenment. I ended up, in the last couple paragraphs – and against my initial intent – discussing Donald Trump and the similarities between Trump and any monotheistic god. As I said at the time and said just now, that was not my original intent, which in the beginning was to just discuss the conflict between monotheistic religion and liberal (in the classical Enlightenment sense) societies. But, upon reflection, I discovered that this is an area where the tail really should wag the dog: the dog idea of conflict between monotheism and liberal polities should have been wagged by the tail of the idea of Trump-as-god. So I decided to elaborate on my concluding thesis that support of and enthusiasm for Trump actually does constitute a de facto, fundamentalist, evangelical religious cult – which I will call “Trump-ianity” – and is a political movement only in an important, but strictly secondary sense. There are three justifying reasons.
o Trump-as-god is not just a slogan or even an abstract principle. Trump-ianity is, like any religion, especially any monotheism, an entire and comprehensive world-view
It is what in German is call a Weltansicht or Weltanschauuing, i.e., an all-encompassing ideology that – yes, to be sure – does include politics, but that transcends mere politics to encompass a view of history, morality, economics, religion, and even ecology. Properly understood, Trump-ianity assumes cosmic dimensions. Herewith some examples:
-- The world is a mess
The world has always been a dangerous and uncertain place. Hence politics. But according to “Trump-ianity”, the world is especially dangerous because, uniquely among all nations in recorded history, the United States is the target, the victim-in-view, and frankly the “mega-meal-ticket” of other nations less fortunate. The nations that seek to impose perpetual victim-hood on the United States include … well … just about everyone, even our presumptive NATO allies, who expect the United States to shoulder a disproportionate share of defense costs. (What always goes carefully unremarked is that, in defending NATO, the US is acting in its own enlightened self interest – it would not be in that self-interest to see Russian tanks rolling through the Fulda Gap on their way to the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula – so defending Europe is a by-product of defending the US, not something the US undertakes to do for the NATO nations from motives of sheer, disinterested altruism. When Charles DeGaulle said in 1967 "France has no friends, only interests", he was speaking of all nations, not just France.) Similar remarks apply about various environmental accords concerning, e.g., climate change: air and water pollution do not stop at the US border.
-- The only way to deal with the world being is a mess is to have a strong, preferably authoritarian, ruler at the helm of American policy – a fuehrer, if you will – who, brooking no opposition or even criticism, will guide the Nation with an iron will, a latter-day Bismarck or Frederick the Great
This means that all potential opposition, even from the Nation’s own free press, must be dealt with through stonewalling, evasion, and out-and-out lies – rather as Plato, in the Republic, said that philosopher-kings (“guardians”) were authorized to lie for the good of the regime – and, ideally, by suing persistently obstreperous media out of business by “opening up the libel laws” – of which there is no Federal version … but never mind that. Remember, Trump-ianity insists that Trump is god.
If you are interested in the other implications of the de facto religion of Trump-ianity, see my 27 April column on “One Big Guy”.
To be sure, Trump-ianity is not a single-issue religion. It incorporates several tenets that virtually all people of good will can agree on, e.g., equitable treatment for American workers in international trade agreements, for example. (Of course, historical memes also say that the architects of the Terror in France in 1789 got the hookers off the streets of Paris, and that Mussolini made the trains of Italy run on time.) But, again, like virtually all religions – but most especially monotheistic religions – in addition to these common-sense teachings, Trump-ianity goes "a bridge too far" by incorporating as requirements for membership a veritable zoo of “metaphysical” principles that have nothing to do with those essential beliefs. What does the size of the Inauguration Day crowds have to do with justice for American workers? How does drilling on National Monument land help the environment? What do his maunderings about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War have to do with, e.g., global warming? (Oops! I almost forgot! Global warming, of course, is a Chinese hoax dating back several million years, perhaps before China was even inhabited. My bad!) Christianity teaches care for the poor, but what does that have to do with homoousios vs. homoiousios? With Trump-ianity as with other monotheistic faiths, by the time you do reach whatever Jewel may be in the Lotus, you wonder if it was really worth all that digging.
o Imperviousness to facts, data, and rational / "evidence-centric" argument
Now, in fairness to religious people, even in fairness to all monotheists, this is not true universally. I am personally acquainted with many religious people, even sanely conservative monotheists, who do place critical value on evidence and rational argument. But it is certainly true, almost by definition, of fundamentalist religious cults. At any rate, it is certainly true of Trump-ianity. For example, many Trump supporters are convinced that there were indeed thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering when they saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on 9/11, that there were unprecedented numbers of people thronging the Mall to watch the Inauguration ceremony, and, despite the exhaustively corroborated evidence gathered by no fewer than 16 American “three-letter” intelligence agencies, remain stoically upersuaded of Russian interference with the last election. Many Trump supporters within the coal-mining community, what little is left of it, probably do sincerely believe that Trump can restore coal-mining employment to its halcyon days of the 40s and 50s, despite gains made by renewable and clean energy sources. I predict that most of them will be as “un-disappoint-able” as the folks who expect Jesus to return a week from next Tuesday, and, when that fails to occur, busy themselves calculating the next potential Return date.
Granted, not all communicants of Trump-ianity are concerned with equal passion about all those issues. Most likely, unemployed coal miners in West Virginia are more concerned about coal-mining jobs than about cheering Muslims in New Jersey. But however the enthusiasm is distributed among issues, those thus enthused usually have in common a contempt for people who do cite facts and evidence against Trump’s claims, and who do argue rationally on that basis. (I mean people who cite statistics like the following: there are about 20,000 professional dancers and choreographers in the US, as compared with fewer than 16,000 coal miners, in the sense of people who physically work in a mine to dig out the coal.) The curious consequence is that rational, “evidence-centric” argument actually renders such arguments less credible, because the person doing the arguing is instantly branded a “libtard”, an Obama / Hillary Democrat who savors a fine chardonnay while listening to the screams of babies being partial-birth aborted while reading gay porn by the light of burning American flags, and is thus discredited in advance. Hence the echo chamber. Hence the bubble. As Sinclair Lewis said in I, Candidate for Governor, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" Of course, liberals, Democrats, and progressives are susceptible to the same tendency, but folks like that, i.e., like me, have no current candidate for de facto god-hood. (No, not even Bernie.) Besides, there are more atheist / agnostic Democrats / liberals / progressives than Republicans, anyway.
This echo-chamber / bubble effect is in no way essentially different from the same kind of echo chamber / bubble I have encountered over the years – decades really, though I finally got smart and gave up – trying to debate, e.g., issues like evolution, the Big Bang, and gay marriage with fundamentalist Christians. I have had almost identical experiences debating politics with Trump supporters. The words are different, but the music is exactly the same.
o A radical insistence that the object of reverence at the center of the cult -- God, in the case of Christian fundamentalists; Trump, in the case of Trump supporters -- is utterly without blame or censure for any and all abuses whatsoever
This is Teflon, considered as a foundational theological / theodical principle: nothing sticks. We see this principle in action, when, e.g., Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski, the New York Times reporter with the serious physical challenge of controlling his movements. Ditto his remarks condoning sexual assault on women. Nothing sticks. The same pattern repeats in conventional, mainstream religion -- I mean denominational religion in the strictly lexical sense now -- when churches remain thronged even after multiple scandals have broken regarding pedophilia by clergy. The question that one would think should occur to all is "What precisely is the character of a God Who would call to the ministry men who would prey on kids?" Never mind the sick clergy. What about the God they serve? But -- again -- this is the question that never gets asked, the dog that never barks. Nothing sticks. Trump-ianity shares in this common -- and, I will insist, willful -- moral obtuseness of all fundamentalist religious cults. I addressed this issue, in both the Church and politics, in my "Skeptic's Collection" column on the "One Big Guy" phenomenon.
The danger implicit in Trump enthusiasm being a de facto religion should be obvious to anyone who has even cursorily studied the history of religious conflict on the Continent of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, or in the case of the Catholic-Protestant animosity that has stained the history of Ireland in the 20th. Ditto the various de facto political faiths that contended so bloodily in the streets of Berlin, Munich, and Nuremberg during the Weimar era. When there is no common basis for conversation, when there is no agreement as to methodology or even fact-hood, the common ground we rely on to restrain and hopefully settle disputes is eroded away like glaciers on a warming planet. Under those conditions, when we are more prone to talk at, rather than to, one another, Chairman Mao Zedong's famous maxim becomes ominously relevant: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun".
James R. Cowles
"Obey Jesus" sign ... Saraware ... Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
"Lock Her Up" ... Author unknown ... CC BY 2.0
Trump campaigning ... Michael Vadon ... CC BY 2.0
Hitler greeting at the beginning of a Reichstag session ... Bundesarchiv ... CC by SA 3.0
Portrait of Bismarck ... Artist unknown, Bundesarchiv ... CC by SA 3.0