Like many Americans, I’m mystified by Evangelical Christians—or any Christians for that matter—who support President Trump. Evangelicals make up a key component of this president’s base, despite the fact that Donald J. Trump of Queens has little in common with Jesus Christ of Nazareth. At this point in his presidency, we’ve heard it so many times the observation has become banal: Evangelicals seem like the last group of Americans who should support a president whose oeuvre of misdeeds includes, among others, philandering, greed, self-worship, and serial lying.
But recently it struck me. Perhaps Donald Trump is the exact leader many hard-lined Christians have always wanted, narcissistic, impulsive tendencies and all.
I was raised in a working class town in northern Vermont to, what I refer to as, Evangelical Catholics, a term Mike Pence has used to describe his own beliefs. At St. Anne’s each week aging priests lectured on the depravity of abortion, the sin of homosexuality, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the ills of lust, and the ever-present threat of the second coming when God’s wrath would rain down upon the wicked. We were urged to be righteous at all times, because Jesus’ return was imminent. Needless to say, as an anxious kid, Revelations scared the shit out of me.
My mother and father took my three brothers and me to abortion rallies. They urged gas station storeowners to stop selling pornography. They kept the car radio tuned to Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. They lobbied to ban classic literature from our public school’s curriculum. And my father once drove us sixteen hours to Stubenville, Ohio, for a Catholic youth rally where people spoke in tongues at late-night tent services.
During this time when my parents spoke of the infallibility of the Gospels, they were also conservative Republicans. I recall election night, 1988, when I asked my father who he voted for. The results still pouring in, he told his eight-year-old son, President George Bush.
Let’s get something straight—I love my parents dearly. I’m not going to rake the paradoxical religious/political beliefs I was raised in through the coals here. We know the inconsistencies between the Prince of Peace and the gun-loving, war-profiteering, homophobic candidates some Evangelicals support. This belief system was firmly set in place long before our current president swore his oath. Simply go down the list of the usual incongruities and you’ll get an idea of my ideological indoctrination.
It wasn’t until college, reading Thoreau, Dr. King, Nietzsche, and the likes in a liberal arts setting, that I was able to look back and ask the big question about my childhood, mainly: What the fuck was that all about? Witnessing Christians vote for candidates who didn’t seem, in almost any way, to square with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was part of the fabric of my upbringing. And I could mostly accept it. Until Trump—a man who doesn’t even pretend to adhere to a recognizable Christian ethos.
But then came my recent revelation. I suddenly understood the appeal of Trump to Evangelicals. It has nothing to do with conservative judges or that he speaks directly to them or his priggish pick for vice president or even that he is a bully-in-pulpit for their beliefs.
They just might love him because he is a replica of the God they venerate. Donald Trump is the God I was taught to worship as a terrified child, a simulacrum so clear I can’t believe I’ve missed it for the past four years.
The God I was introduced to as a child demanded unquestioning love and devotion. I was taught it was a sin to doubt God’s reign as the Almighty. Even as a kid, God’s demand for adoration felt needy. Why does He need to be worshipped if He is the Alpha and the Omega? It seems petty. Shouldn’t He be confident enough in His omnipotence to not need the fearful love of a poor kid from Vermont?
Trump also demands that individuals in his revolving-door cabinet lionize him with an absurd lust. If any of these acolytes questions or contradicts him publicly they are cast from his cabinet. He holds grudges with the memory of an over-sensitive god. Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, James Comey—all gone. Trump demands to be worshipped despite claiming an inherent greatness.
A defining attribute of the God of my childhood was that who He is or what He stands for is impossible to pin down. Is God love or is He spiteful destruction? The broad nature of the bible allows Him to be whichever you want, whenever you want. God peopled the earth, then sent a flood because most everyone had become depraved. In Sodom and Gomorrah He gave human beings freewill, and when they used it in a way He didn’t like, He murdered them with brimstone and fire. But later, He sent His son, Jesus, who preached about love and the meek and fed throngs for free, multiplying a few fish in a graceful miracle without fear of creating a welfare state.
This all feels like Trump’s Twitter feed, a strange phenomenon of biblical length and contradictions. He vacillates between telling the nation he’ll get COVID testing for all Americans and corporations like Wal-Mart are going to save us, to informing states they shouldn’t rely on the federal government for help. What Trump actually stands for—beyond Trump himself—is impossible to nail down. His persona is as coherent as the God of the bible.
Trump’s round-the-clock tweets are reminiscent of the unremitting nature of Yahweh. It’s what I found terrorizing about God as a child, and something I find frightening about this POTUS: neither seems to ever rest. Looking back, the God that was presented to me in my childhood was made in the image of an amphetamine-fueled, oversensitive narcissist.
Whenever I asked how God could be all loving but still let children die of brain tumors or allow the Holocaust to happen, I was told, “God works in mysterious ways” or “It’s His holy will.” This argumentative crutch has always felt like a cheap rhetorical cop-out to instantly squelch any logical discussion, giving God a convenient out.
Trump is an enigmatic phenomenon: tax returns, numerous sexual assault accusations, murky relationship with Vladimir Putin, 1980s New York playboy turned whatever he is now—a man made out of smoke. He tweets and retweets racist-leaning content, and when called out on it, he and his acolytes argue he was only joking to get a rise out of his haters. Like the Evangelical God, we’re just supposed to accept these mysteries, as if Trump, too, works in mysterious ways. I’m beginning to think for some Christians this mystique is part of the allure.
As a kid, I was told to pray to God. He was the guy to turn to in times of need. Beyond my own trivial childhood prayers that went unanswered, the powerless on this planet whose invocations are met by a mute God has always been crushing. Answered prayers seem to be doled out haphazardly, if at all.
And how has it gone for those who prayed to Trump to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, deport all illegal immigrants, rebuild America’s infrastructure, or end the opioid epidemic plaguing the white, working class people who voted for him? About as good as it often turned out for the powerless who have prayed throughout history. Praying to God for the most vulnerable can seem about as fruitful as Tweeting at Trump.
The Christian God seems to demand robes ranging from the simple vestments I wore as an alter boy to the ornate costumes of bishops, cardinals, and so on all the way up to the garish pope. Grotesque mega churches branded in His name multiply across this country while their pastors boast private jets and yachts christened, “S.S. Blessed.” It seems like only a matter of time before these powerful pastors eventually take a Falwellian descent from grace, bank accounts intact.
The Trump brand has endless affinity for self-aggrandizing pageantry and iconography. He touts the concrete monolith of Trump Tower like it’s Christ the Redeemer. He licenses his name to any product that will take it, that capital T looming like a deranged cross. His rallies have the choreographed flair of old timey tent revivals. His supporters raise flags with his effigy. And his golden toilet would fit in well with the pillaged gold adorning the Vatican.
As I’ve come to believe this incongruent image of God was made by man, so it seems the Donald Trump who ran for and eventually won the presidency was constructed by the same human impulse. Perhaps both are crafted from the mold of early rulers who wielded erratic, godlike power, giving humans an almost cellular desire for sociopathic entities to love and fear. Perhaps humans are predisposed to follow a bipolar god against their better interest as if it’s written somewhere in the double helix. Whatever the reason, I fear that with Trump, Evangelicals are willing to follow this archetype to the bitter end.