There exists a novel explanation for why evangelicals support Donald Trump, one that is overlooked by the political and media establishment because of its radical – and threatening – nature.
The president goes with his gut, what he feels is true. Which has the effect of upending the political order, a system of rules, conventions and temporal power that favors cognition and language over transcendent authority; that naturally prefers the secular and explicable to enigmatic faith.
Jesus inverted so much of the world’s familiar lessons: don’t protect yourself in a dangerous world, make yourself vulnerable; don’t seek revenge on those who have wronged you, give them another chance to wrong you; don’t just love your friends, but love your enemies; don’t live abstemiously, give everything you have away to the poor; don’t worry about tomorrow, today will be taken care of; by all means obey the rules but never if they violate the deeper rule of love.
God forbid, Trump is not the subversive figure described by Andrew Sullivan. But he is the next best thing when confused, self-important elites are hopelessly out of touch. He senses America’s epic journey toward moral perfection involves a climax far too sublime for head-before-heart politics. And he acts accordingly, with come-what-may conviction, a trait missing in other Republicans.
Recall George W. Bush in the 1999 Iowa Presidential Debate:
BACHMAN: What political philosopher or thinker do you most identify with and why?
BUSH: Christ, because he changed my heart.
BACHMAN: I think that the viewer would like to know more on how He has changed your heart.
BUSH: Well, if they don’t know it is going to be hard to explain.
Once in office, the inexpressible truths of the heart soon took a back seat to grand political schemes and old-time Western imperialism.
In July 2012, Mitt Romney was heavily criticized for his failure to back new gun controls after a mass shooting in Colorado. The presumptive Republican candidate suggested that rather than more laws “changing the heart of the American people may well be what’s essential.”
In its editorial, The New York Times torched Romney for not providing “a clue on how he plans to reach that heart.”
Trump is an unserious Christian, content to remain vengeful, egotistical and other than frugal. Yet by virtue of instincts lacking in others, he relates to growing electoral frustration with the sterile intellectualism of a ruling class that refuses to acknowledge the spiritual nature of our ultimate cause. And like Jesus, he puts fainthearted materialists, including those on his own side, under immense pressure.
Feared by Washington and the mainstream media, the President’s disdain for political norms is typically dismissed without critical thought or self-reflection. As Charles C. Cooke explains in a pre-Christmas takedown of Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin:
Indignation, not analysis, is the perennial order of the day, and the tone of our debates is ineluctably Twitteresque. Retweets are points on the board, and hyperbole gets you oodles of them. The worst. Ding! Insane. Ding! Crisis. Ding, ding, ding! Congratulations, you have been promoted to the next level.
But here’s the thing: a reactionary, ad hominem strategy makes sense. Genuine free inquiry might unearth inconvenient facts. Like, for example, that is it irrational and craven to hope for a plan aimed at coercing the non-partisan heart. And that trying to avoid an unconditional leap of faith, wanting to shirk the burden to love one another, is prone to ordain tyranny and a puerile culture that cares nothing for human dignity.
By casting her as “an example of this president’s remarkable talent for corrupting his detractors as well as his devotees” Cooke lets Rubin, and himself, off the hook. For many believing Americans, Trump’s improvisation merely highlights the failed imagination of an already-corrupt establishment mindful only of the things of man, not God.
Since the summer of 2015, the many acolytes of “MAGA!” have agreed to subordinate their true views to whatever expediency is required to sustain Donald Trump’s ego. Out has gone their judgement, and in has come their fealty; where once there were thriving minds, now there are just frayed red hats.
Yet consistent with Bush’s quip, evangelicals are actually affirming their worldview, a perspective that is too nuanced for less-than-thriving minds intent on rationalizing the irreducible element of Trumpism.
It is the unknowable spirit that bestows meaning and moral purpose in life. Many once judged Republicans committed to this reality, but not any more. The transcending of worldly goals, rules and authority is now a desperate, all-or-nothing proposition. Why render to Caesar what is Caesar’s when seeing they do not see, hearing they do not hear?
In an interview with Bill Kristol, National Review colleague Jonah Goldberg observed the President “does great violence to people cognitively in our line of work because we’re all about trying to figure out what the real plan is – and there is no plan with him.”
Well, yes, that’s the point; the very subtle point.
Trump doesn’t convey truth through parables. Rather, he is the parable, an unwitting champion of divine mystery, what others, rivals who believe they are smarter than him, cannot discern.