Donald Trump is Not the Messiah
Rod Dreher, senior editor at The American Conservative and author of Live Not by Lies talks about his essay, Donald Trump Is Not The Messiah.
The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:
Matt: Your latest piece argues that “the stolen election narrative is becoming a new religious phenomenon.” Talk about that.
Rod: You know, it's been remarkable and incredibly dismaying to see what has happened to a certain segment of the Christian conservatives since Trump lost. And before I say anything, I should let your listeners know, I am a political conservative. I'm a religious conservative. But I tried really hard not to conflate my religious belief with nationalism, but that's not been the case with a lot of my friends and allies in the Christian conservative movement. A lot of them have taken on defending Donald Trump and the Trump presidency as a sacred cause—as a crusade. I noticed just this week, the something called the Jericho March has been scheduled in Washington and in other cities, too, but there's a big one in Washington, in which Christians are coming together to protest against this attempt to (what they regard as attempt to) steal the election. Some of the rhetoric has been calling it “Satanic.” By calling it the Jericho March, they're referring to a story a well known story from the Hebrew Bible from the book of Joshua, in which the Israelites marched around the walled city of Jericho six times and blew their trumpet, then the walls fell, and they took the city. Well, these Christians are saying that that's what's happening now—that they want God to intervene to keep Trump in the White House. And I just think it's the most bizarre thing. Yeah, I'm not excited about Joe Biden being president. I didn't vote for him, and I think he's going to be bad for conservatives and bad for Christians in some important ways. But this election was not stolen, and it's incredible how this whole thing has become a litmus test of religious purity. When I try to talk to friends of mine, Christian friends of mine about the election, they think of me as a heretic. And this is about politics.
Matt: You mentioned the Jericho March, if you watch that video, they are tapping into not just the story of Jericho, but the shibboleths as well, the rhetoric. In your piece, you quote from a blog that that says, quote, “I hope and pray that Trump can rise to this moment, and that not only is God not done using him as a cudgel of divine punishment against the wicked powers of the world, but has in fact, preserved and prepared him for precisely this opportunity.” Donald Trump is just a political candidate who's a flawed candidate who lost an election.
Rod: You know, Matt, I think back to my youth growing up in the late 70s, and 1980s, how you could turn on television, and see people like the late Jack Van Impe, these TV preachers, talking about the end of the world. And as a young teenager, I got scared to death of that stuff. It was kind of like apocalypse porn, right? I would listen to it, and think, “what if they're right, what if they're right? What if. What if the rapture is going to happen by the end of this week?” And eventually, I grew out of that. But I think a lot of that is happening right now with Trump, in the sense that people want to feel that we are living in very vivid and eschatological times. I mean, we are living in vivid times and eventful times, there's no doubt about it. But I think there's something within a lot of Christians that insists that this must be the end, because it makes them feel more significant. That's my armchair psychological theory. But what worries me so much, Matt, is not so much for our politics, but for the church, because we Christians cannot hold our young adults in the church. And if you look at these statistics, if you look at the studies from Pew and others, the abandonment of organized religion, by millennials, and especially by Generation Z, it's epic. It's happening at a rate that we've never seen in American history, and I fear that this sort of thing is going to accelerate that, that Christians who think they're defending the church and defending all things godly by politicizing the church so much, are going to end up making the Church look ridiculous, and like a threat.
Matt: And the Church cannot be cannot be made to look ridiculous! What's the line from the Godfather? Seriously, I think you make a really valid point. When I was a a young person, I thought, yeah there are some fringe people in the Republican Party. But man, we've got people like Rudy Giuliani, who is the Mayor of America. And we've got Newt Gingrich, who is obviously this intellectual super smart guy. And these people have by and large, beclowned themselves. And so then you start to think, well, maybe I was wrong about other stuff too, right? Trump started with the conservative movement, and kind of undermining that. And now I'm like, what else was I wrong about? If I was fooled by Newt and Rudy, who else was I wrong about? If Reagan was still alive, would he be like selling, you know, reverse mortgages? And now, Trump is doing the same thing to Christianity. And at some point, it's like, well, maybe all this is all bullshit, you know? Yeah, like these people are—
Rod: Well, you know, there's this guy. He's become a real, a real, insistent and screechy voice right now in the christian right, John Zmirak, he writes at the Stream.org. And he's a frequent guest on the Eric Metaxas’ show. Zmirak wrote something recently calling me and other Christians who are failing to sign on to the “Stop to Steal” campaign, calling us “servile” and comparing us to Nazi collaborators. I mean, it's just outrageous that this stuff…
Matt: Yeah, no, you know, I wrote my book too Dumb to Fail in 2016. And I'm very proud of that. I think it was very prophetic. But one of the only things I'm really regretting is that my editor wanted me to do a chapter where I sort of talked about how things can go right, and who some of the leading voices are, that I think we should be listening to. And Eric Metaxas is somebody that I really respected, and somebody that I thought would be the voice for conservative, you know, leadership, for lack of a better word. And I'm so disappointed. But it's not just Eric Metaxas. The Arizona Republican Party had a tweet or retweet, asking, like, “Are you willing to die for this cause?” I don't get it. We've seen other politicians like George W. Bush who was surely a more devout Christian than Donald Trump. And a lot of us voted for George W. Bush, but I don't remember talk about being willing to die for him.
Rod: Now that this is something that I confess has really caught me by surprise, and I don't blame Trump for running our politics. I think Trump is a symptom of a decadence, that set in long before Donald Trump came down that escalator. Now, he has accelerated some really bad trends in American politics, but it's not totally his fault. But what I did not see coming, Matt, is that this sort of fanatical devotion to Trump, the person to a cult of personality. I've just written this book Live Not By Lies in which I talk in part, I talk about how Hannah Arendt in the 1950s identified certain aspects of German society and Russian society that made the way for accepting totalitarianism. And one of the things she said was a sign of a pre-totalitarian society, was the willingness of people to give up caring about the truth, to accept things that satisfy them emotionally, even if they were ridiculous. Now, in my book, I talk about how this is happening on the left, but look, it's happening now on the right. I was having beers with a couple of prominent conservative lawyers in my city last week. And you know, they were there both are Republicans, one of whom I know for sure voted for Trump. And they were both saying that if you look at the legal filings by Trump's legal team, and you've read them, and you compare that to what Trump team is saying in public, there's just a chasm between them. The legal filings are completely absurd. But most ordinary people don't know this. We can't, I'm not a lawyer, if you're not a lawyer, you can't see this thing, and so it's easy to believe what Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell and the others are saying on TV. But I think the key point is that people don't care. They really don't care. People on the right, all they want is to be reaffirmed in their belief that Trump is a sacred victim.