Sunday, August 30, 2015

Respect, Maybe

Rationalizing support of evangelical voters for Donald Trump, Tony Perkins, who once hired Josh Duggar as director of Family Research Council Action, says "Evangelical voters are more complex than people give them credit for. They don't vote just for who goes to church on Sunday. They vote for someone who they feel confident will lead this nation forward."

Evidently, Donald Trump disagrees with Perkins because, although he hasn't claimed to go to church weekly (which could be confirmed), he recently had advocated the Lord's Supper and the Bible. At an event in July sponsored by the aforementioned Family Research Council,  Trump was asked whether he asks God for forgiveness and replied "I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don't think so.  I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't..."

Asked about communion, Trump tried to clean that up a little, contending

We I take, when we go, and church and when I drink my little wine – which is about the only wine I drink – and have my little cracker, I guess that’s a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed, OK? But, you know, to me that’s important, I do that, but in terms of officially, I could say, ‘Absolutely!’ and everybody, I don’t think in terms of that. I think in terms of, let’s go on and let’s make it right.

As Ed Kilgore notes, Catholics would not be attracted to that "little cracker" remark about one of the two elements which they recognize not only as a sacrament, but believe necessary for salvation. Most evangelicals opt for grape juice rather than wine and Presbyterians, of whom Trump  counts himself, typically celebrate communion only monthly. (Admittedly, the "I do that as often as possible" may be referring more generally to "asking for forgiveness.")

In the same interview, Trump stated that he now attends Marble Collegiate Church, and expressed admiration for its founder, the late Robert Schuller, though the candidate is not an active member. Never a favorite among evangelicals, Schuller might be thought of as a New Age minister before there was a New Age.

Seemingly going unnoticed, however, is that the purpose of communion is not to ask for forgiveness- the first clue might have come in the word "communion."  While Catholicism and Protestantism differ on whether the bread and wine are magically transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ (or are mere symbols), both traditions interpret the sacrament as partaking in commemoration of Christ's suffering on behalf of the believer. Prayer- especially the Lord's Prayer- is a more common way of "asking for forgiveness."

Though taking his first crack at running for public office, Trump knew he had some making up to do, and at a Lincoln Day party in Birch Run, Michigan, delivered a statement (video below), stunning in transparency. A follower evidently was holding the real estate baron's best-known book and the candidate maintained (video below)

He's got the Art- hold that book up, please.   Okay, one of the great ones. That's my second favorite book of all time. Do you know what my first is? The Bible! Nothing beats the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible.  Not even the Art of the Deal. Not even close.

As if to make it even more clear he was pulling our collective legs, Trump didn't have much of an answer when asked by Bloomberg's Mark Halperin about the Scriptures (video, below). Kevin Drum, who attributes the flailing about to laziness or a determination to put the question behind him, recounts the interview as

I'm wondering what one or two of your most favorite Bible verses are and why.

Well, I wouldn't want to get into it because to me that's very personal. You know, when I talk about the Bible it's very personal. So I don't want to get into verses, I don't want to get into—the Bible means a lot to me, but I don't want to get into specifics.

Even to cite a verse that you like?

No, I don't want to do that.

Are you an Old Testament guy or a New Testament guy?

Uh, probably....equal. I think it's just an incredible....the whole Bible is an incredible....I joke....very much so. They always hold up The Art of the Deal, I say it's my second favorite book of all time. But, uh, I just think the Bible is just something very special.

No one says the Bible "is just something very special."  It is the inspired word of God- which is far better than "very special"- or it is not.  Extraordinary, too, is it that in the days since he declared it was his favorite book, Trump couldn't come up with a favorite verse, not even John 3:16, traditionally adorning banners at football games.  Psalm 23, popular at funerals and with Christians and atheists alike, also would have done the trick.

While it seems remarkable that the thrice-married, formerly pro-choice Trump is doing well with evangelical Christians, an explanation may be found in Digby's revelation, in which she explains that the Daily Beast's Betsy

Woodruff agrees with Sullivan’s take that the evangelicals are very upset with the status quo and like the fact that Trump isn’t taking any guff from the GOP establishment. And rather than thinking he might be wobbly on the issues they care about, they seem to be impressed with the only kind of evolution they believe in: the evolution from pro-choice to pro-life, which Trump has embraced with the fervor of the recently converted. This stands in sharp contrast with their concerns about Scott Walker, who has been a committed evangelical his entire life and yet has been put on notice by the leadership for having very slightly deviated from approved religious-right rhetoric.

One might think this was odd, but I’ve long observed that the right has a very different way of looking at hypocrisy than the left. They actually appreciate it when someone respects their power enough to pander to them and pretend that they believe something they don’t. Perhaps the conservative Christians in particular see religious hypocrisy in terms of the old cliché that it’s “the tribute vice pays to virtue,” and feel that a blatant phony like Trump might actually be more likely to follow through on his promises to them, whereas someone like Walker took them for granted.

They actually appreciate it when someone respects their power enough to pander to them and pretend they believe something they don't.    This reminded me of asking a friend in 1991 about his support in the 1988 presidential election for George HW Bush. As a candidate, Bush had famously vowed as president to tell Democrats "read my lips, no new taxes."  He later infamously broke the pledge.  But I was told that at least Bush, in promising not to raise taxes, signaled his aversion to increased taxes and his intent to avoid raising them.

Bush's sincerity wasn't actually assumed by those voters. Rather, they appreciated a politician willing to tell him what he wanted to hear or, as Digby interprets its, to respect their power enough to pander to them.

This probably isn't rational. Still, in a party in which the candidate coming in second in national poll(s) (and highest in favorability rating) has compared abortion and the Affordable Care Act to slavery, it seems about right.

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