Yes, America is polarized about Donald J. Trump. But elements of his base of support are more polarized than anyone else, as I discussed at New York.
In my piece on Rick Perry telling the president he was the “chosen one,” I noted this was pretty standard fare among Christian right opinion leaders and politicians. But at roughly the same time, we got an indication from two other prominent Trump fans that it’s not enough to endow this strange and heathenish figure of manifold wicked ways with the cloak of divine sanction; his critics must be cast in the same apocalyptic drama as instruments of demonic forces. Seriously. Veteran adviser to Republican presidents on matters moral and spiritual, Peter Wehner, scathingly writes it up for The Atlantic:
“During his November 21 interview with [Franklin] Graham, [Eric] Metaxas, a Salem Radio Network talk-show host, asked the son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, ‘What do you think of what is happening now? I mean, it’s a very bizarre situation to be living in a country where some people seem to exist to undermine the president of the United States. It’s just a bizarre time for most Americans.’
“Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, responded, ‘Well, I believe it’s almost a demonic power that is trying—’
“At which point Metaxas interjected, ‘I would disagree. It’s not almost demonic. You know and I know, at the heart, it’s a spiritual battle.'”
In Evangelical-speak, “spiritual battle” or “spiritual warfare” means a test of power between God and Satan (or his demonic minions), with human souls and the fate of all Creation in the balance. Describing one’s opponents as on the wrong side of a “spiritual battle” is simultaneously an expression of the most extreme hatred available to a Christian, and a rationalization for it on grounds that the object of demonic possession is not entirely responsible for becoming the devil’s workshop (it’s a variation on the old conservative Christian dodge of “hating the sin but not the sinner” when it comes to, say, being gay). In the context of politics, Graham, who has been busily ruining his father’s good name since he took over Billy’s ministries in 2000, and Metaxas, a veteran culture warrior, are suggesting that the moral and spiritual superiority — nay, necessity — of Trump and his party are so resplendently obvious that only a turn to the darkest side imaginable can explain it, as Wehner writes:
“They didn’t make the case that Trump critics are sincere but wrong, or even that they are insincere and unpatriotic. Instead, they felt compelled to portray those with whom they disagree politically as under demonic influences, which for a Christian is about as serious an accusation as there is. It means their opponents are the embodiment of evil, the “enemy,” anti-God, a kind of anti-Christ.
“There is no biblical or theological case to support the claim that critics of Donald Trump are under the spell of Satan. It is invented out of thin air, a shallow, wild, and reckless charge meant to be a conversation stopper.”
The rationalizations these people go through to treat Trump as God’s champions requires an incredible, almost comic, amount of huffing and puffing. Here’s Metaxas being quoted after Trump’s outrageous comments on the white-nationalist rioters of Charlottesville in the infamous “spiritual biography” of the president that David Brody and Scott Lamb published in 2018:
“We’re going to stand up for Trump a hundred times more. It’s been unbelievably despicable the way he’s been treated. And I think there’s some kind of demonic deception. I mean I’ve never seen anything like it begin to compare it to in my lifetime.”
Actually, yes, he has: in the attacks Christian right leaders incessantly made on Bill Clinton when his moral failings went public — moral failings that now seem tepid compared to those of his current successor in the White House. Wehner delivers an impressive jeremiad about what Graham and Metaxas are overlooking by way of mocking the latter’s claim that Trump’s Christian critics are splitting hairs over theological differences:
“Trump’s Christian critics don’t really care whether he leans more in the direction of predestination or free will; what troubles them is that he’s a pathological liar engaged in an effort to annihilate truth as a concept; a conspiracy-monger; and a misogynist and bully who dehumanizes his critics and mocks former prisoners of war, the parents of fallen soldiers, and people with disabilities. What upsets them is Trump’s open admiration for brutal dictators, including Kim Jung Un, who ranks among the worst persecutors of Christians in the world; his easy betrayal of everyone from his wives to allies like the Kurds; and his history of engaging in predatory sexual behavior. What alarms them is that we have a president who fans the flames of ethnic and racial hate, who is willing to pressure foreign nations to dig up dirt on his political opponents, and who was the subject of a nearly 500-page report by a special counsel offering a portrait that was damning and went unrefuted.”
Presumably, Graham and Metaxas would sadly shake their heads at this indictment, and conclude that their former Republican ally has been captured by Satan just like everyone else who doesn’t understand the 45th president’s very special kind of holiness.