Category Archives: Trump the Saviour

Russian Christian Fascism

 

Timothy Snyder described Ivan Ilyin’s nationalism this way after the revolution of 1917:

“Ilyin thus portrayed Russian lawlessness as patriotic virtue. “The fact of the matter, “ he wrote, “is that fascism is redemptive excess of patriotic arbitrariness.

 

Again, this is music to Putin’s ears.

 

Snyder sees religion as playing an important role in Russia fascism just as it does in American fascism:

 

“Ilyin’s use of the Russian word for redemptive, spasitelnii, which means released a profound religious meaning into politics. Like other fascists, such as Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf he turned Christian ideas of sacrifice and redemption towards new purposes.  Hitler claimed that he would redeem the world for a distant God by ridding it of Jews.  “And so I believe that I am acting as the almighty creator would want, “ wrote Hitler. “Insofar as I restrain the Jew, I am dong the work of the Lord. “  The Russian spasitelnii would usually be applied by an Orthodox Christian, to the deliverance of believers by Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.  What Ilyin meant was that Russia needed a redeemer who would make the “chivalrous sacrifice” of shedding the blood of others to take power. A fascist coup was “an act of Salvation,” the first step towards the return of totality to the universe…To make war against the enemies of God was to express innocence. Making war (not love) was the proper release of passion because it did not endanger but protected the virginity of the national body…True “passion” was fascist violence, the rising sword that was also a kneeling prayer.”

 

All this follows from the core belief that that the  nation is pure, innocent and holy. Hence, in effect, Ivan Ilyin argued for Christian fascism. His fanaticism was theological. To love God meant to fight his enemies without restraint or limit.  Anything else was evil. The leader of that fight would be the redeemer. One can see how Vladimir Putin would find a fantastic role for himself. He would be the redeemer of Russia. The redeemer must be strong and uncorrupted. He must be a man like Hitler, Bolsonaro, or Donald Trump.

 

For these reasons Snyder said, “Fascism, however, is about a sacred and eternal connection between the redeemer and this people.” This was an idea later implicitly endorsed by Trump and Putin. As Snyder said, “A fascist presents institutions as the corrupt barriers between leader and folk that must be circumvented or destroyed.

 

Snyder described the fascist leader in a way that would include Hitler, Putin, and Trump:

 

“The redeemer should be regarded as “leader” (gosudar) “head of state,” “democratic dictator,” and “national dictator,” an assemblage of titles that recall the fascist leaders of the 1920s and 1930s. The redeemer would be responsible for all executive, legislative, and judiciary functions, and command the armed forces.”

 

I would submit that this is perfect description of what Hitler, Putin, and Trump have each tried to achieve, with varying degrees of “success.” According to Snyder Ilyin would make Russia a “zero party” state. This again was taken up by Trump in 2020 when the entire Republican Party platform was Trump. No policies were needed. Whatever Trump wanted was the platform. The Republican Party all but disappeared in the 2020 presidential campaign. If I thought Trump ever read, I would think he must have read Ilyin or at least got a précis from Putin. Ilyin thought Russians must overcome democracy “by political habits that excite and sustain Russians’ collective love for their redeemer.” The resemblance to Trump and Putin is remarkable. As Snyder said, “Voting should unite the nation in a gesture of subjugation.”

Ilyin had the same attitude to law as Putin and Trump:

“By “law” he meant the relationship between the caprice of the redeemer and obedience of everyone else. Again a fascist idea proved to be convenient for an emerging oligarchy. The loving duty of the Russian masses was to translate the redeemer’s every whim into a sense of legal obligation on their part. The obligation, of course, was not reciprocal. Russians had a “special arrangement of the soul” that allowed them to suppress their own reason and accept “the law in our hearts.” By this Ilyin understood their to suppress their own reason in favor of national submission.”

 

Isn’t this exactly the doctrine enunciated by Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz at Trump’s impeachment trial and later enthusiastically endorsed by Trump and his minion Rudy Giuliani. Whatever Trump did was lawful. What he wanted was lawful. And amazingly, only 1 Republican voted to impeach Trump and later, more than 73 million Americans voted for Trump in the presidential election that followed. More than73 million Americans voted for fascism!

 

In Russia this was all given a religious gloss. Here is how Snyder described it:

“The Russian nation, summoned to instant war against spiritual threats, was a creature  rendered divine by its submission to an arbitrary leader who emerged from fiction. The redeemer would take upon himself the burden of dissolving all facts and passions, thereby rendering senseless any aspiration of any individual Russian to see or feel or change the world. Each Russian would experience this immobility as freedom. Unified by their redeemer, their sins washed away in the blood of others, Russians would welcome God back to his creation. Christian fascist totalitarianism is an invitation to God to return to the world and help Russia bring an end to history everywhere.”

The sleep of reason leads to  treating the nation  and its leader as holy.

The Road to Unfreedom: Political Fiction

 

Like most everyone I have become fascinated by what is happening in Ukraine.  What is particularly fascinating to me  is how much of what is happening now happened earlier in the Ukraine in 2014 and how much of this was presaged by what happened in Russia.  We did not learn our lessons in 2014 and now we are paying a hefty price.

In 2018 I read a very important book called The Road to Unfreedom by a historian from Yale University Timothy Snyder.  It described the road from freedom to unfreedom in Russia, Ukraine, Britain, and finally the United States.

 

According to Snyder,

“In the 2010s, much of what was happening was the deliberate creation of political fiction, outsized stories and medium-sized lies that commanded attention and colonized the space needed for contemplation.”

 

This was when people began to speak about the death of truth or decay of truth or living in a post-truth world. In American and the United Kingdom people were shocked to see political leaders who seemed uniquely incapable and unqualified but appealed to large segments of their society nonetheless. Reality was being shredded. As Snyder said,  It was “a time when factuality itself was put into question.” The road to unfreedom was being paved with lies.

 

Journalism during this time was attacked by demagogic leaders for their own nefarious purposes.  Donald Trump for example, did not want anyone to pursue him with claims of being a liar, so he usurped the notion of fake news that had referred to internet lies that crushed the truth. As we will see, this is direct from the fascist playbook.  Call out others for your own faults. That can create the illusion of innocence. Hitler did it. Putin did it.  So did Trump. Trump did that while lifting himself  into an office for which he was uniquely unsuited, but his followers did not care.  His followers wanted a wrecking ball and they got one and were entirely satisfied. Truth was  as irrelevant as morality.

Russia has already completed its road to fascism while America and Europe seem not that far behind. As Snyder said,

“What has already happened in Russia, is what might happen in America and Europe, the stabilization of massive inequality, the displacement of policy by propaganda, the shift from the politics of inevitability to the politics of eternity. Russian leaders could invite Europeans and Americans to eternity because Russia got their first. They understood American and European weaknesses, which they had first seen and exploited at home.”

 

The times were ripe for authoritarian or even worse. The times were ripe for fascism.

 

Evangelical Christians must Decide which Side they are on

 

Fortunately, there is opposition to Christian Nationalism in America even among Christians. Thomas Edsall in his New York Times article, referred to a group called Christians Against Christian Nationalism with many well-known supporters. This group was formed in 2019. As well more than 16,000 ministers, pastors, and parishioners signed a statement that read in part this way:

“As Christians, our faith teaches us everyone is created in God’s image and commands us to love one another. As Americans, we value our system of government and the good that can be accomplished in our constitutional democracy.”

 

Yet Christian nationalists are still a strong force in America. As some of its Christian opponents told Edsall,

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation. We reject this damaging political ideology and invite our Christian brothers and sisters to join us in opposing this threat to our faith and to our nation.”

 

It remains to be seen which part of American Christianity will rise up. Right now, the Trumpers and Christian Nationalists are speaking with a loud voice. Over time we don’t know which group will prevail. Sometimes loud voices don’t win out and saner and quieter voices prevail. We can only hope for the best. Evangelical Christians should not just pray for the best. They should do more than that. They should act to support the best. Too often as the poet W. B. Yeats warned, the “worst are filled with passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction.”

 If you want something to worry about consider what author Robert E. Jones told Edsall in his email:

“It’s also worth noting that even AFTER the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, PPRI’s final favorability poll showed white evangelical Protestant’s favorability toward Trump remained at 62 percent — double the level of Trump’s favorability rating among the public (31 percent).”

Trump might be right. No matter what he does the evangelicals will continue to support him with religious fervour. Only Christians can decide where they stand. It will be interesting to see. I think they will have to decide who is their savior. Trump or Jesus.

Christian Tribal Power

 

I am still trying to make sense of all those prayers and Christian symbols I saw at the Capitol the day of the insurrection. What do they mean and what do they tell us about the matrimony of politics and religion?

Paul D. Miller, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, made these  claims in an email to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times:

“Christian nationalism is the pursuit of tribal power, not the common good; it is identity politics for right-wing (mostly white) Christians; it is the attempt to ‘own and operate the American brand,’ as someone else wrote; it is an attitude of entitlement among Christians that we have a presumptive right to define what America is. I oppose identity politics of all kinds, including the identity politics of my tribe.”

 

According to Benjamin Lynerd, a professor of Political Science at Christopher Newport University and the author of Republican Theology: The Civil Religion of American Evangelicals,” Christian Nationalism involves

“the tragedy of evangelical politics, a tragedy that the unrestrained loyalty to President Trump lays bare, but which stretches well beyond this moment in American history,” when “political theology serves merely as cover for the more pragmatic agenda of social empowerment.”

 

Professor Lynerd asserts, that there is a difference,

“between searching out the implications of the Christian gospel for politics and leveraging this gospel to advance the social position of American Christians. When evangelicals disguise the latter in the robes of the former, not only do they engage in dishonesty, but they also give fuel to the cynical view that there really is no difference — that the theological is nothing more than a cloak for the political.”

 

When theology is used to cloak a grab for political power the religion is far from pure. Then it has jumped into the fray and got soiled by it.

As Robert Jones said in an email to Edsall:

“While many media outlets focused on decoding the myriad white supremacist signs and symbols, they too easily screened out the other most prominent displays: the numerous crosses, Bibles, and signs and flags with Christian symbols, such as the Jesus 2020 flag that was modeled on the Trump campaign flag.”

 

Jones also said, those religious symbols used on Capitol hill by the insurrectionists:

“reveal an unsettling reality that has been with us throughout our history: The power of White supremacy in America has always been its ability to flourish within and be baptized by white Christianity.”

Like I said before, the deep connections between anti-black racism in the United States are deeply disturbing. No mild words of religious comfort can gloss them over. The same is true of the religious trappings of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Samuel Perry in his email to Edsall said that when white Americans are asked about taking the country back they mean that the Christian character of the country should be restored, and by that they mean “they want to take the country back to the days when they (white, native-born, conservatives) were in power.” But if you asked blacks the same question they would mean, a return to a ““civil religion” where there was a sacred obligation to be a “just” nation, characterized by fairness, equality, and liberty.

That mixture of religion and white supremacist politics is incredibly toxic and dangerous. That is what Trump tried to bring about and in that battle his greatest allies were Evangelical Christians. To the extent that this is true, the Evangelicals have been besmirched with their leader’s slime. By leader of course, I mean Donald Trump, not Jesus Christ. This is my conclusion: Those Evangelical Christians that followed Trump to the bitter end, gave up on Jesus a long time ago, in favour of their own bully in the White House. Trump became their Savior supplanting the one on the cross.

Messiahs don’t come around every year.

 

Donald Trump called his followers to the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 and like dutiful followers they came. They came to put a wrecking ball to what they considered false government and fraud. Their spiritual leader called them, so Trumpists arrived from all over American to the Washington Capitol as he had asked. He asked them to “fight for their country.” Was he being metaphorical?

To his faithful followers they were on a religious mission. It was their sacred duty to come to the Capitol to defend the leader of the faith and the country. It was a holy cause. So, men and women who would normally be going to work, their Bridge club, or doing laundry, or sending their kids to school, turned up instead in Washington ready to riot. Many of them actually planned a riot. After all, as one of their posters said: “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my president.”

 

And, like so many sacred causes in the past they were deceived by their leader. He told them to march to the Capitol and he would be right there with them. That was a lie. He stayed back at the White House where he could be safe to watch the action on his big screen TV instead. To his followers it was a sacred cause. To Donald Trump is was entertainment.

Now you might ask why would anyone believe a New York real estate developer who had a notorious aversion to the truth?  That didn’t matter to the true believers. The leader called; they came. After all, 2000 years ago,  who would believe a young man who appeared to be the son of a poor carpenter?

 

But Trump was no Jesus. In the case of Trump, the true believers were sad fools. We pity them. They made a horrible choice. Some of them like the QAnon Shaman with his wide grin, bare muscular chest, coon skin hat, horns, spear, and face painted with the colors of the American flag, came all the way from my “home” state of Arizona. He thought if he got into trouble, as he did, his spiritual leader and savior Donald Trump would pardon him or save him in some other manner. The Shaman was sadly deluded. That’s what his “true belief’ was—a sad delusion. Too late he realized he had been a fool.

That doesn’t mean all such beliefs are delusions. Not all prophets are false, but certainly enough of them are false to make us wary. We should recognize that and use some critical judgment. Messiahs don’t come around every year. Or even every four years

Politics and Religion: A Strange Brew

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day.

One of the things that struck me that day was the proliferation of signs carried by rioters that made it clear that to many of them the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

 

As New York Times opinion columnist Thomas B. Edsall said, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.”

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true. That is what it means to have religious devotion to a leader. Trump started a riot. & people died as a result.  Yet Trumpers still support him. Trump was right.  I think that is pretty clear by now. He summoned his followers to Washington on January 6, 2021 and thousands showed up. Then he filled them with rage and asked them to march to the Capitol. He even said he would walk with them. He exactly said  that.  It was a lie but there is nothing unusual about that. Then he filled them with hatred for his Vice-President who had been his faithful disciple for 4 years and they marched on the Pentagon shouting “Take the Capitol,” “Hang Mike Pence,” and other insurrectionary statements.  His followers rampaged the Congress looking for politicians like Pelosi and Pence and looked like they wanted to kill them. They built a gallows with a noose hanging from it.

Many of them carried signs like “Jesus and Trump. 2020.” They actually prayed in the House Chambers that they were occupying.

This was a religious event. Is this not what religious devotion is all about?

 

 

Saviour Trump

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished at what I saw. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day. I was struck by some of the signs held by rioters. For example, one said read: “Jesus is my saviour. Trump is my president.”

 

Signs like that made it clear that to many of the rioters, the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

As Thomas B. Edsall said in a New York Times article, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true.

In the 2016 presidential election which Trump won, he said there was carnage on the streets of the United States, and he was there to rid Americans of that.  He said that “I am the only one that can save America.” By such statements he was making it known that he professed to be the Saviour of America.  It really was an absurd claim. After all, what qualifications did he have to claim to be a saviour.  He was the son of a rich man who used that inheritance to go into business on a smooth track and then he proceeded to go bankrupt a number of times. According to the New York Times he did not increase the wealth he inherited by any more than it would have earned had he invested it in the bank. He was a pretty poor business man in other words. He had no relevant experience to run a country. He was obviously a man of little learning. All he really had was wealth. And in America that of course is enough. Americans worship wealth. And that’s where Trump came in as the saviour of America.

The amazing thing was that millions of Americans believed that Trump was the saviour of the country. They actually believed his claims. As a result, they actually gave Trump religious devotion. The most unlikely thing actually happened. Religion often works that way. It is often not rational. It is often government by faith not reason.

So, how did that unlikely event happen?  I want to explore, in my own meandering fashion, the connection between politics and religion. I think it is deeply fascinating. I hope you agree and accompany me on this journey.

 

Trumpism and the Unimaginable

 

Fintan O’Toole is a wonderful political commentator who writes for the Irish Times and frequently contributes to the New York Review of Books. He was recently interviewed on Amanpour and Co. He has been studying American politics closely. Sometimes it helps to get a view from afar to see clearly what is going on.

O’Toole said this about Trump the day before the Trump Insurrection in Washington on January 6, 2021:

“Donald Trump does not hide his feelings…He has been saying for over a year that losing the election is inconceivable… This is the language of autocracy. In an autocracy is not imaginable that the great leader can be removed. And for 75 million people who voted for Trump they voted effectively for autocracy not democracy. That is the profound consequence of what Donald Trump managed to do. He has created an enormous base for anti-democratic politics in one of the world’s oldest democracies.’

 

In other words, Trump created Trumpism. Trumpers made it clear that a defeat for Trump is not possible. You can hear it when television interviewers asked the Trumpers what they would be doing the next day—January 6, 2021. Of course they were going to the Trump victory to certified by Congress after which on January 20, 2021 they were going to the inauguration of Trump. There was no question about this. The followers of Trump, just like Trump see an alternative reality. That is what Trumpism is all about. It is a window into an alternate reality that is more to the follower’s liking—a reality posited by their spiritual leader.

O’Toole wrote this in the Irish Times,

“Trump has kept his eye on the great strategic prize—the creation of a vast and impassioned base for anti-democratic politics. This is his legacy.  He has unsuccessfully fed a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable end point—disdain for the electoral process itself.”

 

This is exactly the movement of Trumpism—a vast and impassioned base who have hatred of government, contempt for rational deliberation and disdain for the electoral process. The death of truth leads to the death of democracy. In fact, they are both opposite sides of the same coin—they are conjoined twins with a birth defect.

O’Toole also said in the Irish Times,

“Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands.  It is for him, not a good-bye, but hasta la vista. Instead of waving him off those who want to rebuild democracy will have to put a stake through his heart.”

O’Toole, like me, takes enormous comfort from the fact that Joe Biden has won, and ordinary government officials have done their duty and not bent to the will of the president and the catastrophe of another Trump term in office has been avoided. At least temporarily it has been avoided. But this danger has not passed. The United States has millions of Trumpers left and they are resentful and believe their saviour has been robbed of a second term. Many of those supporters think their government and their country has been stolen from them. These people are passionate in their devotion to that man. To me it seems insane, but it is real. They are devoted to him. Trump might be right that he could have stood on 5th Avenue, shot a man, and not lost any of that support. Only one with religious followers could say that. Now these passionate people are hugely disappointed. Resentment is a powerful toxic force. There is no telling what can happen if it is set loose. It could explode and there is no predicting exactly how explosions will turn out, except we know it won’t be pretty. These dangers are real.