We get it.
We will not pretend to not understand why some people have hitched their proverbial horses to the Donald Trump wagon. People are angry with their government. They feel betrayed. There is a sense of disconnect between voters, primarily conservative voters, and what has been coming out of Washington for more than a generation.
This is evident in the fact that the current top contenders for the Republican nomination for President are outsiders when it comes to national politics.
Anger is a large part of Trump’s appeal. He comes across just as angry as most people are. Angry at China. Angry at Mexico. Angry at gangs. Angry at ISIS. Angry at the tax code. Angry at a lack of opportunity. Angry at rising prices. Angry at being told you’re intolerant and backward. Angry that things are changing. Angry because everyone else is not angry too.
But there is more than anger going on. There is also a great deal of anxiety. Indeed, anxiety might be fueling the Trump movement more than anything else. The anxiety comes from a feeling of helplessness. People feel helpless because the economy hasn’t turned around like we were promised. People feel helpless because America is fractured, and the political class is facilitating it. People feel helpless because ISIS doesn’t seem to have an easy solution. People feel helpless because their children don’t understand them, and they don’t understand their children. People feel helpless because something they might say could offend someone.
The economy. The price of oil. The environment. Russia. China.
The anxiety is exacerbated by the appearance of weakness. Whether you support President Obama or not, it is undeniable that he takes a weak stand on most issues and as a whole projects weakness abroad and at home. The President is thoughtful, reflective, careful, and deliberative. To most people that looks like weakness. Putin has certainly interpreted it as such.
Enter Donald Trump. Nothing about him appears weak. He is confident, brash, rich, and he has a spotlight. Most people who say they support Donald Trump are looking for strength, attitude, and posture. They want someone who has strong ideas about ISIS, about oil, about trade, and immigration. Even if those ideas are not well thought out or even rational. It looks like leadership.
There are times when Donald Trump calls to memory Teddy Roosevelt with his manliness, in-your-face style, and recklessness. There are other times he reminds of Winston Churchill because he is unabashedly nationalistic. He wants to sound like Ronald Reagan who stood strong against all adversaries, domestic and foreign.
But Trump doesn’t quite hit those same notes. It took some thought to figure out why, but it has something to do with his focus. A key example of this comes from an answer to a question at his Iowa press conference. Trump was asked to follow-up on a statement he’s made several times that he loved the Bible. The reporter asked him why he loved the Bible, and could he reference a particular part of it. Here is the exchange as reported by Breitbart.com,
Tuesday in Iowa before his campaign event, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump was asked at his press conference, “You say the Bible is your favorite book, is there anyone in the Bible that you relate to that you can compare your life to and look up to?”
Trump said, “Nobody that I would compare to. It’s a great question. I love the Bible. I love the Bible. I’m a Protestant, I’m a Presbyterian. I went to Sunday school. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking was my pastor. To this day one of the great speakers I’ve seen. You hated to leave church. You hated when the sermon was over. That’s how great he was at Marble Collegiate Church. And I also had a church in Jamaica Queens. I grew up in Queens, First Presbyterian Church of Jamaica. I was there for years and that’s where I went to Sunday school. One of the things that’s so incredible about the New Hampshire numbers is I lead with everybody. I lead with old, with young.”
“As you saw, everybody,” he continued. “But one of the groups I lead with substantially evangelicals and I led in Iowa, too, with the evangelicals because they get it. They are incredible people that are smart and want to see the country thrive. But the beautiful thing because it was such a comprehensive poll in New Hampshire and they just went over everything, Tea Party like leading by a lot. Moderates leading by a lot. Everybody. It’s literally, I think, you’ll correct me if I’m wrong but I think I led with every single group and by substantial numbers. So I was very honored to lead with the evangelicals. I love the evangelicals.”
Notice what happens? Trump is asked to talk about the Bible, and he shifted it in two directions. The first direction was to talk about churches and preachers. The one preacher he mentioned was Norman Vincent Peale. Peale was hardly a Bible man. People may debate his validity in ministry, but his emphasis was upon the individual’s ability to positively improve their own life. Most Baptists just couldn’t stomach Peale back in the day, leading to the often quoted proverb, “Peale is appalling but Paul is appealing.” That is Paul as in St. Paul, who could actually quote scripture.
The second thing Trump does is to shift the discussion away from the Bible and faith altogether and point to . . . drumroll please . . . himself! That’s right, Donald Trump is asked about the Bible, what he liked and how he related to it, and instead of quoting Psalm 23, The Beatitudes, The Prophets, or even 1 Corinthians 13, he namedrops a long dead preacher of pop psychology and then talks about how far ahead in the polls he is with evangelicals.
That is probably because Donald Trump does not know the Bible, or anything about the Bible, and really doesn’t care much for it. His materialism, many marriages, lack of compassion, boastfulness and ego demonstrate that he is only self-centered. That is what is different between him and Roosevelt, Churchill, and Reagan. Those men, whether you agreed with them or not, each earnestly thought they were doing what was best for their country. Trump only wants what is best for him. In that regard he resembles many other seekers of power throughout history who trumpeted the virtues of religion for their own purposes such as Napoleon, who said that “religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”
This brings us to our assessment of why Americans, not just evangelicals, should be wary of Trump. As social scientists (Jamie, while a pastor, is also an historian and David is a sociologist), it is almost impossible not to see in Trump the majority of the characteristics of psychopathy. In observing his speeches and performance in two debates, virtually all of Robert Hare’s (the leading research in the area of psychopathy) criteria are readily seen in Trump’s behavior—criteria such as these few…
–glibness and superficial charm—Trump!
–grandiose sense of self-worth—Trump!
–cunning and manipulative—Trump!
–lack of remorse—Trump! (check out Trump’s dodging of the ‘forgiveness’ issue by clicking here)
–callousness and lack of empathy—Trump!
–unwillingness to accept responsibility for actions—Trump!
–lack of realistic long-term goals—Trump!
Now, lest we be accused of suggesting that Trump is a rapist or murderer and would therefore fit in with the immigrants and minorities he so often speaks of, most psychopaths do not end up becoming serial killers. Most do, in fact, go into big business. His narcissistic qualities are precisely why Trump was incapable of calling out a supporter when he inappropriately asserted that “America’s real problem is Muslims,” one of whom is President Obama, “who is not even an American.” Unlike Senator John McCain, who quickly corrected a supporter who said similar things in 2008, Trump cannot entertain the possibility that one or more of his fans might be outside the mainstream.
While it appears that even some of Trump’s supporters are tiring of his attempts to insult his way to the Republican nomination, many seem to find his verbal abuse and callousness appealing for the sake of spitting in the face of political correctness. In fact, he is tearing to shreds with his antics any sense of decorum or civility necessary for a republic to function. He has taken to the extreme what Os Guinness was concerned about when he suggested that,
Name-calling, insult, ridicule, guilt by association, caricature, innuendo, accusation, denunciation, negative ads, and deceptive and manipulative videos have replaced deliberation and debate. Neither side talks to the other side, only about them; and there is no pretense of democratic engagement, let alone a serious effort at persuasion.
We share the frustration of political correctness run amok, but our aversion to Trump has nothing to do with political correctness. From a historical Baptist Christian perspective, this is about refusing to support public behavior that is such an affront to Christian thinking. From the perspective of a concerned citizen, this is about attempting to preserve whatever remnants are left of the civility of the American public square. Unfortunately, the most thoughtful respondents to Trump’s antics have been shouted to the margins by those who confuse decibel level with credibility. We prefer, as we have so often, Bonhoeffer’s approach when he said,
Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values . . . Socially it means the renunciation of all place-hunting, a break with the cult of the “star,” an open eye both upwards and downwards, especially in the choice of one’s more intimate friends, and pleasure in private life as well as courage to enter public life. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper and the radio to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.
It’s unfortunate when a man like Mr. Trump, confusing star power with populism, uses religious structures, media, and combative gimmicks to win attention and sound tough. In reality, he may be just a psychopathic dictator waiting to happen because it is really all just about him.
image from yahoonews.com