There are a lot of articles popping up trying to analyze the hatred of Trump as well as his appeal. I’d like to have a go. It would be easy to start with a litany of concretes — we’ve had two years of scandals, incidents, media kerfuffles, times when Trump’s been a dick to his opponents and vice versa. But i’d like to go deeper, to the root of what makes Trump different and why we’re now on a cultural collision course.
The moment that I think clarifies the nature of the man came very early on. He belittled McCain’s war heroism with an offhand “I like people who weren’t captured.” This said it all to me, good and bad.
Trump is not a Christian, but a pagan in the greco-roman warrior-culture tradition.
The Christian hero is a martyr, the pagan hero is the victorious winner. Everything about Trump can be summarized by the pagan greco-roman virtues. A pagan brags, revels in wine and hot chicks, has an iffy relationship with the truth, gilds his home with gold, brooks no slights to his power and fame. A pagan is touchy about his reputation, and wants to seem grand in the eyes of other men. A christian is taught humilty, chastity, service, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom.
This is what explains how intensely Trump runs against the grain of the nation, while also being a welcome change to some. America has always straddled the Christian and Pagan cultures. Our churches preach the gospel, but our public buildings are full of tributes to the pagan figures. Our capital is full of pagan Greek and roman grandeur, columns and pillars and obelisks, even as we bow on Sunday morning and declare our unworthiness in the eyes of God. We preach faith at home, but practice reason in the office. We applaud irreverent entertainers, but prefer our leaders to stick to the language of the pulpit.
Trump does not talk like any of our past political figures. Obama and Bush and Clinton were steeped in the rhetorical style of the church, its cadences and rituals. Trump states the bottom line. Past presidents couch their programs in christian rhetoric–service to the poor, community, sacrifice, nation-building in service to the global good, etc. Trump promises to make the country great and rich.
So the response one will have to Trump is essentially philosophical. Biden says dumb stuff but he’s still ‘one of us’. Reid or Pelosi or McConnell might be just as vicious to their enemies, but they still give lip service to the accepted Judeo-Christian ethical code. Their enemies are proclaimed to be enemies of that code: “selfish and greedy and uncaring.” Trump’s enemies are called “unsuccessful losers”. So, to the degree that a person demands an altruistic justification for public policy, they will find Trump a revolting gaudy braggart. To the degree that a person prefers a pagan culture of deeds and wealth, they will find Trump to be a breath of fresh air, like leaving a gloomy church to go to the casino.
So, with this in mind, what are the perils and possibilities of a Trump presidency? Well, he will suck at the Christian parts and excel at the pagan stuff. He will be uninspiring and tone deaf giving consolation after tragedies, but will rattle swords and shields in the faces of our enemies. He will not preside over a charitable administration, but will fight to bring dollars home. He will have no patience for entitlements, but will never damn wealth, even ill-begotten. The biggest danger is that he will rouse a Christian nation to guilt and shame, ensuring that the next president is a true theocrat. The biggest opportunity is that Trump the pagan actually cares about the things he wants to accomplish, because the achieving of deeds is the pagan goal–to join a pantheon of heroes. He wants to be the Greatest President Ever, and thinks that he will win the country over with his deeds. But in our Christian culture the man who lives by that philosophy is a selfish fool, and over time Trump will get more and more frustrated that his successes bring him even more hatred. He won’t understand why he’s hated, and will keep thinking that ‘winning’ should bring him respect. But winning in a Christian culture is the sign of the selfish monster, so i’d expect the hatred to intensify as the country chooses its moral code over any new prosperity, with Trump on one side and the Christian right and communitarian left united on the other, worldwide. No matter what material benefits Trump achieves, he will never show humility and it will be ugly, because the entire culture will feel compelled to force him to his knees one way or another.