You Can’t Impeach a Messiah
Officials from the Trump administration and the President himself have made fairly outlandish claims since Trump’s election in 2016. Recently, these have reached new levels when several officials have argued that the President has some sort of divine right to rule — claims more typically made in feudal regimes. For example, Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently said that “God wanted Donald Trump to be President.” This should be very concerning to all Americans.
Secretary Perry isn’t unfortunately the only official spewing rhetoric depicting the President as some sort of messiah; Sarah Sanders, the former White House press secretary made similar comments recently and so did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — he agreed that it is a possibility that God raised Trump to protect Israel from Iranian aggression. These claims from White House official eerily sound like words authoritarian leaders would use to justify their rule.
This all ties back to Donald Trump being a very crafty populist leader, one who understands he needs to appeal to his evangelical base right now. His pullout in Syria which left the Kurds undefended from Turkish aggression even though they are seen as allies by the Christian community. This doesn’t play well with the Evangelical Christian base that got Trump elected; and of course the looming question of impeachment still plagues the President as well. It took an 81% share of Evangelical Christian votes to elect Donald Trump as President, something he can’t afford to lose amid his impeachment proceedings. Donald Trump has so much riding on the support of the Christian right, in Wisconsin he only won by 23,000 votes and within that state Evangelical account for 17% of the voting population.
Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election is completely reliant on the unwavering support of the Christian right; and without reassurance they may lose enthusiasm for their controversial leader. So the administration is sticking to the script, painting the President as some vilified religious hero taking the heat from society while carrying out God’s plan for America.
It also is very clearly a populist strategy to solidify support and consolidate power. Jan Werner Müller in his book, “What is Populism?”, argues that populists claim sole legitimacy in representing the people. When the administration is saying God chose Trump they are actually trying to tell millions of Christians exactly who to listen to; by not supporting the President you would be betraying your faith. However, even these slight ripples in the red curtain that is the evangelical right are probably not enough to cripple the unwavering support the President has enjoyed from his base to date.
Before the announcement of impeachment proceedings white evangelical protestants polled nearly unanimously at 99% in disagreeing with impeaching the President. Throughout a tumultuous presidency, the Evangelical Right has stood in unison with the President. It’s no wonder why in 2020 we are hearing arguments that legitimize one’s seizing of power that are so antiquated it is comparable to the arguments of feudal lords and kings which granted them sole power over their subjects. It’s a prime example of the breakdown of democracy that is threatening the United States, alluding to some selection made by God that undermines all opponents of this ‘chosen one’. Framing issues so the critics of the administration are not just opponents of Trump but also opponents to their Christian faith.
Burke, Daniel. 2019. “Rick Perry says Trump (and Obama) were ‘ordained by God’ to be president”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/25/politics/rick-perry-donald-trump-god/index.html
Bidgood, Jess. 2019. “Trump’s evangelical support mystifies his critics, but in Wisconsin, it looks stronger than ever”. The Boston Globe. https://apps.bostonglobe.com/nation/politics/2019/11/voters-2020-election/wisconsin/new-london/
Gallagher, Julie, 2019. “Pompeo agrees it’s possible God raised Trump to protect Israel from Iranian aggression”. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/22/politics/mike-pompeo-donald-trump-israel-golan-heights/index.html
Fitzgerald, Frances. 2019. “Why Evangelicals Support Trump”. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/07/books/review/who-is-an-evangelical-thomas-s-kidd.html
Orr, Gabby. 2019. “Evangelicals have stuck by Trump. But polls hint at trouble ahead.”. Politico. https://www.politico.com/news/2019/10/24/trump-evangelical-christian-support-056121
PRRI. 2019. “Fractured Nation: Widening Partisan Polarization and Key Issues in 2020 Presidential Elections”. Public Religion Research Institute. https://www.prri.org/research/fractured-nation-widening-partisan-polarization-and-key-issues-in-2020-presidential-elections/
Jan-Werner Müller. What Is Populism?. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time (nor will it be the last) that the evangelical community has pushed a “divine right” idea. It is very concerning, however, that top-level Trump officials seem to be trying to push the idea on a broader scope. It’s bad for democracy when our leaders push these justifications of authoritarianism, but it’s even worse when the people accept it and begin doing it themselves.
I think that the fact that the Trump administration seems to consider this necessary is also telling of their outlook on the current situation. Some sources have claimed the Trump campaign’s own polls show a loss to top Democratic rivals, and this could be evidence of concern for them.
Regardless of the motivation, I agree that this is a blatantly populist move on the part of the administration. While I’d love to buy into American Exceptionalism, this seems exactly like the kind of thing you see in failing third world democracies, or, as you say, feudal kingdoms.
Interesting discussion on the use of religion in American populism. Unfortunately, this invocation of divine right seems to be less antiquated than one hoped for. It also rears its ugly head in places other than the USA.
Trump’s reliance on faith and God to bolster his popularity seems to be rather typical of the “traditional” aspect of Traditional-Authoritarian-Nationalist (TAN) Parties described by Hodson and Puetter in their article on New Intergovernmentalism. Parties that emphasize tradition tend to emphasize a unique culture, language, history and religion. The far-right TAN party Freiheitliche Partei Oesterreichs (FPO) for example heavily emphasizes the “Jewish-Christian” nature of Austria itself along with portraying their party leaders as devout Christians. The PiS party in Poland, another TAN party, does this as well by naming Catholicism as a key element of Polish identity. The PiS goes a step further by naming itself as a vanguard of Catholicism and moral values, mirroring the article’s analysis of Trump. By not supporting the FPO, the PiS or Trump, one is not being a good Christian and may in face be betraying one’s faith.
Following the discussion on propaganda and media, it’s clear that there needs to be a compelling alternative narrative to change evangelicals’ minds on Trump. Perhaps evangelical Christians can be convinced to support impeachment if it is framed as an issue of Trump betraying the good American Christians in support of Russia, USA’s traditional enemy.
It is clear you are not a supporter of the current President, and that is okay. You will make a great journalist, because you like to spin the narrative just like them. You also like to major points of a story to fit your opinion. If you read more of the article that Rick Perry wrote he says Trump AND OBAMA were “ordained by God” you sure like to leave that part out though don’t you. In your article you say white evangelical protestants polled nearly unanimously at 99% in disagreeing with impeaching the President. You are blaming that Christians only voted for him and do not want to impeach him because he’s a “descendent from God”. True followers of God did not vote or Trump because He is the “Messiah”. Christians do not even believe he is the Messiah because the ONLY Messiah is JESUS CHRIST not Trump. People that voted for Trump voted for him because they believed he was the most suitable candidate for Presidency, or just truly did not want Hilary Clinton. The ones that do not want to impeach Trump is because there has been to evidence provided to impeachment. Its is just hear say or speculations. Find the actual or physical evidence, and then they can actually go further with impeachment. And just because he gets impeached does not mean he will be removed from office. Just ask Bill Clinton.
This was a really interesting take on the strategy used by some Republicans to energize their base to vote for Trump. I was unaware of the comments that so directly tied the former president to religion and God, but that is deeply troubling. It did not occur to me that promoting Trump as a religious messiah would be used to win over voters, but to be honest it is not surprising. Politics has, in some respects, gone further and further from its roots for many Americans. It becomes less and less about policies and increasingly about image. Some people voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 not because he had better plans or ideologies, but because he came across stronger to some people. While this is not representative of all GOP voters, the appearance and showing of “strength” is an important factor to some voters. Therefore, the use of religion and messianic comparisons, which is the ultimate comparison of strength for people who value religion, makes sense for something to preach to followers. This is also an interesting tactic as atheism is increasing in the united states, according to a pew study, and the religion of christianity is seeing a decline. This begs the question if politicians will continue to use the tactics mentioned in this post or if they will stray from them. I suppose that, even with the decline of some religious following, that those who are involved in their religions can be a very passionate base. Something I will definitely be tracking in the future!