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    Tuesday, February 27, 2024

    Trump, the make-believe savior

    Donald Trump is nobody’s messiah, but that does not stop him from planting the idea. Trump has eerily been using campaign rhetoric to cast himself as a would-be savior.

    Followers of the three world religions with roots in ancient Hebrew Scriptures — Jews, Christians and Muslims — will recognize the imagery and allusions that Trump has been throwing around in his campaign for a second term as president.

    Most recent and most explicit may be the outrageous suggestion he made to Iowans in the days before the state’s Jan. 15 caucus process. With caucus day weather forecast for dangerous, sub-zero temperatures, the Associated Press and other news outlets reported Trump’s statement that it was worth dying in the attempt to cast a vote for him.

    “You can’t sit home,” Trump said. “If you’re sick as a dog, you say ‘Darling, I gotta make it.’ Even if you vote and then pass away, it’s worth it.”

    That level of self-sacrifice resonates for those familiar with the Bible. They recognize it as messianic talk, inviting them to become martyrs for a man above other humans, who is back for a second coming.

    In Iowa, where he finished with 51 percent of only 110,000 votes cast in the Republican caucus, Trump courted voters who practice an evangelical, conservative form of Protestant Christianity. He seems to be striving for a self-fulfilling prophecy by being seen as a man of extraordinary leadership to whom, despite their doubts, people will flock.

    If he were to win the November election, he would be able to add the claim that his return to power was preordained.

    Many observers have wondered aloud how people who sincerely profess to believe in virtue and morality could get behind a man currently accused in numerous state criminal courts and federal district courts of 91 felony counts that, religiously speaking, violate several of the Ten Commandments. He is also fighting civil suits that depict him as committing what people of faith would consider major sins. He certainly shows no signs of repentance.

    On the eve of the caucus PBS political reporter Lisa Desjardins asked Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats about Trump’s credibility with evangelicals. Vander Plaats had thrown his support to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis but he responded that God has often worked through “flawed men.”

    Jennifer Rubin, a columnist for the Washington Post and a politically conservative voice until Trump’s anti-democracy tactics became her focus, takes the question of Trump’s appeal further. Rubin recently blogged that the media needs to explain to voters why MAGA and Trump-worship meet the definition of a cult.

    She quotes Daniella Mestyanek Young, a cult survivor, Army veteran and holder of a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Harvard: “The first rule of cults is: you’re never in a cult. The second rule of cults is: the cult will forgive any sin, except the sin of leaving. The third rule of cults is: even if he did it, that doesn’t mean he’s guilty.”

    But the most likely explanation of why Trump is acceptable to many evangelicals is the old political maxim that politics make for strange bedfellows. An otherwise unlikable candidate who promises what someone wants to hear can beat out other contenders.

    Most of what Donald Trump says and does would have been unthinkable in a candidate or a president until he came along and forced Americans to reckon with him. Ironically, by setting himself outside the norms he may be making it easier for people looking for a leader to see him as uniquely different and above the others. The public has grown accustomed to flawed, make-believe superheroes, so Trump is giving make-believe a try.

    He will never explicitly refer to himself as a savior because that could be blasphemy to committed Christian voters. Instead he appropriates the characteristics of a savior and lets earnest people draw their own conclusions.

    Before anyone else votes for Donald Trump in the coming primaries, they need to listen carefully to what he is asking them to do.

    The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.