In this season usually characterized by widespread longing for peace, kindness, charity, and reconciliation, Donald Trump Jr. has faithfully reflected his own family tradition of disrespecting such wussy sentiments, as former George W. Bush adviser Peter Wehner reports in The Atlantic:
Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19. He displayed seething, nearly pathological resentments; playground insults (he led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants); tough guy/average Joe shtick; and a pulsating sense of aggrieved victimhood and persecution, all of it coming from the elitist, extravagantly rich son of a former president.
But there was one short section of Trump’s speech that I thought was particularly revealing. Relatively early in the speech, he said, “If we get together, they cannot cancel us all. Okay? They won’t. And this will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because — I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game. Okay? We’ve been playing T-ball for half a century while they’re playing hardball and cheating. Right? We’ve turned the other cheek, and I understand, sort of, the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing. Okay? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution in our country.”
Junior’s rejection of one of the central teachings of Christianity (albeit one that Christians have never been very good at following) is reminiscent of his father’s citation of “an eye for an eye” as his very favorite Bible adage. Indeed, it was by way of repudiating the 45th president’s motto that Jesus articulated the very teaching Trump the Younger dislikes (Matthew 5:38–42):
You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
That “hasn’t worked” for conservatives, so it’s disposable, along with other “soft” Christian teachings like forgiveness (which Trump Sr. once said he didn’t need), equality, the nobility of those suffering from poverty or disabilities, and a holy fear of self-righteousness. We have grown accustomed to the irony of conservative Christians all but idolizing a politician who is the most heathenish public figure of our generation, inordinately proud of his power over women in particular and supposedly lesser beings generally and incapable of confessing a single sin or weakness or defeat. But it’s still a bit jarring to hear this chip off the old block openly calling for an ethic of hatred, resentment, and vengeance against his imagined persecutors.
There is, of course, an ancient tradition in right-wing politics and culture of loudly proclaiming fidelity to Christianity while strategically ignoring its less convenient tenets. The authoritarian tradition of the 20th century, which so many of us fear the MAGA movement emulates, was conspicuous for promoting an extremely un-Christ-like worship of violence and repression in the name of defending “traditional Christian culture.” Adolf Hitler spoke of valuing “positive Christianity,” by which he meant the few teachings of Jesus Christ that did not directly contradict his gospel of racism, nationalism, and total war as a biological necessity. The Trumps aren’t typically articulate enough to promulgate a similar revision of the faith and may not personally subscribe to the crude racism and nationalism they relentlessly and cynically exploit. But it’s clear they appeal to a sort of cafeteria Christianity in which conservatives are encouraged to downplay or simply forget about the Jesus who condemned blood-and-soil loyalties on behalf of a universal ethic of love.
Mock it all you want, and I will, but this distorted Christianity has “worked” pretty well for Donald Trump Sr. and Jr. It has “gotten them” the White House for four years, dominion over of one of America’s two major political parties, and saddest of all, the especially devoted support of so many conservative followers of the Prince of Peace, who are willing to dismiss the savior’s teachings as T-ball and pursue an eye for an eye in order to smite their many enemies. So long as this thirst for holy violence and sanctified score-settling persists, the Trumps and their successors will always have a political base.