The Trump Presidential Library had several recent acquisitions.
On Monday last week, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie published his tell-all, Let Me Finish, in which he described the Trump White House as a "Game of Thrones operation." . The next day, former White House aide Cliff Sims contributed Team of Vipers, whose title speaks for itself.
This week saw the leak of the President's daily schedule for the last 3 months, showing that he spends 60% of his time in unscheduled "Executive Time." . That's when he loafs in front of Fox and tweets about it. Or so we think -- who's to know for sure what he does. Whatever it is, he'd rather do that than listen to some boring intelligence briefing. .
Oh, and let's not forget that his lies-batted-in average this year is at a record 16.5 times a day. .
With all that, what should we make of White House press secretary and noted preacher's kid Sarah Huckabee Sanders proclaiming to the Christian Broadcasting Network that "God wanted Donald Trump to become president." http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2019/january/exclusive-white-house-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-god-wanted-donald-trump-to-become-president. British evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, when asked what the natural world had taught him about God, supposedly quipped that the Almighty had "an inordinate fondness for beetles." If Sarah's right, then God really does have an over-the-top fondness for lower life-forms.
Not to mention a wicked sense of humor.
Those of us who knew or knew of the Donald in the 80s and 90s formed a dim view of him even back then. Mine hasn't changed much; certainly not for the better. How Sarah Sanders and her evangelical cohorts came to view this classless con-man of a Manhattan dirt peddler as the anointed one of God is a mystery deeper than any I was ever made to ponder in my dozen years in Catholic schools.
Michael Gerson penned one of the best attempts to explain it a few months ago in The Atlantic. . Evangelicism toppled from being one of the most dominant American religious temperaments in the mid-1800s to one of the most marginalized today. After gloriously spearheading the Abolitionist movement, they went off the rails. They staked their future on a doctrinal opposition to drinking and to evolution -- and hence allied itself against human nature on the one hand and science on the other. Nothing was going to stop us from drinking, so evangelicism's great temperance movement ended in the great failure of Prohibition. Also, whether God made humans from dust of through natural selection makes not a whit of difference to the life of anyone alive. So why fight over it? Science, like human nature, always wins in the end. The evangelicals in the early 20th Century bet against both and lost bigly. Today, it is a fractured movement that gathers the in-your-face bullies of Westboro and the wannabe wealthy of Lakewood under one unwieldly tent.
With all that, I can understand how the evangelicals want to be made great again. In Trump's hucksterism, they saw a messiah. Go figure.
But every action also has its equal and opposite reaction. President Trump has summoned up a thundercloud. Topics that were political third rails for years -- like a return to 70% marginal rates, wealth taxes, universal healthcare, higher minimum wages, and banning stock buy-backs that benefit shareholders and executives but not employees -- all are now on the table. Why not? If turn-of-the-last-century tariffs can make a comeback, so should Teddy Roosevelt-style progressivism, trustbusting, conservationism and all. Even billionaires like Howard Schultz and Michael Bloomberg are taking this seriously. For good reason, as many of those proposals have supermajority public support. See ; . Like I said, God has one wicked sense of humor.
In his Varieties of Religious Experience, written just about when evangelicism began its downward spiral, philosopher William James depicted example after example of persons proclaiming to have had a religious conversion experience. No two were identical, each personal. Each of us, if we are moved by some spirit, is moved alone. No one can prove that their God is the same, different or better than anyone else's, and one person's God is often enough another person's Devil. In the end, we each seek, and find, the God we need. James wrote, quoting another philosopher, "God is not known, he is not understood; he is used -- sometimes as meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than that." That's why one of our bedrock principles as a secular society is that each of us, having different need, is entitled to our own God, whatever we conceive Him, Her, It, or Them to be (or not to be).
In his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, historian Yuval Harari raises a novel point about the biblical Third Commandment. The King James translation says don't take the name of God "in vain." The word "vain" means useless. The Jewish Study Bible interprets the original text as don't "swear falsely by," which suggests lying under oath -- perjury -- but also the dangerous practice of "swearing to God" to sanctify simple human promises. We tend to make promises lightly, and reality often forces us to break more than some of them. If we swear to God to keep a promise, who will release us when that promise becomes impossible? We are left to stand, in Dylan's words, guarding against "abstract threats too noble to neglect, deceived into thinking we have something to protect."
More recent translations of the Third Commandment use, as to God's name, words like "misuse" (the Catholic Jerusalem Bible), "make wrongful use of" (the Anglican Oxford Bible), and use "for emptiness" (the Schocken Bible). That is how Harari reads it, and I think he's right. Each side to every battle, whether in war or in politics, believes that God is on their side. He's not. "We should never use the name of God to justify our political interests, our economic ambitions, or our personal hatreds," Harari writes. "You want to wage war on your neighbors and steal their land? Leave God out of it and find yourself some other excuse."
So, Sarah, don't justify the team of vipers or your place in it by invoking Divine will. You'll find the truer answer in a mirror; go look if you dare.