The Trump Delusion 13 July 2016

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Lots of Christians have an issue with Donald Trump. The pastor of a Presbyterian church he attended in Iowa earlier this year famously attacked his policies during her sermon. A church in Auckland created a billboard suggesting that Trump wouldn’t have much time for Christ – who chose to become weak and suffer for the sake of others. Even the Pope said in no uncertain terms that a man who proposed Trump’s policies is no Christian.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in Theology to work out why he might be unpopular with Christians, and plenty has been written on this already. Slander of entire groups of people based on race; segregation of entire groups of people based on religion; proposing punishing women who have abortions (even if he speedily backtracked) – this stuff is pretty unpalatable even for many more conservative Christians.

Yet for all this unpopularity, many Christians and churches in the US continue to support him. And even if they didn’t, there are still huge swathes of Republicans who want to see him in the White House.

Religious supporters really need to rethink their view of Trump. Not just because it would be a stretch to claim the Golden Rule at the heart of the major world religions is compatible with Trump’s approach. Nor simply because he’s been denounced by major faith leaders. But because they are at serious risk of exalting one man, placing their faith in him.

It’s a faith that promises that one man can liberate the country. A religion that indulges people in their misconceptions about the sources of the world’s problems – that they’re the fault of immigrants, or the poor, or the weak.

Donald Trump is the people’s new saviour. He can take on ISIS (though has yet to reveal how); he shows two fingers to North Korea; and with his policies of banning Muslim and Mexican immigration he’ll keep the country safe from rape, drugs and terrorism.

Donald Trump is a new idol – a model to emulate. Anyone can be like him (as long as they’re born and bred in America, of course) – they can work their way up from nothing (other than a “small, million dollar loan” from their father) to becoming a billionaire tycoon.

But the danger of this isn’t limited to Trump. It’s to some extent embedded in the American political system – one which, through presidential elections, encourages self-congratulation and the concentration of power in one central figure.

It may be Trump who’s the focal point of this for some. But for others, it’s Bernie Sanders. For others still, Hillary Clinton as the first female US president.

For some, the lesson still hasn’t been learnt: individuals aren’t saviours.

At the heart of every major world faith is a clear message about human beings: that, however much good there in us, we’re also fallible. We are not capable of living purely good lives by ourselves. We mess things up. We make mistakes. We hurt others, often for the sake of our gain.

It’s lunacy to place all of one’s trust in a single human being. They can’t solve all of a country’s major problems.

As people, we’re fallible. But at least if we work together, we stand a much better chance of building a better society than if we try to do it single-handedly.

Because when we work together, we acknowledge our incompleteness by ourselves. We recognise the talents of others, and our need for them to work with us.

This is why I’m so grateful for the British electoral system, however flawed it is. During the 2015 General Election, it was clear that the party leaders’ policies were those of their parties, not simply the product of their own genius. Though the party leaders’ attacks unfortunately became quite personal at times, when they presented their policies – whether it was Labour’s NHS Time to Care Fund, or the Conservatives’ budget surplus – it was evident their vision was dependent on them working with others. The leader of a British political party campaigns to be a Prime Minister – a first among equals. They campaign for their party to govern, not for their own power.

Contrast this to the US system, where individuals campaign for their own presidency – spending eye-watering amounts for the purpose: in the 2012 election, Obama and Romney each spent close to $1billion on their campaigns (compared to the £37million total spending across all major parties in the UK 2015 General Election).

Any true religious believer should wake up and recognise the nonsense of this. No one person can save the world – neither Trump, nor Sanders, nor anyone else. Obama himself seemed to recognise this when he first ran for presidency in 2008, with his famous “Yes we can” slogan.

Humans will always make mistakes. Governments will always implement bad policies. But by recognising our human leaders’ dependence on others, we at least give ourselves a chance of ensuring that, more often than not, governments pass legislation that is informed and balanced, and contributes to the flourishing of all citizens.

This article is from Issue 13 of On Religion. You can subscribe to the print magazine for just £19 a year by Direct Debit. Subscribe Button

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About Andrew Grey

Andrew Grey graduated from the University of Oxford with BA and MPhil degrees in Theology. He is a Writer and Editor at a national charity. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.