Every so often, you run across a piece of writing that is simply beautiful and, at the same time, laden with religion ghosts. Such was this New York Times Magazine piece on Donald Trump, written by a reporter fortunate enough to get significant face time with him.
Ghosts? You may ask, what does this have to do with religion? More than you think.
First, the reporter doesn’t spare himself or his fellow media elitists for not deigning to cover Trump because he was plebian and, well, they were not.
This is blunt: “I was, of course, way too incredibly serious and high-minded to ever sully myself by getting so close to Donald Trump,” he writes.
And yet his lead in the polls kept growing. He was impolite company personified, and many Republican voters were absolutely loving him for that. They seemed to be saying en masse that even if Trump could be crass and offensive at times (or, in his case, on message), could he possibly be any worse than what politics in general had become?
Trump, the writer learns is infinitely easier to approach than Hillary Clinton. This was a relief:
... for political reporters accustomed to being ignored, patronized and offered sound bites to a point of lobotomy by typical politicians and the human straitjackets that surround them.
Now, what comes next is long but essential. Pay close attention to this:
A curious feature of the mob scene that has surrounded Trump at most public events since August is that people keep handing him money to sign. I first witnessed this on Sept. 11, a day of national mourning. Trump was working his way through the lobby of Rockefeller Center after taping an appearance on ‘‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,’’ and a boisterous crowd had been waiting for him. One building security guard described the commotion to me as ‘‘Justin Bieber level.’’ It consisted heavily of tourists and foreign visitors, many of them young. There were the usual paparazzi, and some shouted questions. But what struck me about this Trumpus Ruckus were the dollar bills. Trump signed one after another, and the recipients clutched and cherished them like winning lottery tickets. ‘‘Look, a hundred-dollar bill?’’ Trump said, showing me a C-note that a woman from Long Island had handed him to sign. You don’t often see politicians signing money. If asked, some will refuse -- I’ve seen Hillary Clinton do this -- possibly because it is technically illegal to deface currency. But it is a fitting souvenir from one of the high priests of the nation’s secular religion: aspirational consumerism. Reagan was a capitalist and a free-market icon, but conspicuous consumption (as people used to call it) was a benefit of American freedom and prosperity, not a national objective or a virtue in itself. Not so much with Trump, who of course owns many beautiful, classy things. There is a certain prosperity - theology aspect to Trump’s appeal, the idea that you follow a minister because he is rich and has his own plane and implicitly and sometimes explicitly promises that you, too, will be rich.
So I'm glad the Times magazine finally gets the religious overtones of what Trump does. It’s intriguing that this reporter compares Trump to the (unnamed) likes of Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar because that is the sort of Christian Trump gravitates to.
It’s a shame that the article’s deadline came before Trump met with some prosperity preachers on Sept. 28 in the Trump Tower in New York. How fascinating it would have been for the writer to weigh on that meeting and the prayer session that got captured on the video that accompanies this piece.
You must watch it, as it’s mind-boggling to listen in on the prayers of those who pray that Trump gets heavenly wisdom and thanking God for His “love of Donald Trump” and giving thanks that Trump is “a bold man, a strong man and an obedient man.” Is it my imagination or does Trump look a bit befuddled by this whole scene?
In case you wonder about Trump’s religious beliefs, we have covered this as have other media. Trump is a gift that keeps on giving, including his very recent slam against Ben Carson’s Seventh-day Adventist beliefs as well as what Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore just said about Trump’s beliefs. The religious press has mentioned that one of Trump's biggest defenders -- and the woman to Trump's right in the video who organized the prayer meeting -- is Florida evangelist Paula White. There hasn't been a whole lot in the mainstream press about the connection between the two, but here's a 2008 clip from one of Paula's shows with Trump as a guest. There's a lot out there on White, who is getting trashed by fellow Christians for being on her third marriage, this time to rocker Jonathan Cain. Trump is on his third marriage as well.
So, to look at this biblically for a moment, I think the reporter understood that Trump is more on the side of the rich young ruler than the man who had no place to lay his head. His piece is not a theological treatise, but more of an exposition on why certain folks like Trump so much. Am hoping that he and other writers keep following the property preacher trail to Trump and whether those televangelists have any sway in bringing more people under his thrall.
Donald Trump photo courtesy of Shutterstock