While citizens of these here American States of America await the latest blast from Hurricane Stormy (on CBS tonight), people who are interested in religious themes in the life and affairs of Donald Trump may have connected some other dots this past week.
I am, of course, talking about former Playboy Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal baring her soul in a lengthy interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, one of America's high priests of elite grocery-aisle journalism.
The key -- especially for the president's evangelical apologists -- is how the details of her allegations fit into the timeline of events in Trump's campaign for the White House, including his efforts to convince cultural conservatives that he was, and is, one of them. Here's the top of a Washington Post story about the CNN interview:
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal spoke on camera for the first time about the 10-month affair she says she had with Donald Trump shortly after the birth of his youngest son, baring the relationship’s most intimate details and tracing its arc -- from the moment she first met the future president to what she says was her decision to end the romance later. ...
The hour-long interview on CNN marked a particularly sensational moment, for both Trump, as allegations about past affairs draw more scrutiny, and the media, for whom McDougal’s in-depth questioning from host Anderson Cooper was a prime-time event. If Trump’s presidency and the headlines it has generated have been considered a reality show, this was the grocery aisle tabloid rebuttal.
McDougal spoke about a physical relationship she says began in 2006, alleging Trump offered her money the first time they were intimate and choking up as she recounted the guilt she felt for being a party to an affair. ...
“When I look back where I was back then, I know it’s wrong,” McDougal said, choking back tears. “I’m really sorry for that.”
Forget the steamy parts. What is truly interesting is how this fits into the larger Trump timeline, in terms of religious issues. We are, of course, talking about an extramarital affair -- one that led McDougal to offer an on-air apology to Melania Trump.
The affair took off in June 2006, McDougal said, which would have been just a few months after the birth of Trump’s 12-year-old son, Barron. The two met during a filming for “The Apprentice” at the Playboy Mansion, where McDougal, who was Playmate of the Year in 1998, was working, she said. ...
She described the guilt she felt visiting the businessman’s Trump Tower apartment, where he showed her a room he said was Melania’s, where “she likes to have her alone time or to get away to read, or something like that.”
“That’s when I thought maybe they’re having issues,” she said. “I couldn’t wait to get out. … Doing something wrong is bad enough, but when you’re doing something wrong and you’re in the middle of someone’s home or bed or whatever, that just puts a little stab in your heart.”
The question, of course, is whether Donald Trump -- the religious believer who, in 2016, wasn't sure that he had sins to confess -- felt a similar stab.
Why does the timing of all this matter?
Well, Rod "The Benedict Option" Dreher blogged about an interesting passage in the book "The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography," by David Brody and Scott Lamb:
Lance Wallnau created a Facebook video that went viral with millions of views, to explain how to think about the [Access Hollywood ‘grab-’em-by-the-pussy’] tape. As he had written in his newly released book, Wallnau argued that when Trump married Melania, he “decided that he was going to judge the one area of his life that was out of control. The guy doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke -- but he was a womanizer billionaire. And he ended that. He got committed to Melania, and he’s been dedicated to her and to having a rebranded family image ever since then.” Wallnau told us that the reason why the Access video came out when it did was that “the Lord wanted to circumcise him. He wanted to cut away from him any basis for boasting that it was his own strength. He got into the White House by the grace of God, not because of a perfect campaign -- because that Access Hollywood thing would have torpedoes anyone other than someone God’s grace was on.”
So here is the question: When did Trump turn things around, in terms of his marriage and private life?
Why is this a valid subject for news reporting? Well, for millions of religious conservatives -- some who welcomed Trump's candidacy and others who reluctantly voted for him as a way of voting against Hillary Clinton -- it matters whether Trump is making some kind of moral progress since his alleged "baby Christian" spiritual awaking at some point during his run for the White House.
Apparently, Trump told many conservatives that his commitment to Melania represented a turning point in his life.
Obviously, the timeline for this alleged affair complicates this picture.
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