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Trump’s subconscious is desperately trying to tell us something

I’m starting to wonder whether Donald Trump, in the early years of this century, might have killed some young woman. Not sexually assaulted her; that’s something he’s apparently been doing, repeatedly, since the early 1980s. I mean killed a woman outright.

I worry about this, as an American, because he’s the president. And because he keeps accusing MSNBC host Joe Scarborough of this exact crime, from this specific period in time. Naturally, as has become custom, Trump makes this allegation publicly without a shred of evidence. But this particular accusation worries me in another way because, as we’re learning, it’s part of a pattern — the outrageous lie that falsely accuses or smears someone else, but actually projects the president’s own anxiety about his having already committed the same crime, or embodying the identical character flaw.

This habit of the president’s, what I have dubbed projection lying, is not to be confused with his reflexive, everyday, run-of-the-mill lying — what he himself calls, in his book Art of the Deal, “truthful hyperbole” (to be fair, it’s the sort of thing one does when selling condos). As the nation has come to understand, this form of fabrication he unleashes almost continually.

Ethically, even psychiatrists aren’t supposed to diagnose the most obvious sociopaths from a distance. But I’m not a psychiatrist (!). And let’s face it: As American citizens in the here and now, we are more or less obliged to scrutinize the president’s lies, to sort them into various categories, subgroups and classifications, then collectively wonder what sort of psychiatric phenomenon leads to all this lying, all these different types of lies. He is our head of state, after all. Other than lies, we don’t get many other types of communication from the man.

In the main, Trump lies largely for the same reasons anyone else does — to deflect blame, to immunize himself from harm (when possible), to shirk responsibility, etc. We’re talking the mother lode of deflection and shirking here.

However, even while taking into account the president’s magisterial portfolio of lies and dissembling styles, I remain fascinated and troubled in particular by the president’s projection lying — the assertion of something clearly false that nevertheless and quite astutely reveals something manifestly true about Trump himself. Here’s a banal example: When he prefaces a statement with, Believe me when I tell you, he’s really saying, “I’m preparing to lie to you. In fact, I’m doing it right now.”

We are sadly conditioned to this phenomenon by now, like a proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death. As noted, the man sold condos when he wasn’t doing the impossible: bankrupting casinos (prior to starring in a “reality” series that celebrated his business acumen!). At this advanced stage, it’s as if we expect him to lie to us… And yet Trump has taken this projection lying to a new, dangerous and strangely fascinating place in 2020, because so many of his lies do reveal what the man’s id, his inner voice, what passes for his soul, is trying desperately to tell us. That’s why the Scarborough lie/smear is so arresting, almost macabre.

The president clearly reckons that if a nemesis like Scarborough were first framed up for murder, Trump could better argue that he was being framed up — or that maybe killing someone isn’t so terrible after all (so long as it was done, perhaps on 5th Avenue, by someone famous enough).

See here a brief catalogue of the variations on this dissembling projection theme. In most every case, it’s pretty obvious what Trump and his subconscious mind are trying to tell us — things we kind of knew to be true already:

  • A lot of people are saying = I’m making this up.
  • She can’t be trusted = You’d be a fool to trust me.
  • How has he not been indicted by now? = I’m quite sure I’ve committed several high crimes or misdemeanors — just in the last 3 days.
  • The president cannot be indicted = I’ve committed several indictable acts in the last 48 hours (but I’m going to keep repeating this because Bob Barr says it’s so).
  • She can’t be trusted with state secrets = I cannot be trusted with state secrets.
  • He’s a security risk = I am a security risk (and so are my children)
  • Nobody knows [insert subject matter here] better than me = I know next to nothing about [insert identical subject matter here]
  • Who knew health care was so complicated? = I just thought about health care policy for the first time this morning.
  • I’ve been treated very badly = I’ve committed a crime and/or shattered a longstanding norm and now I’m dealing with the inevitable consequences.
  • Witch hunt = Constitutionally mandated Congressional oversight
  • Perfect call = Shakedown
  • She’s not my type = Yeah, I raped her.
  • He’s lying = I’m lying.
  • I guarantee you that conversation never took place = That conversation is digitally recorded.
  • I don’t know the guy = We have, in fact, vacationed together.

I could go on. For days! (the Washington Post recently tallied the president’s lies and purposely misleading statements, since January 2017, at more than 20,000). But you get the point.

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Why Politics So Often Trumps Piety: It’s Baked Right In

“The Good Shepherd” by James Tissot

Confused by stalwart evangelical Christian support for Donald Trump? Don’t be. Organized religious movements, especially those of the Christian variety, are only nominally “religious” or faith-directed. They are, in fact, political movements. Always have been; they started that way. We aren’t confused by U.S. Chamber of Commerce support for Trump, for example. These captains of industry don’t like the guy either; it’s not clear they ever respected him as “a businessman” (I mean, who bankrupts casinos? That’s really hard to do). But the Chamber anticipated that Trump, as president, would deliver policy outcomes that would keep American corporate interests rich and powerful. The Chamber’s support for Trump doesn’t confuse us at all.

The president’s evangelical Christian support is identically political and transactional.

To be fair, the president’s evangelical support is even more politically on the nose because, as it happens, the world’s two most prominent monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, were both founded as uniquely, overtly political movements — and so they remain. The disconnect and confusion come when something like ‘evangelical Christianity’ is viewed as a movement or phenomenon of faith. As such, its support for someone sporting such a “rich” history of bigotry, sexual predation, white supremacy and transgressive plutocracy would be totally mystifying.

However, when evangelical Christianity is rightly viewed as a political movement, the hypocrisy and our confusion about it fall away. Or they should.

Look at what Trump has promised and, in part, delivered to this political constituency of his: not enlightenment or even a righteous example but rather the appointment of judges who are likely to rule against abortion and gay rights (though the latter backfired on the evangelical right last week); the channeling of taxpayer money to private, largely religious, certainly segregated schools; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, thereby laying the groundwork for the fulfillment of biblical prophecy; and restoration of an America that is ruled by white Christian men, despite a population that is ever more diverse. Quite apart from Trump and Republican Party policies, evangelical Christians also tend to be strongly supportive of American militarism abroad, race-based immigration policy, and authoritarian policing, three more things that make it darned near impossible to, among other things, love they neighbor as thyself.

We can agree nearly all of these priorities as maintained by Trump’s evangelical base don’t touch on faith much at all; even the fulfillment of prophecy serves only Christians themselves, not the breadth of God’s human family. Many of these political goals demonstrably transgress New Testament teachings. Instead they are far more concerned with the wielding of power, social influence and control, and money — the stock in trade of most political movements.

Many Americans are thrown by this — the inability of nominal Christians to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s (Romans 13:1). Even religiously observant onlookers get stuck on the hypocrisy of the situation — to a point. Trump’s personal behavior would surely offend lots of evangelicals were he raising their grandchildren or coaching their son’s Little League team, for example. But he’s not doing that. He’s delivering political power and influence, and that trumps all. Apparently. Evangelical Christians are no different from any other political constituency in their search for return on investment — a return they frankly didn’t realize from many Republican presidents up to now.

What has changed with Trump is the extent to which individual members of the religious right wing attempt to cloak these plainly political aims in religious vestments. That is to say, under Trump that practice has fallen away almost entirely — and this should help the rest of us better understand what has always been true: that organized religious movements don’t give a fig about salvation (yours, theirs, anyone’s), not when earthly power, influence, social control and money are at stake.  

Listen to the way Steven E. Strang, founder of the Christian publishing house Charisma Media, reckons this political calculus today:

“I believe that God answered our prayers in a way we didn’t expect, for a person we didn’t even necessarily like,” he told The New York Times last winter. “Christians believe in redemption and forgiveness, so they’re willing to give Donald Trump a chance.” Strang added that those who talk about Trump tarnishing the evangelical brand “are not really believers — they’re not with us, anyway.”

One thing is clear: This fellow Strang is not concerned with souls.

Neither is Penny Young Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, an evangelical organization formed to frame the 2018 midterm elections (to potential donors) as a civilizational struggle. Referring to Trump, she said, “His family can talk to him about issues of character.”

“Certainly we are all embarrassed,” Linda Leonhart, who is active in the women’s ministry at her suburban Dallas church, told  The Times in March 2019, citing the president’s serial lying, pettiness, impulsiveness, profanity and name calling. “But for the most part he represents what we stand for.” Not the Gospels, in other words, but the political gathering and wielding of earthly power, influence, social control and money.

These folks are not concerned with the teachings of scripture, much though former Attorney General Jeff Sessions might have tried to cite it in defense of this xenophobic policy or that one. Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted these same diversions. In 2020, it should be clear that Republicans are more concerned with using scripture in the derivation and deployment of political identity and power, reflecting a Christian tradition that is nearly 2,000 years old.

The mere acknowledgement that Trump may be less than ideal morally — but that he delivers things like Brett Kavanaugh and protections for Christian health workers — is itself a tacit acknowledgement, on the part of Christian voters, that political concerns are equally important, if not more important, than matters of personal faith. For them, it’s a simple exercise in compartmentalism, a word that does not appear in the Bible, for the record. I doubt very much these folks would want Trump for a son-in-law (faith). But they love what he’s doing as president (politics).

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Unprecedented? Nope. Modern GOP Still Harking Back to the ’80s — the 1880s

With word that President Donald Trump planned to resume his in-person political rallies in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 19, 2020 — that’s Juneteenth, a commemoration of slavery’s end and black America’s biggest secular holiday — it seemed clear the era of Republican dog whistling was finally over.

Tulsa was, of course, site of the so-called ‘race riots’ that slaughtered of hundreds of African-Americans over a two-day period in 1921. That was the height of Jim Crow America, when pogroms like these were sadly unremarkable. This was the symbolism our Republican administration was clearly reaching for, and by now it should not surprise us.

From the moment Ronald Reagan launched his 1980 presidential campaign — in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights activists had been murdered and buried in an earthen dam back in 1963 — the GOP has positioned itself as the party of white folk. The symbolism was clear enough from Day 1. It was effective enough to lure white southern Democrats (the “Dixiecrats” who fled the Democratic Party during the Civil Rights era) into the once-anathema Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln and The Union. A Trump presidency and the scheduling of this July rally neatly complete the circle.

In light of the protests that gripped American cities in wake of George Floyd’s May 29 killing, we are now free to drop all pretenses. Indeed, it’s time to retire all sorts of presumptions, including the idea that Trump and his white-nationalist “Christian” support is somehow unprecedented. On the contrary: We have been here before.

But first, by all means, let’s also dispense with any and all pearl-clutching from progressives and centrists. Donald Trump understands the nature of his political support and, by now, so should we. To be fair, he’s been remarkably consistent re. the nature of his vision for this country. “Why is it always about race with you people,” his supporters serially countered in pre-Floyd America. Because, as was confirmed in June (which only confirms what the war on drugs and mass incarceration showed us decades before), it’s always been about race.

Let’s further dispense with our vaguely snarky musing on the Trump movement’s signature rallying cry. When he and his followers pledge to “Make America Great Again”, they really do mean to make it white again — or rather, to restore white citizens to their longstanding, “rightful” place of privilege and power in the face of an ever more diverse citizenry and electorate. It’s time to retire this rhetorical question and simply accept it as demonstrable fact.

We can also stop with the lengthy magazine think pieces and earnest video documentaries that explore the economic nature of Trump’s support. Yes, plutocrats love Trumpism. They may indeed be pulling some of these strings. But there is no economic explanation for the white working-class embrace of Donald Trump. And here’s a good rule to follow at all times but particularly in this one: When we perceive our fellow citizens to be repeatedly voting against their own self-interest, we have almost certainly failed to effectively divine that self-interest.

To wit, Trumpism is not an economic movement. It is a white, nationalist, extra-scriptural Christian movement. In four years’ time, it has produced a great many things we can fairly call “unprecedented”. But MAGA isn’t one of them. Going forward, it’s critical that “the rest of us” recognize this.

What’s more, as we’ll establish here, it’s important to recognize this is not the first time white Americans have found themselves on the wrong side of a demographic equation, i.e. trying to maintain political power and privilege in a society where voters of color roughly equal if not outnumber them.

We have indeed been here before. It’s called the Post-Reconstruction South, where the identical demographic situation resulted in the identical political response. To a remarkable degree, the policies articulated by Trump during his campaign and those instituted by his administration these past 40 months are the spiritual godchildren of those initiated by post-Reconstruction southern whites in the late 19th century — for the same desperate and obvious demographic reasons.

No one bothered to ask late 19th century southern white men why they effectively demonized, disenfranchised and, where possible, criminalized black citizens, black voters. No contemporaneous journalists from the agitating north went looking for the economic foundations of Jim Crow. It was obvious to all, north and south, what they were doing and why. Institutional racism was essential and obvious to the white fight for political power in the former Confederacy. The political motivations of white southerners post-1877 had nothing to do with economics, government intrusion, faith, the opioid epidemic, flyover country resentment of coastal elites, etc. It also lasted the better part of 100 years.

And so, in this sense, we should not be surprised that it remains front and center in U.S. politics. It’s about race and power. It has always been about race and power. Not exactly the race of some urban African-American or that of some border Latinx, but rather the so-called white race, “our” race, and its prospects for enduring power in this country. The demography of an immigrant nation has finally caught up to white America, and a lot of them (40 percent by most counts) don’t like it much. It’s time we all accepted this and set about wrestling with it properly.

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