For the GOP, Donald Trump may be evil incarnate — literally
What if a candidate for president were evil?
I'm not talking about the way "evil" is thrown around as an insult. I'm talking about real evil, the kind you find in the Bible. Chuckle if you must, but Donald Trump's opponents are beginning to make the case that he is truly evil. And the deeper you look, the more you see that it's no laughing matter.
The prevailing wisdom says Trump is riding high because the Republican base is raising a middle finger — once again — to the establishment. But the prevailing wisdom also says the base is dominated by Christian conservatives. That's a paradox in the making.
Certainly, just because you're Christian doesn't mean you're a wimp when it comes to politics. You can stand up and cheer, or grimly nod along, when someone — anyone — cuts through today's tightly scripted Beltway blather with random rants and oh-no-he-didn't jabs.
But it's becoming clear that Trump's candidacy asks Christians to go much further than that — down the road of perdition, if Trump's enemies are to be believed.
It all started when Trump went on record describing an attitude toward sin that would make the average churchgoer flinch. At the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Frank Luntz asked Trump to share with the audience whether he'd ever asked God for forgiveness.
"I don't think so," said Trump. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't."
He went on. "When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of 'let's go on and let's make it right.'"
Many Americans would probably hesitate to be so forthright about their view of communion. But Trump's apparent honesty threw his insurgent campaign in a scary new light.
In secular America, one of the most broadly accepted ways to describe Trump is with swear words. People straining to be decent often resort to calling him an ass. But in Christian America, there's another term of opprobrium that gets more to the heart of the matter. It's not just that Trump's campaign revolves around his harsh and ungenerous demeanor. It's that he's all about sowing discord. It's what he does. It's who he is.
And sowing discord, in the Christian imagination, isn't just mean or nasty. It's evil.
For Rick Perry — a man who might very well have to sit out the GOP primary debates while Trump hogs the mic — it's time to call a spade a spade. He didn't explicitly call Trump an evildoer at the Opportunity and Freedom PAC forum in Washington, D.C. But he came about as close as you can get.
“In times of trouble, there are two types of leaders," he warned, “repairers of the breach and sowers of discord. The sower of discord foments agitation, thrives on division, scapegoats certain elements of society, and offers empty platitudes and promises."
Readers of Dante will recall that, in the Inferno, a special slice of hell is reserved for the sowers of discord — schismatics who tried to advance themselves by dividing institutions. For these evildoers, Dante meted out the poetically just punishment of physical dismemberment. Just as they hacked apart the human bonds around them, so their bodies now were sliced and diced forever.
Readers of the Bible will remember that Dante wasn't just freestyling. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, God “tempered the body" of Christendom together so that “there should be no schism" and “the members should have the same care for one another."
Or as Perry put it, the sower of discord “offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued."
“Enter ye by the strait gate," runs an early English translation of Matthew 7:13; “for the gate that leadeth to perdition is large, and the way is broad, and there be many that enter by it."
Trump's candidacy, Perry went on, “cannot be pacified or ignored, for it will destroy a set of principles that has lifted more people out of poverty than any force in the history of the civilized world — the cause of conservatism." In sum? Trump's evil ways tempt Republicans to turn away from their greatest moral purpose — a sin worthy of damnation.
Perry is the first to advance this argument so bluntly. But we can expect it to catch on, because Trump's candidacy is forcing the base's hand. If The Donald can keep up his numbers without a come-to-Jesus moment, that either means that the base has become a lot less religious, or that it's so frustrated that it's willing to cast aside the better angels of its nature.
Either of those developments promise Armageddon for Trump's bedeviled rivals.