God's gift to America?
Why Republicans claiming Trump is God's "chosen one" is more than the usual evangelical rhetoric
On Sunday, outgoing Secretary of Energy Rick Perry told Fox News viewers about a recent conversation he'd had with Donald Trump in which he told the president he was "the chosen one" placed by God in the White House. Perry made sure to add that he had given Trump a "one pager" on the imperfect Old Testament kings who God had appointed to carry out his plans. "Don't get confused here, sir," Perry claims he said to the president. "This is not a reflection that you're perfect, but that God's using you."
As liberals predictably freaked out over Perry's words, other Trump backers quickly confirmed that, yes, Trump has been selected by God for the presidency, and Fox put replays of the discussion in heavy rotation. In an interview for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Nikki Haley also weighed in. "I think God sometimes places people for lessons and sometimes places people for change," she told CBN's David Brody.
On the one hand, the comments from Perry and others aren't that surprising. Invoking God's ordination has become boilerplate language for how many white evangelicals talk about the presidency. As the religious right activist Gary Bauer explained back during George W. Bush's administration, "Evangelicals believe that no leader rises without God allowing that leader to rise." In his Fox News interview, Perry contended that God's divine appointments to the White House are bipartisan. "You know, Barack Obama doesn't get to be the president of the United States without being ordained by God," he said.
On the other hand, what's happening now is far more than a generic theological statement about God's sovereignty over American politics. As with everything related to Trump, the religious rationalization of his presidency is hyperbolic and overblown. And it's operating on overdrive, repeated constantly since Trump's 2016 victory.
While many Americans rightly chalked up Trump's unlikely election to the technicalities of the Electoral College, Trump's religious backers saw the hand of Providence at work. By imagining Trump's win as miraculous, white evangelicals could self-justify their controversial support for the thrice-married casino magnate who openly bragged about sexual assault and once declared he'd never needed to ask for God's forgiveness. God picks imperfect people, after all — even those who don't realize their own imperfection.
That self-rationalization for voting for Trump, however, has given way to a sort of self-absolution for continuing to support him in light of his myriad imperfections in office, not least his debased character and rampant illegalities. That's why we're likely to hear a whole lot more of the "chosen by God" talk as the 2020 election nears. If God chose Trump, who are we to turn from him now?
Beyond the election, the divine defense of Trump shapes GOP politics more broadly, characterizing Trump not as a moral actor, but instead as a divinely-sanctioned despot who can do whatever he wants. Republicans' stunning abnegation of the law and the Constitution during the Trump presidency makes sense if that's the understanding of how he got into office and what he can do while there. Promoting Trump as God's choice to lead America helps normalize the outrageous insistence that Trump is above the law.
No question, Republican leaders will say anything to get Trump re-elected. And Trump's white evangelical base has shown they'll bend reality however they must to stay loyal to the cause. But it's also worth considering how the "chosen by God" message affects Trump's sense of himself and his actions as president.
In the right mind — and heart — the idea that one had been chosen by God for something like the presidency would prompt a state of sober self-reflection and a sense of humble obligation. But Trump is not in his right mind. And his heart is a twisted thicket of perceived slights, raging bigotries, and unquenchable narcissism. For a man as delusional and depraved as Trump, the idea that he has been chosen by God, at best, fuels his already strong impulse to think he can get away with anything. At worst, it could have potentially catastrophic, even apocalyptic, ends.
During the previous administration, conservatives loved to scoff that Democrats had a messiah complex when it came to Barack Obama. The Trump years, though, have demonstrated time and again that much of the conservative charges against liberals were really projections of their own inclinations. Last spring, for example, Trump's 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale rapturously tweeted about the president, "Only God could deliver such a savior to our nation."
If that's the kind of thing being said in public, one can only imagine the sort of nonsense Trump hears from the sycophants he's encircled around him in the White House. Many Americans may think this is all just crazy talk. But heaven help the nation whose madman president thinks he's God's gift to us all.
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