Originally at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/opinion/frank-bruni-trump-ward-christian-soldiers.html?_r=0
by Frank Bruni
Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?
Seems to work for Donald Trump.
Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset.
He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”
When Trump mentions blood, it’s less biblical, as Megyn Kelly can well attest.
No matter. The holy rollers are smiling upon the high roller. And they’re proving, yet again, how selective and incoherent the religiosity of many in the party’s God squad is.
Usually the disconnect involves stern moralizing, especially on matters sexual, by showily devout public figures who are then exposed as adulterers or (gasp!) closet homosexuals. I’d list all the names, starting with Josh Duggar and working backward, but my column doesn’t sprawl over an entire page of the newspaper.
Or the disconnect is between evangelists’ panegyrics about Christ’s penury and their hustle for funds to support less-than-penurious lifestyles. John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” has been making brilliant satirical fun of this by promoting his new tax-exempt church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Last Sunday he apologized to viewers that his wife, Wanda Jo, “cannot be with us this evening.”
“She’s at our summer parsonage in Hawaii,” he continued, “for a week of spiritual introspection and occasional parasailing.”
What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade — for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.
But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.
In 2012, inexplicably, he was invited to Liberty University, where he digressed during his remarks to extol the prudence of prenuptial agreements. But all was forgiven: His host, Jerry Falwell Jr., told audience members that Trump could be credited for “single-handedly” forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate. Oh how they cheered, as if ugly, groundless partisan rumor-mongering were on a saintly par with washing lepers’ feet.
Maybe it’s Trump’s jingoism they adore. They venerated Ronald Reagan though he’d divorced, remarried and spent much of his career in the godless clutch of Hollywood.
Maybe their fealty to Trump is payback for his donations to conservative religious groups.
Or maybe his pompadour has mesmerized them. It could, in the right wind, be mistaken for a halo.
I’m grasping at straws, because there’s no sense in the fact that many of the people who most frequently espouse the Christian spirit then proceed to vilify immigrants, demonize minorities and line up behind a candidate who’s a one-man master class in such misanthropy.
From Trump’s Twitter account gushes an endless stream of un-Christian rudeness, and he was at it again on Monday night, retweeting someone else’s denigration of Kelly as a “bimbo.” Shouldn’t he be turning the other cheek?
For politicians as for voters, devotion and grace can be fickle, convenient things. Courting the evangelical vote, Cruz used his own Twitter account last week to say that his “thoughts and prayers are with President Jimmy Carter,” whose struggle with cancer was riveting the nation. But then Cruz pressed on with a speech that bemoaned the “misery, stagnation and malaise” of Carter’s presidency. He couldn’t have hit pause on the Carter bashing for a week or two?
Carter pressed on, too — with his usual weekend routine of teaching Sunday school, which he has long done with little fanfare. His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.
As for Trump, I must not be watching the same campaign that his evangelical fans are, because I don’t see someone interested in serving God. I see someone interested in being God.
An earlier version of this column referred imprecisely to Donald Trump’s host at Liberty University in 2012. It was Jerry Falwell Jr. — not his father, Jerry Falwell (who died in 2007).