JUST BEFORE HE STAGED a Napoleonic act of political grandstanding for a photo op in front of historic St. John’s Church in the nation’s capitol, Donald Trump harangued the nation’s governors about the demonstrators in their streets.
“You have to dominate,” he chided. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run all over you, you’ll look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate, and you have to arrest people, and you have to try people and they have to go to jail for long periods of time.
“So I say that and the word is dominate. If you don’t dominate your city and your state, they’re gonna walk away with you. And we’re doing it in Washington, in DC, we’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before. But we’re going to have total domination.”*
What Trump thoroughly lacked the ability to comprehend was just how foolish he appeared when he then marched forth to pose in a domineering stance before a church named for a Christian saint — and a church whose people serve the One who is not Donald Trump, yet who long ago had a consummate word to say about all the Trumps of the world.
As written in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus of Nazareth declared to his followers: “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (10:42-44).
Could the stark contrast possibly be greater between Trump’s will to dominate and Jesus’s commandment to serve? On the one hand: a rambling and ranting president who in self-admiring arrogance sets about to belittle, to divide, to diminish, and to oppress with the wanton use of brute force. On the other: the humble, self-forgetting Jesus who with great empathy takes up the cause of the oppressed and comes to the aid of the downtrodden, the exploited, and the destitute, and who died as a result of doing so.
These two ways of life are irreconcilable. Unholy tyranny and holy love are mutually exclusive. Despotism is begotten of hostility, disdain, and loathing in search of destruction. Servanthood is born of love offering understanding, mercy, compassion, and redemption.
While hoisting the Bible midair in front of St. John’s Church, as he did on June first, Donald Trump profaned the holy scriptures by weaponizing them to “justify the ways of Trump to God” and Trump’s followers. Simultaneously he unleashed abysmal brutality upon peaceful demonstrators, making mockery of the holy ways of love to which the very scriptures he held in his hand bear witness.
The apostle John wrote in his first epistle: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
This is true whether in the Oval Office, the west wing of the White House, the Department of Justice, the center of Lafayette Square, or on the sidewalk in front of St. John’s Church.
The most fundamental and crippling failure of Donald Trump as president is that he does not know the language of love. What he deploys is the language of fear, animosity, discord, bigotry, intimidation, cruelty, and violence as the utensils of authoritarian domination. And his minions, some helplessly gullible and others consciously culpable, have fallen right behind him into the abyss of his abomination.
Thus, truth is supplanted by the big lie, verifiable fact by paranoid conspiracy theory, and democratic governance by the iron fist of a bully whose handwritten signature conveys the dictator’s will to dominate. All this because love, empathy, and compassion are swept beneath the floodwaters of a growing tide of twenty-first century American fascism foisted upon the people by Donald Trump and aided and abetted by the menacing cheers as well as toxic silence of his allies.
This is an immeasurable iniquity and tragedy in which we are all implicated when our knees knuckle under because we possess no moral spine, when our necks shrivel up because we obtain no virtuous footing, and when our consciences wither and die because we acquire no nerve for righteousness, justice, truth, and love, above all else.
The people of the United States must choose leadership that is far superior to what we have endured for these nearly four years, lest the nation’s light be snuffed out by the darkness of tyranny, and lest its transcendent goodness, rooted in love, perish from the face of the earth.
The eleventh hour is upon us.
*From the transcript of President Trump’s conversation https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/01/politics/wh-governors-call-protests/index.html
This essay was published in Vox Populi on June 21, 2020
Copyright © 2020 – Charles Davidson – All Rights Reserved
Charles Davidson, writer and editor, is a retired Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling. He is editor of the forthcoming George Buttrick’s Guide to Preaching the Gospel (Abingdon Press) and the author of Bone, Dead and Rising: Vincent van Gogh and the Self Before God (Cascade Books).