I’m writing this from the Bible Belt — from Missouri, smack in the heart of the nation.
Some in this state and this region revel in the imagery of wholesomeness and steadfastness that supposedly sets us apart from the ungodly and reprobate coasts. We’re the heartland, they tell themselves, the preserve of true-blue American values, of faith and morality.
It’s a sham, this notion that we’re better and more authentic than other Americans, but there is a grain of truth that sustains the delusion. Surveys show that the Midwest is home to some of the highest densities church-going families, bible-readers and plenty of people who devote more than just Sunday morning to God.
But we also produce more than our fair share of religious charlatans and hucksters. And our politics is shot through with a strong preference for godly preening.
It’s an interesting landscape from which to watch the latest antics of the White House’s chief occupant. President Donald Trump has never met a Christian virtue he would not breach, habitually and with gusto. He is — at the risk of judging (lest I be judged) — the least Christlike president this country has ever had, and yet the personal devotion he has won among white evangelical Christians approaches the cult-like. It’s weird.
Justice, prudence, humility, service to others, humanity, mercy — virtues extolled by almost all major faiths — are nowhere in evidence in Trump’s words or deeds. Even fortitude and diligence, qualities he might try to project, are burlesqued in his bravado.
And now that Trump has been acquitted of the impeachment charges in a howlingly corrupt trial by the Republican majority in the Senate, he’s doubling down on turpitude.
That he would start crowing a toxic mix of braggadocio and grievance was to be expected. Ditto that he would castigate and threaten any who dared cross his shadow. But he now mocks the faith and values of his opponents, while elevating the most notorious political hypocrites.
The president repeatedly attacked Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah after the latter explained that his faith compelled him to place his conscience over his party loyalty and vote to convict Trump of abuse of power.
Trump used the occasion of the bipartisan National Prayer Breakfast not to “unite individuals of different nationalities, religions and political perspectives through the power of prayer,” as the event purports to do, but to condemn his supposed persecutors. In a slap to Romney, Trump said, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.”
Trump took that route, knowing that many among his evangelical supporters already view Romney’s Mormon faith as a false religion.
But just pause and ponder that conceit: What they know is wrong!
Two days earlier, during the State of the Union address, Trump had bestowed one the highest civilian honors, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh, a Missourian, has spoken the idiom of the heartland for decades, and he has used it — with great skill — to promote malevolence and division. In doing so, he has done no favors to the heartland or to its purported virtues.
Limbaugh is battling the horrible diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. Pray for him. But there is no need to minimize the damage of his life’s actions.
Long ago he chose to chase the money and prestige that came with adopting right-wing populism, screeching outlandish conspiracy theories from the broadcast booth. Lying is a sin. And Limbaugh, not a stupid man, made deceit and calumny his calling, often plying thinly veiled racism. Limbaugh, as an early influencer, did much of the work of dividing and weakening our nation.
In years past, it was common for candidates of both parties to promise to mend fences and bring Americans together. In doing so, they would speak of their reverence for God and country. Will they even bother anymore? Should anyone believe them if they do?
Part of being a Christian is believing that people can turn away from evil, that God’s grace can change a person’s heart. A reason believers should pray for Trump, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she does, is the hope that he changes his heart. And if there ever comes a day when Trump presents himself humbly before the American public a changed man, by dint of calamity or miraculous conversion, who among us wouldn’t rejoice?
However, our first responsibility as citizens is to put the security and wellbeing of our republic before our own interests and prejudices.
The recklessness and amorality of President Trump is evident to all with common sense, including to a large number of the evangelicals and other conservatives who support him. Yet they cling to him in their own quid pro quo arrangement.
But they need to know: Trump is not only corrupt but also corrupting. No one who embraces him will be spared.
We may pray that he will change, but far more prudent would be to remove him from office in 2020.
Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.
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