One thing that Donald Trump gets right is that when Nancy Pelosi claims to be praying for him it's phony and ridiculous. There is no need to pretend you are asking The Big Man to help out your political opponent—a guy you simultaneously say, with good reason, is running roughshod over the institutions of the republic. There is no indication that God's about to open a 72-year-old snake-oil salesman's eyes to the beauty of compromise and democratic consensus and checks and balances. Just say you're praying for the country, or whatever, since it seems to be a prerequisite of public service in our secular democracy—which the United States remains, for now—to exhibit pronounced religiosity whenever you get the chance.
Nowhere is that requirement more on show than at the National Prayer Breakfast, a nondenominational bipartisan kumbaya-fest that is really a power vehicle for a shadowy fundamentalist Christian organization called "The Family" with significant authoritarian tendencies. What a great microcosm of the role of religion in American politics. It's not about Jesus, it's about power. Anyway, the president spoke at said Breakfast this morning and, in a predictable bit of rageful subtweeting, alluded to Pelosi's supposed advocacy for him while she's communing with The Lord.
Trump drags Pelosi: "Nor do I like people who say, 'I pray for you,' when they know that that's not so." pic.twitter.com/4QnG8ADBdQ— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 6, 2020
While Trump's blunt-instrument qualities have proven destructive to the pillars of a constitutional republic and to the basic social fabric of the nation, they have also proven useful in exposing the empty scams at the heart of many of our political rituals. He has exposed the National Prayer Breakfast by telling the truth: that he fucking hates Democrats and anyone else who will not bend to his will. This made everyone in the room uncomfortable. You're supposed to be doing kumbaya! Maybe all these people should admit they came for a lobbying event.
More than that, of course, Trump has exposed the Evangelical movement as a purely political vehicle for organizing White America. No group is more steadfast or enthusiastic in its support of this president as Evangelical Christians. And yet, we have to ask: what principles of Jesus Christ does Donald Trump embody? Or better: which of the Seven Deadly Sins—pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—does he not? For God's sake, Rick Perry called him "The Chosen One." The fact is that he delivers judges who will cement the movement's minority rule for decades, and maybe even overturn Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut. In some cases, the End Times Enthusiasts like him because his particular brand of Israel advocacy could hasten the arrival of the Rapture.
This is why religious faith alone is not a justification for any government policy. Our Middle East strategy should not be dictated by doomsayers. The purpose of the First Amendment, according to one Thomas Jefferson, was to "[build] a wall of separation between Church & State." The values imbued by a particular religious faith are valuable in a secular democracy if they translate to universal human values that speak to everyone in society, not just members of that faith. That overlap is common and useful: if your faith encourages you to, say, love thy neighbor and welcome the stranger, that easily becomes a secular argument in the public square that people of many backgrounds can get behind.
Here's a piece of Trump's speech that the White House thought was so dope they tweeted it from their main.
President @realDonaldTrump addressed the National Prayer Breakfast this morning. "We come together as one Nation blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace." pic.twitter.com/7vGyKwZX6X— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 6, 2020
"We come together as one nation blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace. As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people."
The swift and seamless transition from boilerplate Prayer Breakfast Speak to what Trump really thinks is legitimately hilarious. And the second part is genuinely refreshing. While the president pretends to be a Believer sometimes despite the absolute mountain of evidence that he is the most unreconstructed heathen ever to hold the office, here he eschews the bullshit routine about praying for your opponent's success or whatever. America is a self-mythologizing project, and for some time now that has included the performance of devout unity despite all available evidence to the contrary. Trump might be a break from that, or he might be the end. Finally, something we can all get behind. Right? Hello?
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