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Trump the Fly-Catcher

He offers lies and empty promises. What do his most fervent followers see in him?
October 31, 2020
Trump the Fly-Catcher
A fly rests on US President Donald Trump's hair as he speaks during an event commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the First Representative Legislative Assembly in Jamestown, Virginia on July 30, 2019. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

In a few days it will all be over—or it won’t.

And while it seems like Donald Trump is on his farewell tour, threatening to disappear or leave the country, the polls show things are still not yet decided.

It has been an election cycle filled with rage, anger, and tears.

As the coronavirus rages, and the president claims “we’ve turned the corner” on the pandemic, he’s also told people in Iowa and Minnesota he’ll never be back their way again—if he doesn’t carry their states in the coming election.

On the tarmac in Iowa: “I may never have to come back here again if I don’t get Iowa,” he said. “I’ll never be back.”

In Pennsylvania this week he openly mused about hopping into a truck and driving away because his life was “great” before becoming president.

In a video news conference earlier this week with Trump’s niece Mary Trump, actress Patti LuPone was in tears describing how the coronavirus has ravaged the theater community across the country and how set designers, costume designers, and others working in the industry have been left out in the cold in stimulus packages.

“We just want to be included,” she said.

But inclusion isn’t the Donald’s way.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian who specializes in fascism and authoritarianism, said in the same streaming news conference that the damage Trump has done is consistent with authoritarian rule. “We’re in the middle of it,” she said. And under strongman rule, she said, media independence doesn’t exist. There is no neutral. You’re either for him or against him.

The destruction of a free press and the tainting of the news is exactly what Trump has attempted—and he has been successful to the point that many of his supporters and even some of those who would never support him doubt the written word about him.

First Amendment attorney Anne Champion, who represented Mary Trump, Jim Acosta, and me in legal actions against Donald Trump, says the White House has abandoned the vital task of informing the public and now uses its communications office as a propaganda arm. The Trump administration believes itself to be at war with the press, and has been since his campaign. “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you,” Trump told Lesley Stahl during the 2016 campaign.

From the first day of his administration, when Trump came out and boldly lied about the size of his inaugural crowd, it has been one lie after another. It has never stopped.

Even supporters say a second Trump term will change the face of the United States forever—the supporters just think that’ll be a good thing. “Draining the swamp,” they call it.

But Trump’s recent actions in trying to gut the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, which has governed the federal civil service since the government ended the spoils system under Chester A. Arthur in 1883, shows just where this country is headed under four more years of Trump—if the path wasn’t already obvious.

Far from draining the swamp, Trump wants to stock it full of creatures friendly to him. He wants to be the swamp master, a king of the amphibians. And if he isn’t defeated, this is what we’ll get.

Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows and some say it has never been stranger. Republicans and Democrats fighting together to get rid of Trump the frog king isn’t nearly as strange as those who support this fly-catching lump.

I know evangelicals who cannot stand Trump, but will vote for him. I’m not the first one to ask why. I’m sure not the first one to laugh at the incongruity of this allegiance. But I have to ask: If your faith is so important to you that you sacrifice common decency to vote for Donald Trump, then perhaps you’re not faithful enough to your Christianity.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you. The Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes. If you take these things in stride, and have read the Bible, then there is no way you can fit Donald Trump’s words and deeds into any known Christian philosophy.

Donald Trump isn’t poor in spirit. He may be absent in spirit. He doesn’t mourn, he isn’t meek, he doesn’t hunger or thirst for righteousness. He isn’t merciful or pure in heart and he’s definitely not a peacemaker. He isn’t persecuted for his righteousness.

He is rich and well fed. And his followers speak very well of him. “For that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets,” the Bible reminds us.

In short, there is nothing notably Christian about Donald Trump’s supposed Christianity and no reason a Christian would see him as such. His evangelical supporters’ ability to turn a blind eye to his massive lack of piety is incredible.

He spends most of his Sundays on the back nine at his favorite self-owned golf clubs. He ignores the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic because he doesn’t know how to handle it and is reduced to letting it rage in a futile attempt to obtain “herd immunity” at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.

While Jesus told us those who live by the sword will die by the sword, modern evangelicals support a president who lives by “might makes right,” whose government caged children and reportedly forced hysterectomies on undocumented immigrants.

Many of these evangelicals have been showing up for the Trump tent revival traveling road show in the last weeks of the election. They were among those this week who were stranded in the freezing cold at an Ohio rally and passed out under the hot sun in a Florida rally.

Not since William Jennings Bryan—another famous “fly-catcher,” as H.L. Mencken lampooned him—has an American politician so successfully conned the nation.

But while Donald Trump’s cons are obvious and abhorrent to many, they are just as easily believed and easily embraced by others.

Next week it will be put up or shut up time for the United States of America.

Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy magazine. He successfully sued Donald Trump to keep his press pass after Trump tried to suspend it. He has also gone to jail to defend a reporter's right to keep confidential sources.