26 February 2016

Bad Faith

Cal Thomas is one of the conservatives who bitterly opposes Donald Trump's bid for the Republican presidential nomination. This has nothing to do with Trump's position on immigration, although Thomas ridicules Trump's vow to build a southern border wall at Mexico's expense, since Thomas has proven in his columns that he hates Muslims more than Trump does, especially since it's not clear, despite all the criticism of his proposals for limiting immigration, whether Trump hates Muslims at all. Many anti-Trump conservatives see him as a threat to limited government, perhaps fearing that he'll try to govern even more by executive order than President Obama is thought to. Thomas in particular seems to distrust, if not envy, Trump's charisma. In a recent column he virtually accuses Trump of being a cult leader, and more clearly accuses his supporters of being cult followers. He quotes an epistle of St. Paul to warn against "people [who] will not put up with sound doctrine [but] to suit their own desires ... will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." Thomas is well aware that "All politicians tell voters what they want to hear," but he's baffled by the widespread willingness to hear and believe Trump.Apart from dark warnings against "the dark side of charisma," he can't explain it. Instead, he rails against the followers, and here's where his rhetoric, coming from an old warhorse of the Religious Right, really gets rich. He writes: "A characteristic of Trump’s followers appears to be their determination to ignore any evidence that would challenge their faith." That sounds like Cal Thomas to the letter, which again begs the question why he opposes Trump when quite a few self-described evangelicals support the billionaire, warts and all. All I can suggest is that Thomas some time ago grew disillusioned with the Religious Right as a political movement, concluding that the moral reform necessary for the country's redemption could not be achieved through political action. He most likely doubts whether anyone can "save" America the way Trump's voters hope their candidate can. But even then those voters share Thomas's faith, I expect that "save" means something different to them from what it means to him -- and I think Thomas resents that even more than the insults hurled at him by Trump fans on social media. But with nothing else to offer himself except, presumably, prayer, fasting, belt-tightening and working three jobs a week, Thomas can be dismissed as a killjoy and a kind of hypocrite. After all, Americans have at least as much reason to put faith in Donald Trump as they have to put faith in Jesus Christ, and since Trump is a living person you could say that faith in him is just slightly more justified.

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