This piece appeared in newspapers at the end of July, 2022.
I write about politics but, to me, the spiritual level is the more real, more fundamental.
So let’s look at Donald Trump with politics set aside, and consider what can be seen about Trump – at the level of the spirit — in this true story about a human relationship.
As Trump’s Vice President, for four years, Mike Pence was extraordinarily supportive of Trump in every way. (He was so sycophantic to Trump that many people cringed for him.) No President could ask for more.
Then, in the aftermath of Trump’s losing the 2020 presidential election, Trump tried various ways to overturn the election, eventually pursuing a plan that required Pence to take an action that would be illegal and unconstitutional.
That Pence wanted to comply with Trump’s demand is clear from how he sought a green light from a couple of worthy Republicans. But both a former Republican Vice President (Dan Quayle) and a respected conservative judge (J. Michael Luttig) told him he must not do it: he’d be violating his oath and overthrowing American democracy.
As January 6 approached, Pence decided that he would not do what Trump was demanding, but rather would perform his constitutional duty.
The revelation of the spiritual truth about Trump comes from what happened next.
Pence followed his conscience, fulfilled what he saw as his duty, honored the oath he took. Not for a moment, apparently, did Trump respect Pence’s choice. Trump’s response demonstrated that the only thing that mattered to him was his getting what he wanted, and he regarded as completely unacceptable Pence’s refusal to be a means to Trump’s criminal ends.
So completely did Trump’s concern for what he wanted – to hold onto the presidency against the constitutionally expressed will of the American people – block out any regard for Mike Pence, that Trump whipped up the mob against him. He directed the rage of violent people against his VP, resulting in the crowd he sent to the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
Even after Trump knew that the crowd was threatening Pence during that attack, he sent out a Tweet reinforcing the attack on his Vice President – the man who’d been slavishly loyal and helpful until that moment when Trump wanted him to act against the Constitution.
It has lately been disclosed, by witnesses in Trump’s inner circle, that when told of the crowd’s threat to hang Pence, Trump indicated that he agreed with that sentiment.
Has any of us known anyone who’d show a spirit so immoral?
I’ve known some unprincipled and unkind people, but not one of them would have dealt with another person as so completely as if 100% of what matters in the world is his own desires. I can’t imagine even the worst people I’ve ever known voicing approval of the execution of their devoted servant, for having the audacity to put his conscience and his oath – as a Christian – ahead of helping his President steal an election.
That this story reveals the spirit of Donald Trump is reinforced by our having witnessed essentially the same pattern in how Trump dealt with his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
Sessions, too, had a record of great “loyalty” to Trump (more subservient than an AG should be to a President). Then, at a certain point, Attorney General Sessions was told by his DOJ ethical watchdogs that, with respect to the investigation being conducted by Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign, he was obliged to recuse himself. Justice in America depends on certain norms—like for avoiding corruption due to “conflict of interest.” Sessions obeyed the norm that required him to put his Deputy in charge of overseeing the investigation.
As with Pence, Trump never forgave Sessions, but repeatedly hounded and insulted his Attorney General for doing what he was supposed to do (instead of committing misdeeds to serve Trump’s own corrupt purpose — overturning a legitimate election, in the case of Pence; protecting Trump from a legitimate investigation, in the case of Sessions).
Eventually, Trump fired his Attorney General, and continued to punish him when Sessions attempted to make a political comeback as a Senator.
(We can see this spirit of a man who cares only about what he wants, who considers only what he wants also in the vivid testimony of an aide, specializing in Homeland Security, who worked on the federal response to the pandemic. Olivia Troye has described Trump as showing no real interest in how to protect the American people from this deadly virus, but as focusing entirely on the question of how to play it to help himself get re-elected.)
Trump stands there before us, vividly showing the extraordinary spirit that animates him. It’s a spirit that’s directly opposite from what our cultural traditions have conceived of the Good. “Do unto others” is very different from “Hang Mike Pence.” “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the opposite of “Love only thyself,” while caring not a whit about anyone else.
None of this is at the level of politics. But I’d like to ask: Given what you know about the workings of the spirit, can you see how a man who shows this at the spiritual level will do Good when power is placed into his hands?