In terms of expressing religious faith, I think of politics being the last best use of my favorite description of WASP etiquette: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” I see no upside in commingling the most exquisitely profane human endeavor, politics, into universal faithful messages of morality and grace. So when the word “Evil” is invoked for a politician (or whatever President Trump is) I cringe.
For me, faith is completely wrecked in politics — on every level. I am queasy over “In God We Trust.” I think of the “religious right” or “liberation theology” as great enabling buzzkills to convert the agnostic straight to atheism. Political discord is healthy. Biblically allusive self-righteousness is toxic.
In that mindset I’ve previously posited that despite his extreme weirdness, President Trump does not rise to the level of Evil… Not a comfy place to be. I was spanked pretty corporeally for “normalization” of a Demi-Satan:
A very smart, creative architect launched in response: “He is evil. Those who watched him in New York know that he is evil. His closest advisors are on record as saying they want to destroy American…he’s moving swiftly to consolidate a sweeping plan in the next 90 days that will be all but impossible to reverse.”
This reactionary blurt has deep roots: all politics is local. It’s so local that it gets personal: especially in a minority-vote president — who has orange skin — and uses TV-deep logic and syntax — and is, well, vulgar and tone deaf. But it’s not just his obvious weirdnesses — our entire culture is careening to instantly escalate criticism to “11” — DEFCON 5 — at the drop of an objectionable turn of phrase. It has nothing to do with ideology or party: more voters thought Hillary was more Evil than Trump in the last election.
But there is a larger reality implied. Can Christians loathe the sin and love the sinner when the sinner is “Evil”? The atheist argument is that there is no logic in Hitler going to heaven on the basis of a death bed “Oops.” Yup. I believe in God, but it beats the hell out of me, literally, to understand what, and even if, there are mechanisms and rules of grace. But then again, I did not go to seminary…
All humans: atheist, spiritual, agnostic, saved-in-the-blood-of-Jesus know — really know — that evil exists. I think that is because we see glimmers of it in ourselves. I think we convert ideas into moral judgment because we want surety in the presumption that we are not evil. We want to be right because we want to be good. And the barometers of right and wrong are detaching from religion at light speed.
So absent going to church, humans are glomming on cultural exemplars as their New New Testament of Good and Evil: a range of “-ism”s are incontrovertibly Evil: they are us at our worst. And despite all commitments to the Good, the honest know that those nasty realities of self-imbued cruelty lurk in all of us. On Avenue Q, “Everybody is just a little bit racist.” So it’s an easy segue when politics appropriates the moral outrage against cruelty into political advantage of righteous hatred of humans who project cruelty.
As does, naturally, our literature. There could be no Force without a Dark Side. Whether Iago or Voldemort, writers make readers recoil to wrap them into their plot line. This Internet Century has made pop culture high art, and there is no higher pop art than JK Rowling’s description of Harry Potter’s youth. Those books are supplanting traditional allegory to connect an entire sub-40-year-old generation to universal constructs. A while ago I spied a bumper sticker that said, “Bush & Voldemort in 2004.” Recently the National Review equated Senator Patty Murray to Delores Umbridge. It’s not just politics, either — I have equated the two new Yale Colleges to Hogwarts.
So here, I ask you, would you pray for Voldemort?
Severus Snape was a mean, brutal bully — just about evil. But redeemed in the end by the plot line. But that rang true because things like forgiveness and grace are as real as the fear of evil. Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin. The families of those killed at Bible Study forgave Dylann Roof.
I cannot see how those who have painted themselves into the corner of unlimited loathing for Leader Trump could ever allow his humanity to overcome their fear of his evilness. I can see a window to his non-evilness, not because of some sense of superior moral perception — quite the opposite.
I can be Trumpian — in spades. I know the hatred I felt as an athlete: it was scary, but empowering and useful. I want every job any other architect ever gets. I want disappointment to happen to those I perceive as arrogant, or just anyone who pisses me off. I can pray for Trump — and if he existed, Voldemort — because, well, I fail at kindness, compassion, and judgment every day. I am just like Trump: a human.