He has fled over­seas af­ter the worst two weeks of his be­lea­guered pres­i­dency

New Straits Times - - World -

GIVEN the mess that he’s in and the mar­tyr­dom that he hal­lu­ci­nates, it’s only fit­ting that Don­ald Trump would turn to­wards God.

He has fled the coun­try — not a mo­ment too soon! — for his first for­eign ex­cur­sion since tak­ing of­fice, and it’s less a con­ven­tional pres­i­den­tial trip than a rov­ing sem­i­nar in world re­li­gions: Is­lam (Saudi Ara­bia is the first stop), Ju­daism (Is­rael is sec­ond) and Ro­man Catholi­cism (the Vat­i­can is the cap­per).

I’m es­pe­cially ea­ger for his com­mu­nion with Pope Fran­cis, an en­try in the an­nals of odd cou­ples that ranks some­where just above Os­car and Felix, and be­low Mork and Mindy.

One of them is sple­netic. The other is ascetic. One sins. The other re­deems. Cue the metaphors and clutch your rosary beads.

They’ve a his­tory, these two, and it’s not pretty. Dur­ing the cam­paign, the pope de­nounced the no­tion of a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der, and Trump didn’t ex­actly turn the other cheek. “Dis­grace­ful!” he shot back, con­firm­ing his will­ing­ness to make an ad­ver­sary of any­one, no mat­ter how tall the miter.

But they can skip over that and look to fu­ture mat­ters like the re­port­edly im­mi­nent nom­i­na­tion of Cal­lista Gin­grich as Amer­ica’s next am­bas­sador to the Vat­i­can. She’s Newt’s third wife, who was sleep­ing with him when he was still mar­ried to his sec­ond. Time and, it seems, an­nul­ments have washed the cou­ple clean.

The pres­i­dent in­tended his pil­grim­age as a state­ment that the di­verse peo­ples of the world can and should get along — and that he, Trump, had the stature and sway to point them to­ward peace. This was to be a mo­ment of bold lead­er­ship.

But on the heels of the worst two weeks of a cease­lessly be­lea­guered pres­i­dency, it looks more like a hasty re­treat. Plus, there’s the con­tin­ued won­der — the com­edy, re­ally — of watch­ing a man so un­abashedly pro­fane pay such os­ten­ta­tious heed to the sa­cred.

Trump as a holy roller, spell­bound by the mys­ter­ies of faith?

And mepre­dicts a dis­as­ter. The Is­rael com­po­nent al­ready is, and not only be­cause he was just caught shar­ing Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence with the Rus­sians.

He baf­fled Is­raelis with his in­sis­tence on keep­ing his visit to Yad Vashem, a Holo­caust memo­rial, to just 15 min­utes.

And in re­ject­ing any joint ap­pear­ance at the West­ern Wall with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial spec­i­fied that the wall did not be­long to Is­rael.

Trump has been flam­boy­antly chas­ing sal­va­tion from the mo­ment he stepped out on the cam­paign trail.

That’s largely why he picked Mike Pence, a dar­ling of the re­li­gious right, as his run­ning mate. It’s be­hind his re­cent in­struc­tions to the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice to give re­li­gious groups lee­way for po­lit­i­cal lob­by­ing.

On May 13, for his first com­mence­ment speech as pres­i­dent, he chose Lib­erty Univer­sity, an Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian School whose pres­i­dent, Jerry Fal­well Jr, told the crowd: “I do not be­lieve any pres­i­dent in our life­time has done so much that has ben­e­fited the Chris­tian com­mu­nity in such a short time span as Don­ald Trump.”

Then Trump got up and mar­veled at the size of the crowd he’d drawn. He ar­tic­u­lated loftier thoughts, too. “In Amer­ica,” he said, “we don’t wor­ship gov­ern­ment. We wor­ship God.”

His own re­la­tion­ship with the Almighty has not al­ways taken ob­vi­ous or typ­i­cal forms.

Don­ald treated the Com­mand­ments as if they weren’t etched in stone but doo­dled in dis­ap­pear­ing ink. He stiffed cred­i­tors, made a mock­ery of the truth and pub­licly boasted about his promis­cu­ity. He never talked all that much about re­li­gion, not un­til the cam­paign. Even then the re­sults were in­ter­est­ing.

Ques­tioned about the cir­cum­stances in which he might gaze heav­en­ward for ex­pi­a­tion, he said he didn’t “bring God into that pic­ture”.

But my favourite of his spir­i­tual mus­ings came when he was asked, on the Chris­tian Broad­cast­ing Net­work, “Who is God to you?”

“God is the ul­ti­mate,” he an­swered. “No­body, no thing, there’s noth­ing like God.”

The an­gels wept.

And the evan­gel­i­cal vot­ers in­deed came around, a phe­nom­e­non on which we’ve lav­ished anal­y­sis. We’ve re­marked less on the au­dac­ity of Trump’s pan­tomime of god­li­ness, given his core.

It il­lu­mi­nates per­haps his great­est gift, po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, which is his readi­ness to strike any pose he deems nec­es­sary, no mat­ter how lu­di­crous, and his cer­tainty that he can sell it. The past is no tether. Re­al­ity doesn’t in­trude. And no arena, not even re­li­gion, is sacro­sanct. He will bend it to his pur­poses. He will claim it as his own.

One day he’s a Demo­crat; the next, a Re­pub­li­can. One day he’s hav­ing his wares made in China; the next, he’s rail­ing against out­sourc­ing. One day “The Art of the Deal” is his bi­ble; the next, the Bi­ble is his ev­ery­thing, and he’s pro­mot­ing piety all over the place.

Me­la­nia, too. She opened a Trump rally in Florida in Fe­bru­ary with a recita­tion of the Lord’s Prayer, speak­ing of daily bread de­spite her aura of nightly caviar.

Will her hus­band be for­given his tres­passes? I can’t guess about ce­les­tial judg­ments, but in this earthly, tem­po­ral realm, I don’t think the odds are good.

Ev­ery hour brings some fresh mor­ti­fi­ca­tion for his ad­min­is­tra­tion. A spe­cial coun­sel is com­menc­ing work. Words like “Water­gate” and “ob­struc­tion of jus­tice” whip through the air. If I were Trump, I’d prob­a­bly get out of town, too.

And I’d def­i­nitely pray. NYT

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