A few words about Donald Trump’s faith.
It was, as you know, called into question last week by Pope Francis. Aboard the papal plane returning from a visit to Mexico, the pontiff was asked about the mercurial billionaire turned Republican presidential candidate who has vowed to build a wall along America’s border with Mexico and somehow make the Mexicans pay for it.
The pope’s response: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Somehow, the Vesuvius of Id that is Trump did not erupt (“This pope is a loozah! Worst pope ever!”). Instead, Trump confined himself to calling the pope’s words “disgraceful” and suggested Francis would want him to be president if ISIS ever stormed the Vatican. By his standards, that was downright restrained.
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This being the Bizarro World campaign of 2016, this contretemps was soon subsumed by others. But let’s not move on without thanking the pope for saying what has needed saying for a while. After all, Trump’s inauthenticity is hardly a revelation, given how painfully awkward have been his attempts to pass himself off as a man of faith.
We are talking about a guy who tap dances like Sammy Davis when discussing the Bible, who when asked his favorite verse, declined to give it “because to me, that’s very personal,” who replied “probably equal” when asked if he prefers the New Testament or the Old. Then there’s his mangling the name of the Bible book containing the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth: Did he really call it “Two Corinthians!?” Don’t even most atheists know that it’s called Second Corinthians?
Generally one should avoid questioning another person’s religious conscience. But Trump merits an exception. Faith, after all, is an act of surrender, the subordination of human ego to divine will. It is, putting it mildly, difficult to imagine this fellow ever subordinating his ego to … anything. Donald Trump’s greatest faith has always been in Donald Trump.
Yet his threadbare impersonation of a Christian seems not to have hurt him a bit. That’s startling, given that faith has always been a primary litmus test of American politics. Indeed, every major elective office might as well have a sign at the door: The Non-Religious Need Not Apply.
Yet the respected political blog FiveThirtyEight reports that in romping over the rest of the GOP field in last weekend’s South Carolina primary, Trump commanded 34 percent of the evangelical Christian vote, considerably better than the more believably Christian Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.
The apparent willingness of evangelical voters to give him a pass leaves you wondering if perhaps a candidate’s faith no longer matters so much to them. Or maybe it’s that his anger matters more. Maybe those voters have opted for expedience over religious purity. Maybe they are unhappy with the social and demographic changes the country is undergoing, and he represents their last, best hope of forestalling that change or, failing that, their primal scream of protest.
Fine. But let’s not call that faith.
As the pope said, faith is about bridges, not walls. It is potting soil for the things we hope. It is an obligation to serve and protect “the least of these.” And it is an assurance that at the end of the day, no matter how bad it looks, we win.
You see little of that in politics. And the pope was right: you see none of it in Trump.
Monday night found him campaigning in Las Vegas when a man in the audience apparently staged some kind of demonstration. Donald Trump, man of faith, watched as security guards hauled the protester out.
“I’d like to punch him in the face,” he said.
Leonard Pitts Jr.’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.