I daresay more words have been spilled on the topic of Donald Trump in the past six months than on any candidate in any race since Ronald Reagan, but it’s been difficult to get to what Aristotle called the “teleology” of Trump. Teleology: It’s the reason for his existence.
Aristotle asked “what causes something to be what it is, to have the characteristics that it has, or to change in the way that it does?” And from that question, he developed his philosophical concepts of substance and form.
We know a table is a table when we look at it because of its form, but the substance is wood, glue and nails.
The substance of Trump is a man obsessed with success. It doesn’t matter what endeavor he’s in, he wants to win. He discards whatever is not advancing him toward a win, and acquires what does advance him. He wakes up every morning with that same belief and goes to bed knowing he’s done all he can do achieve it that day.
And now the form: a man shaped by the power of positive thought. Trump’s religion is the Christianity of Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.”
“The great Norman Vincent Peale was my minister for years,” Trump told CNN last July, a sentiment he repeated in Atlanta and in Iowa during stops in Ames and Dubuque.
Peale, for his part, described Trump as “kindly and courteous” with “a streak of honest humility,” and touted him as “one of America’s top positive thinkers and doers.” The minister also called Trump “ingenious” and predicted that he would be “the greatest builder of our time.”
Peale preached a Christianity styled on what today is called “Word of Faith.” I’ve been to some churches where Jesus is the name, but the game is “name it, claim it.” This brand of faith relies on verses like John 14:13-14 “And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
For Trump, who answered “I try not make mistakes where I have to ask forgiveness” when asked for his views on asking for God’s forgiveness by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, it’s all about living for the purpose for which he believes God placed him here. And to Trump, that purpose is to succeed in everything he does.
He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t do drugs. And he doesn’t believe that his relationships are as important as the service he can give to his country by succeeding. For that, Trump feels he owes no apology to man or to God. Psychologists might call this a narcissistic personality disorder, but it’s really not. It’s his personal brand of faith, based not so much in the Bible as it is in his own ability to picture his success, and then attain it.
Trump has been planning this run for president for a very long time. He’s kicked it around since he was in his late 20’s. It’s never been far from his peripheral gaze: A prize of all prizes, and the success of all successes. That’s his essence. That’s the reason Trump believes God made him for such a time as this.
Substance, form, purpose were Aristotle’s tools. The substance of Trump running for president versus him being president are two different things. But the form and the essence are the same: Trump wants to win, and that’s problematic.
Jesus cautioned against too much success in this life. Matthew 19:23-24:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
1 Timothy 6:9-10, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Making the deal, building the wall, whatever it is that Trump wants to do is not what God’s Word recommends. Should he become president, Trump will stay true to form, in the Aristotelian sense. Bible-believing Christians must be careful about supporting Trump. It brings to mind the story of the scorpion and frog, which I’ve used before as an illustration.
One day, a scorpion decided he wanted to leave his desert home and live in a forest, so he set out on a journey. Reaching a river he could not cross, he came across a frog, and asked for help. Here’s how their conversation went.
“Hellooo Mr. Frog!” called the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”
“Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you wont try to kill me?” asked the frog hesitantly.
“Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”
Now this seemed to make sense to the frog. But he asked. “What about when I get close to the bank? You could still try to kill me and get back to the shore!”
“This is true,” agreed the scorpion, “But then I wouldn’t be able to get to the other side of the river!”
“Alright then…how do I know you wont just wait till we get to the other side and THEN kill me?” said the frog.
“Ahh…,” crooned the scorpion, “Because you see, once you’ve taken me to the other side of this river, I will be so grateful for your help, that it would hardly be fair to reward you with death, now would it?!”
You can guess what happened. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog.
“You fool!” croaked the frog, “Now we shall both die! Why on earth did you do that?”
The scorpion shrugged, and did a little jig on the drowning frog’s back.
“I could not help myself. It is my nature.”
Then they both sank into the muddy waters of the swiftly flowing river.
We cannot expect Trump to suddenly change his nature or his faith. We can pray for him (we should pray for him, and for President Obama also and a number of leaders who need Jesus), but we should not base our assumptions on what the man says, but on who he really is.
Trump will do what he needs to do to succeed. I don’t believe those who say he’ll trash the Constitution, or go for an authoritarian style. That’s not his nature. He wants his opponents to agree with him and to make the deal. He’ll stake a position, summon supporters, build consensus, fight off attacks, and move forward until the deal is done. That’s what he’s always done, and that’s what he will continue to do.
But for Christians, be careful what you ask for, because it might not be what you’re really getting. To “make America great,” Trump will sacrifice Biblical values, sink the country to a moral low point (defining success as winning in monetary, military, and nationalistic terms), and attack anyone who opposes him.
As one pastor (who I will leave unnamed) put it, “if we elect this man to the White House, the first time Christians disagree with him, we will get everything that’s coming to us.”
Scary words. Now choose.