I don’t know about you, but my head’s spinning with all the biblical comparisons of Trump. Something has shifted in the biblical figures linked to Trump, though.
In the first half of the president’s tenure, public figures from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to evangelical leader Mike Evans likened Trump to the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, a figure of deliverance in the Bible. Likening Trump to Old Testament kings allows his supporters to imply that the President’s behaviour - the incidences of open misogyny and racism - don’t matter because he’s a vessel of the Lord.
The biblical king comparison functioned as a kind of antiseptic spray for Trump’s misdeeds - it sanitised his presidency and emolliated those concerned about Trump’s outrageous conduct - whether that’s bragging about grabbing women ‘by the pussy’ or paying off the adult performer Stormy Daniels.
It makes sense, then, that such comparisons came flooding in just before Trump’s first impeachment. The outgoing president of the US has never been known for his humility, so it wasn’t that surprising when he declared himself ‘The Chosen One’ *eyes to heaven* in August 2019 when discussing the US trade war with China.
In a flawless handover, energy secretary, Rick Perry picked up the vessel theology baton and told Fox News he agreed that Trump was ‘the chosen one’, adding: ‘God’s used imperfect people all through history. King David wasn’t perfect, Saul wasn’t perfect, Solomon wasn’t perfect’.
Thankfully, Trump also realises his biblical status isn’t a mark of perfection and hasn’t let his messianic pretensions go to his head. His innate modesty prevented him from naming himself the most famous person in the world, as he told an audience in North Carolina in October 2020. Nope, Trump says, that title goes to the King of Kings himself: Jesus Christ.
Trump is an expert in these dog-whistle asides spoken directly to supporters during rallies. The kind of speech curveball that’s become a signature of his leadership. He seems to go off into a reverie, relating an anecdote – as always, vague on the details - that, on the surface, seems bizarre and even incoherent, but it’s the equivalent of a secret handshake to his fans.
It functions in a similar way to his repeated ‘eyes to heaven’ gesture made in numerous interviews, rallies and speeches throughout his Presidency. He may be the imperfect vessel, but he knows who’s pulling the strings: ‘The Boss’ (and he’s not talking about Springsteen).
As Trump’s presidency fell into decline, supporters switched from comparing the ailing President with imperfect but reassuringly muscular kings of the Old Testament, to Trump as persecuted Christ figure. This wasn’t a coincidence. The comparisons to Cyrus, King David and Solomon reassure supporters that God’s hand can work through unpalatable characters while Jesus is the ultimate example of glorious male suffering in the face of dishonesty, hypocrisy and maltreatment by non-believers.
The persecution narrative that’s inherent in the Jesus comparison is weaponised by those who seek to avoid criticism. It allows those, like Trump, with power, wealth, privilege and influence to present themselves as oppressed and marginal when they’re not. Not by any other definition, anyway.
When Republican Congressman Barry Loudermilk compared Trump’s 2019 impeachment to Jesus’s trial and Franklin Graham, son of the famous evangelical Billy Graham, likened Republicans who voted for the second impeachment of Trump to the betrayal of Jesus, bribed by arch-persecutor Nancy ’30 pieces of silver’ Pelosi, they invoke Christ on his way to crucifixion. Trump, then, transforms from a bitter election loser who incites violence to a worthy but betrayed messiah figure, speaking truth to power - delivering unpopular truth to a detached elite that refuses to listen.
Ever the populist, Trump has always claimed to represent the true will of the people. Indeed, he continued to presume it while inciting his supporters to storm The Capitol earlier this month. As its fallout includes an unprecedented second impeachment and Trump plays the righteous victim, gone are the references to Cyrus and David. They were powerful, fearsome leaders. Jesus, on the other hand, is radical, true and persecuted, a much more convenient image for Trump’s current circumstances.
Christ comparisons are deployed during crises to absolve powerful men from responsibility - it is one of the pernicious examples of biblical figures being used to uphold abuse of power. We’ve seen it with Republican politicians Brett Kavanaugh and Steve King and even disgraced star Bill Cosby - and now with Trump.
No doubt there’ll be more Jesus comparisons to come during the President’s Senate Trial. But, as so many social media users have observed, when it comes to Jesus and Trump, the only real similarity between them is the absence of a Twitter account.