The Pentecostalisation of Donald Trump

A Tale of Two Saviours

The former president, defiant and unyielding, his signature bronzed face turning red before the cameras at Trump Tower, dismissed the legal process that made him a felon with a wave of his tiny hand. ‘Rigged,’ he repeated, his voice echoing through the room, a declaration of his studied refusal to accept the verdict handed down by a New York jury. This jury had announced its decision in a case that pulled back the curtain on falsified documents used to cover payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election – a bid to silence her about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. As the verdict rippled through the media, right-wing websites like Gateway Pundit, Truth Social and Patriots flared with violent fervour. Posts surged with alarming intensity, reflecting a swelling anger among Trump’s most ardent followers.

There are several reasons why Americans voted for Trump and will continue to vote for Trump. The rich obviously saw in Trump’s tax scheme a way to further prosper financially. However, as Chuck Marr, Samantha Jacoby Marr and George Fenton note, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 emerged as a monument to inequality, its gilded promises crumbling upon closer scrutiny. Crafted with an unrelenting bias towards the wealthy, the tax scheme orchestrated under the Trump administration unfurled a tapestry where opulence and destitution are starkly juxtaposed. As articulated by the astute observations of Marr, Jacoby and Fenton, households nestled in the echelons of the top 1 per cent are poised to bask in an average tax cut exceeding $60,000 by the year 2025. This stands in harrowing contrast to the paltry sub-$500 relief bestowed upon households languishing in the bottom 60 per cent, as illuminated by the Tax Policy Centre. When dissected as a share of after-tax income, the largesse afforded to the elite – both the top 1 per cent and the top 5 per cent – triumphs at more than triple the cumulative value of the tax cuts bestowed upon the lower 60 per cent.

The ramifications extend beyond the mere skewing of wealth; the fiscal edifice of the nation trembles under the weight of this extravagance. The Congressional Budget Office, with its sober calculations, forecasted in 2018 that the legislation would siphon $1.9 trillion from the nation’s coffers over a decade. Fresh prognostications reveal that entrenching the law’s ephemeral individual income and estate tax cuts would drain an additional $350 billion annually from 2027 onward. Coupled with the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts shepherded in under President Bush, which were largely enshrined permanently in 2012, this latest fiscal foray has grievously undermined the United States’ revenue base. Revenue as a proportion of GDP, once robust at approximately 19.5 per cent prior to the Bush tax cuts, plummeted to a meagre 16.3 per cent in the years succeeding the Trump tax cuts. Even with expectations of an annual average rise to 16.9 per cent of GDP between 2018 and 2026 – excluding the anomalous pandemic years – the revenue is woefully insufficient to meet the nation’s investment needs and honour commitments to Social Security and health coverage.

Moreover, the heralded economic benefits and the shimmering promises of widespread prosperity have proven to be illusory. Trump Administration officials, with bullish optimism, heralded a conservative estimate of a $4,000 uplift in household income, a direct consequence of the corporate tax rate reduction. Yet, contemporary research reveals a starkly different reality: workers earning below approximately $114,000 on average in 2016 experienced no appreciable change in earnings from the corporate tax rate cut, while the remuneration of top executives soared conspicuously. Similarly, the tax law’s 20 per cent pass-through deduction, ostensibly a boon for wealthy business owners, has failed to trickle down to the workers who are not proprietors. Echoing the Bush tax cuts that preceded it, the 2017 Trump tax cut emerges as a quintessential trickle-down failure, a testament to the chasm between promise and reality in the annals of fiscal policy.

But how many rich Republicans truly care about putting love of country above profits? They love America precisely because they can live in luxury at the expense of others. They are high-tech carpetbaggers and grifters. Some may have voted for Trump for his push for European allies to pay their 2% commitments; some may have appreciated Trump’s attempt to equalise the trade relationship with China. Some no doubt appreciated Trump’s efforts to create an alliance between the UAE and Israel.

But it is equally the case that people will vote for Trump a second time because of his vicious attacks on Democrats and his promise to get rid of the deep state. Some will vote for Trump because he admires Hungarian president Victor Orban and want to see Trump rule as a fascist dictator. Some were – and still are – in the thrall of QAnon conspiracies and too far down the rabbit hole of cult worship and boot-licking to break free without years of deprogramming. Trump has whipped up a frenzy among this base, and, clearly, there are many who want to vote for Trump to see him engage in acts of revenge against his liberal opponents – the more ruthless the acts, the better. There are many Americans who will vote for him not simply because they choose to ignore his racism, sexism, misogyny and hatred of immigrants but precisely because they, themselves, are racist, sexist and misogynist and hate immigrants. Some of them are violent militia members who are calculatedly treasonous, seeking a civil war between red and blue states.

Julia Conley reports that the rhetoric grew dangerously incendiary on the website Patriots.Win. One user called for a million armed Trump supporters to ‘go to Washington and hang everyone,’ while another declared with chilling resolve that the former President ‘should already know he has an army willing to fight and die for him if he says the words…. I’ll take up arms if he asks.’ One commenter called for ‘someone in NY with nothing to lose’ to ‘take care of’ New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, while another on Gateway Pundit directed a threat at all opponents of Trump. ‘Time to start capping [killing] some leftys,’ said the user. ‘This cannot be fixed by voting.’

The timing was explosive. Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the upcoming November election, is set to be formally nominated just days after his scheduled sentencing in July, which could see him in prison. His supporters, poised and waiting, seemed to teeter on the brink of action, ready to heed his divine call. The air was thick with anticipation and the unspoken promise of chaos. Are these the comments of the frenzied supporters of Brazil’s Bolsonaro, of Chile’s Pinochet, of Spain’s Franco, of the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, of Guatemala’s Efrain Rios Montt? No, they are comments coming from supporters of Donald J. Trump.

The threats made by right-wing media personalities were a bit more tempered but nonetheless foolishly inflammatory. Oliver Darcy has captured some of these threats in the wake of a verdict that sent tremors through the political landscape. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, a figure commanding the allegiance of millions on YouTube and social media, voiced a call to arms. He proclaimed that Trump ‘should make and publish a list of ten high-ranking Democrat criminals who he will have arrested when he takes office.’ Sean Davis, chief executive of The Federalist, echoed this sentiment with a chilling desire ‘to see lists of which Democrat officials are going to be put in prison.’ Meanwhile, Jesse Watters of Fox News declared with fervour, ‘We’re going to vanquish the evil forces that are destroying this republic.’

Such unhinged, reckless and perilously incendiary rhetoric defies all norms. It eclipses even the most explosive declarations of Trump’s tenure when Special Counsel Robert Mueller probed the president’s entanglements with Russia. Now, as the legal noose tightens around Trump, the chorus from right-wing media grows ever more frenzied, threatening and ominous, showcasing the infant behind the grown-up.

In the aftermath of the verdict on that fateful Thursday, pro-Trump media reverberated with scorched cries that the United States had devolved into a third-world dictatorship. Darcy described how the term’ banana republic’ was bandied about with reckless abandon, stifling any room for disagreement with this radical and warped perspective. In fact, had Trump not been voted guilty, the country could, indeed, have some justification for being described as a banana republic. Darcy cites Tucker Carlson, a luminary of right-wing extremism, who took to X to proclaim, ‘Import the Third World, become the Third World. That’s what we just saw. This won’t stop Trump. He’ll win the election if he’s not killed first. But it does mark the end of the fairest justice system in the world. Anyone who defends this verdict is a danger to you and your family.’ This was not merely commentary; it was a battle cry, a harbinger of darker days ahead.

This narrative was not confined to fringe elements but was echoed by mainstream voices on Fox News. Laura Ingraham asserted that ‘the Democrats are showing [the country] what real power is … the type of power we usually see dictators exercise in China and Cuba and North Korea.’ Sean Hannity lamented that ‘the foundation of our constitutional republic’ was ‘literally dying before your eyes.’ Thus, Darcy notes, the discourse within right-wing media has not merely intensified; it has taken on a sinister tone, suggesting a descent into authoritarianism and chaos, painting a portrait of a nation on the brink of collapse.

According to Seth Norrholm, leaders like Jim Jones and, in a different context, convicted felon Donald Trump receive unwavering support as deified figures. That is why the rage against Trump’s guilty verdict is so intense and crazed. However, the term ‘brainwashing’ oversimplifies the dynamic, implying that followers are mere automatons devoid of free will. Behavioural scientists argue otherwise, suggesting a more complex interplay of voluntary self-surrender, as noted by psychiatrist Robert Lifton. Rather than passive victims, individuals often willingly embrace cults, seeking refuge from societal alienation or a semblance of control amidst uncertainty. This psychological pull resonates in the support base for Trumpism and the MAGA movement. As distress intensifies – be it economic, occupational, or social – individuals gravitate toward these groups, finding solace in their rigid structures. And when such structures begin to collapse – as in the case of Trump’s guilty verdict, the cult followers explode with a singular rage.

Psychologist Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance further elucidates this behaviour, according to Norrholm. When faced with a conflict between their beliefs and actions, individuals may deepen their commitment to a cult to alleviate the ensuing anxiety. Thus, members become increasingly entrenched, clinging to ideologies that defy logic and evidence, unable to find common ground or compromise. Now such cult members are uniting behind their wounded deity figure.

In today’s polarised political landscape, bipartisanship seems a relic of the past. Once, Republicans and Democrats could find a middle ground on issues such as taxes, national security and healthcare. Debates over abortion, for instance, allowed for nuanced discussions. Now, however, notes Norrholm, such compromise is a distant memory. Norrholm describes the GOP, under the sway of Trumpism, as resembling a domestic terror organisation more than a traditional political party – a cult of unprecedented scale and danger. Trumpists are armed and ready to do their leader’s bidding. Since President Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the 2016 election, a debate has simmered among religious and political circles about the potential divine orchestration behind his rise to power. Gregory A. Smith cites figures such as Rick Perry, Trump’s former energy secretary, who have proclaimed that Trump is ‘here at this chosen time because God ordained it.’ Evangelist Franklin Graham echoed this sentiment, asserting that ‘God was behind the last election.’

This divine interpretation begs the question: How many Americans believe Trump’s presidency was a result of divine intervention? And for those who do see God’s hand in the 2016 election, what form do they believe this intervention took? A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Centre sheds light on these questions. It reveals that 27% of US adults think Trump’s election reflects God’s will, not necessarily implying divine endorsement of his policies but suggesting the outcome fits within God’s overarching plan. This view, while significant, contrasts sharply with the mere 5% of Americans who believe God chose Trump specifically because of approval for his policies. The survey also highlights a broad scepticism about divine involvement in electoral politics: nearly half of Americans (49%) assert that God doesn’t interfere in US presidential elections. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the population (16%) professes no belief in God at all, rendering the question of divine intervention moot in their eyes.

This data, according to Smith, paints a complex picture of the American spiritual landscape in the context of contemporary politics. It underscores a divide not only in political affiliations but also in the theological interpretations of events that shape the nation’s future. For some, Trump’s ascension is seen as part of a divine plan, a mysterious thread woven into the fabric of history. For others, it is purely a product of earthly forces devoid of celestial significance.

As America continues to grapple with the legacy of the Trump presidency, the question of divine involvement remains a potent and polarising issue, reflecting deeper currents of belief and scepticism that course through the national consciousness. When Trump, with defiant resolve, threatens to disregard the results of the next election, he does more than challenge the democratic process – he shows utter contempt for the political aspirations of millions of ordinary Americans, rendering their votes futile and setting alight the kindling under the seat of democracy. His vows to target the so-called ‘vermin,’ to obliterate the deep state and to prosecute those within the justice system are, in essence, declarations of war against countless individuals dedicated to the nation’s betterment.

In this turbulent landscape, the unwavering allegiance of Trump supporters stands as a testament to their profound disillusionment and fervent belief in their chosen champion’s cause. In a fervent 2023 rally in Florida, former President Donald Trump vowed to conduct ‘the largest domestic deportation operation in American history,’ alleging that criminals were streaming across the US-Mexico border and warning of ‘young, strong people that had bad intentions.’ This bold declaration comes as part of a broader series of proposals and pronouncements that signal a sharp escalation in his immigration rhetoric.

Just days after the Florida rally, Trump took to the stage in New Hampshire to outline further his hardline immigration agenda. He pledged that, should he secure a second term, his first executive order would be to halt funding for the provision of shelter and transportation for undocumented immigrants. Trump proposed redirecting the savings from these cuts toward providing ‘shelter and treatment for our own homeless veterans.’ In a statement devoid of substantiating evidence, Trump accused President Joe Biden of spending more than $1 million to house undocumented immigrants in ‘some of the most luxurious hotels in the country.’ This claim, part of his broader critique of the current administration’s immigration policies, underscores his intent to paint a stark contrast between his approach and that of his successor.

Trump’s recent rhetoric marks a revival and intensification of his first-term immigration policies, characterised by stringent restrictions on both legal and illegal immigration. Among the measures he plans to reinstate is a travel ban targeting predominantly Muslim countries, a policy that had been one of the most controversial of his previous administration. Additionally, Trump intends to reintroduce Title 42, a Covid-era policy used to expel migrants on public health grounds. This time, however, he aims to broaden its scope, asserting that migrants pose a threat of carrying various infectious diseases.

These declarations reflect Trump’s strategy to energise his base by focusing on hardline immigration policies, a hallmark of his political identity. His promises of sweeping deportation operations and stringent border controls resonate deeply with his supporters, who see immigration as a central issue. As Trump rallies support, his proposals underscore the significant impact his return to office could have on America’s immigration landscape, promising a dramatic shift from the current administration’s policies. Trump’s intensified focus on immigration signals a return to his foundational campaign themes, leveraging the issue to galvanise his core supporters. As he continues to make bold promises and controversial claims, the political discourse around immigration is set to become even more polarised, reflecting the deep divisions within the country.

When Trump declaims that undocumented immigrants are ‘poisoning the blood of our country,’ he is not merely issuing an incendiary remark; he is casting aspersions upon countless individuals who have intricately woven themselves into the very fabric of communities across the nation. These are not faceless entities but living souls who have contributed to the rich mosaic of American life. When Stephen Miller, with unbridled enthusiasm, predicts that mass deportations will be ‘spectacular,’ he is not simply forecasting policy; he is inviting Trump supporters to revel in the spectacle of profound cruelty inflicted upon fellow human beings, a grim theatre of suffering and expulsion redolent of 1930s Germany.

In another moment of chilling candour, when Trump elevates a supporter who exults in the belief that a second term will see ‘blowjob liberals’ ‘done’ and ‘gone,’ the identity or mental soundness of this supporter becomes inconsequential. Whether uttered in jest or earnest, the act of sharing such a sentiment is a stark and unmistakable signal. It is a direct affront aimed at all who stand in opposition, a clarion call against the values of empathy and decency.

This relentless barrage of provocation and vitriol cannot be lightly dismissed as mere incidental rhetoric. The persistent allegiance of Trump voters in the face of such inflammatory declarations compels us to confront a disquieting possibility: that these very provocations are not peripheral but central to their fervent support. If Trump voters are sticking with him through all these provocations, we must consider whether these factors are key drivers of their support rather than naively assuming them to be incidental. One look at the distorted, grimacing Bruegelesque faces of the most devoted of Trump supporters is enough to provide us with a clue.

Thus, we find ourselves at a critical juncture where the explicit and the implied coalesce to form a narrative of division and enmity. It is a narrative that demands our scrutiny, urging us to look beyond the surface and question the underlying motivations that bind such unwavering loyalty. In this turbulent political landscape, it is essential to recognise and address the deeper currents that propel this steadfast support, for they reveal much about the soul of the nation itself. If fascism has a dark soul, then it is embodied by MAGA’s minions, its architects, its pilfering panderers of prophetic pronouncements pertaining to Trump’s privileged placement in the pantheon of demigods. It can be discerned in Trump’s lies, his paralipsis, his cruel mocking of the disabled, his malignant narcissism, his disdain for democracy.

Henry Bucher vividly illustrates Donald Trump’s use of ‘paralipsis,’ a rhetorical device described by Jennifer Mercieca, an associate professor of Communication at Texas A&M. Derived from the ancient wellspring of Greek rhetoric, paralipsis emerges as a subtle art – a rhetorical dance where one publicly alludes to certain matters while delicately sidestepping direct accountability, thus laying the groundwork for subsequent disavowal. In the hallowed annals of contemporary political theatre, observers meticulously chronicle the manoeuvres of Donald Trump, a master practitioner of this cunning craft, deftly weaving a tapestry of ambiguity and intrigue with his pronouncements.

Amidst the cacophony of media scrutiny, Trump’s oratory flourishes with a flourish of paralipsis – a strategic ploy whereby he proclaims statements of incendiary nature only to retract them in part after seizing the spotlight of maximum exposure. A notable instance finds him dubbing President Obama as the ‘founder of ISIS,’ with his erstwhile opponent, Hillary Clinton, cast in the shadowy role of ‘co-founder.’ Such utterances, dripping with innuendo and suggestion, serve as fodder for the voracious appetite of the media machinery, perpetuating a cycle of sensationalism and speculation.

It is within the crucible of this intricate dance of words that Trump earns the epithet of ‘Prince of Paralipsis,’ his rhetorical prowess elevated to mythic proportions during his tenure as the Republican presidential candidate. While ambiguity may cloak the intentions of speech, the solemnity of serious discourse typically demands clarification and discernment, an apology for any inadvertent misunderstandings and a concerted effort to set the record straight. Yet, Trump, the consummate showman, appears to relish in the tantalising allure of ambiguous utterances, knowing full well the fervour they elicit from the media circus and Trump’s clown car stacked with professional political lunatics.

With the dawn of a new era and the advent of a fresh leadership team, Trump exhibits a shrewd political acumen in his deft handling of criticism surrounding his paralipses. Expressions of ‘regret’ for past pronouncements serve as a strategic manoeuvre to placate detractors, while his new team, leaning further right than its predecessors, seeks to consolidate support among his staunchest allies. Thus, amidst the ebb and flow of political theatre, Trump navigates the treacherous waters of public opinion with the finesse of a seasoned tactician, his mastery of paralipsis standing as a testament to the enduring allure of rhetorical intrigue.

The doxa that once united earlier generations now functions to exclude others. In the past, generations gravitated towards a Gemeingeist – a collective spirit – that predated their own history and helped shape their beliefs, values, cultural practices and languages, fostering a community spirit that was desirable for the times. Now, such doxa are created by algorithms promoting and regulating capitalist consumption, fear, loneliness, violence, political tribalism and cult associations.

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading progressive journalists, has published an illuminating popular essay that reveals how Fred Koch, the patriarch of the Koch dynasty, amassed his first fortune by ‘building refineries, training Communist engineers and laying down the foundation of Soviet oil infrastructure’ for Stalin. Koch witnessed the USSR’s brutality firsthand, and it left an indelible mark on him. Without the financial boost Stalin provided to Fred Koch for his expertise, Koch Industries – and, by extension, the Tea Party and the modern Republican infrastructure – might never have come to be. The John Birch Society, which Fred Koch heavily funded in response to the ‘communist’ Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, would have never gained the significant influence it wielded.

As the foundational beliefs that once unified society become increasingly fragmented by digital echo chambers and algorithmic manipulations, the challenge to rebuild a common spirit, a Gemeingeist, becomes ever more daunting. The historical narratives of figures like Fred Koch reveal the intricate and often unsettling connections between economic power, ideological movements and political influence. Hartmann reports that his ventures with Stalin’s regime inadvertently laid the groundwork for the modern conservative movement, illustrating the complex interplay between personal ambition and historical legacy.

Hartmann sketches out how, in the 1950s, the Republican Party, in a desperate bid to reclaim political power after the devastation wrought by the Republican Great Depression, fully embraced the fervour of anticommunist hysteria. He describes how the GOP had been severely discredited by the Great Crash of 1929, a cataclysm directly attributable to Republican policies and President Harding’s massive tax cuts. It wasn’t until the 1990s, notes Hartmann, that they regained serious control of Congress, long after those with direct memories of the crash had passed away.

Hartmann continues the story that leads us from the 1950s all the way to Trump. Heading this anticommunist crusade was Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, whose relentless fearmongering stoked America’s paranoia with claims that ‘communists’ had infiltrated the Army and the State Department, allegedly preparing to hand over the country to Khrushchev’s Soviet Union. This period, marked by McCarthy’s witch hunts, saw a nation gripped by suspicion and fear as accusations flew and lives were ruined by the mere hint of association with communist ideology.

According to Hartmann, the GOP’s kneejerk reaction to progressive policies, such as high-income taxes on the wealthy and robust social safety nets for the poor and working class, has consistently been to brand these efforts as precursors to communism. Out of this entrenched fear, notes Hartmann, they have bankrolled reactionary right-wing politicians like Trump and Johnson, who promise to dismantle the social safety net and ensure that taxes remain disproportionately lower for the wealthy compared to the average working person.

This strategy is not novel, Hartmann points out. Hitler’s rise to power was fuelled by his vow to eliminate the ‘threat of communism’ in Germany, targeting communists even before he launched his campaign against the Jews. Hartmann highlights the chilling words of Pastor Niemöller that have resonated through history: ‘First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out….’

As we reflect on this legacy, the parallels between past and present become starkly apparent. The use of fear to manipulate and control, the demonisation of progressive ideals and the willingness to support demagogues who pledge to dismantle the very structures designed to protect the vulnerable all underscore a persistent theme in American political life. It is a theme that calls for vigilance and a commitment to speaking out, lest history’s darkest chapters repeat themselves in new and insidious forms.

Tragically, the policies championed by reactionary, radical Republicans have achieved the opposite of their professed goal of stabilising American society. Instead of fostering stability, Hartmann notes that their tax cuts have plunged the nation into over $34 trillion of debt, eroded the middle class and spurred a reactionary embrace of classical fascism as a supposed solution to the crises of debt, offshored jobs and a lack of social and economic mobility.

Donald Trump, with ominous intent, now promises to transform America into a ‘unified Reich.’ As Hartmann astutely observes, the primary outcome of the 1980s’ Republican – and, to some extent, Democratic – embrace of neoliberal policies, driven largely by the billionaire Davos set, has been to destabilise the American working class. This economic upheaval has driven many into the arms of the racist and neofascist movement that seized control of the GOP with Trump’s presidency.

While Republican tax cuts and deregulation have unleashed a torrent of wealth at the top, they have also created staggering inequality, fuelling an armed insurrectionist movement that threatens to plunge the nation into social and political chaos, potentially igniting a civil war and a Lenin-style backlash against the rich. Hartmann cites Robert Reich, who underscores this perilous imbalance: ‘813 US billionaires control a record $5.7 trillion in wealth. The bottom 50% of Americans control $3.7 trillion in wealth. When approximately 800 people control more wealth than half a country’s population, we have a very serious problem.’

This profound disparity, a direct consequence of policies favouring the affluent, has eroded the foundational promise of the American Dream. As wealth concentrates in the hands of a few, the middle-class withers and the working class finds itself adrift in a sea of economic uncertainty. The resulting disillusionment has made fertile ground for extremist ideologies, promising simplistic solutions to complex problems.

Thus, the Republican Party’s historical reliance on anticommunist sentiment reflects a broader pattern of exploiting societal fears to maintain power. By framing progressive policies as dangerous steps towards communism, they have perpetuated a cycle of reactionary politics, supporting leaders who promise to preserve their interests while undermining social welfare.

Trump’s rhetoric of a ‘unified Reich’ and his flirtation with autocratic principles resonate with those left behind by an economic system that seems rigged against them. The allure of such messages lies in their promise of order amidst chaos, strength amidst perceived weakness. However, history warns us that such paths often lead to greater turmoil and oppression.

In this charged atmosphere, Hartmann warns that the stakes are alarmingly high. The social fabric of the United States frays as economic disparities widen and the spectre of civil unrest looms large. The lessons of history compel us to address these inequities with urgency and resolve, lest we fall prey to the siren calls of demagoguery and division.

The challenge before us is monumental. It demands a re-examination of the policies that have led us here, a recommitment to economic justice and a renewed effort to build a society where prosperity is shared, not hoarded. Only then can we hope to avert the descent into chaos and ensure a future where peace and justice prevail for all.

Hartmann describes the era from the end of World War II to the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s as one of the most stable and prosperous periods in American capitalist history. During this golden age, the top income tax bracket ranged from 91% to 74%, applied to earnings above a few million dollars in today’s terms. Strict regulations curbed stock and wealth manipulation schemes such as stock buybacks and private equity, resulting in widespread prosperity that was shared across society.

This era starkly contrasts with the current trajectory, where unchecked greed threatens the very fabric of American democracy. Hartmann rightly points out that before Reaganism gutted the union movement and decimated the middle class, the working class saw their wealth grow at a rate comparable to the top one per cent. Average workers with solid union jobs could comfortably afford homes and cars, take annual vacations and easily put their children through school. In their old age, they enjoyed robust pensions to supplement Social Security, ensuring a safe and comfortable retirement.

Hartmann likens this period to one that was marked by a harmonious growth of prosperity, where the American Dream was not just an aspiration but a lived reality for millions. The post-war economic boom created an environment where everyone could benefit from the nation’s growth, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. Then came Reagan’s policies, which systematically dismantled unions, eroded workers’ rights and hollowed out the middle class. The devastating impact was felt across the nation as the secure, prosperous life that once seemed guaranteed began to slip away, replaced by economic insecurity and a widening chasm of inequality. The unravelling of this equitable society began with Reagan’s tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation efforts, which shifted the balance of power towards the rich and powerful.

Reagan and the billionaires backing him were convinced that the union movement and the expansion of anti-poverty programs initiated by LBJ’s Great Society were the harbingers of a communist takeover that would ruin America and threaten the lives of the ultra-rich. Their paranoid policies have led to the social and economic devastation of the middle class, fuelling today’s militia movements and being exploited by right-wing hate radio, Fox ‘News,’ and similar outlets. The dismantling of these progressive policies, Hartmann points out, paved the way for the immense wealth concentration we see today. The union-busting and deregulation championed by Reagan allowed corporations to prioritise profits over people, leading to stagnating wages and deteriorating working conditions. As a result, the middle class began to shrink, and the dream of upward mobility became increasingly unattainable for many.

The paranoia of Reagan and his allies created a fertile ground for today’s political climate, where fear and division are tools used to maintain control. The resurgence of militia movements and the rise of right-wing media outlets that peddle misinformation and stoke animosity can be traced back to the social and economic disintegration that began in the Reagan era. In summary, the transformation from a period of shared prosperity to one of extreme inequality and social unrest underscores the dire consequences of prioritising the interests of the wealthy few over the collective good. To restore the American Dream and ensure a stable and equitable future, it is imperative to revisit the policies that once fostered widespread prosperity and unity.

Hartmann notes how, in 1776, we were warned by Adam Smith, in his seminal work The Wealth of Nations, when he articulated how the unchecked greed of the wealthy inevitably destroys the very society from which they extract their profits unless strong safeguards are implemented to protect it. Smith argued that in prosperous countries, where the public good is well administered and general prosperity prevails, profits are sufficient to meet the needs of business owners without being excessive. However, when the rich monopolise most of the profits and wealth, gaining the power to exploit society, they drive nations into poverty and ruin. This prophetic warning underscores the peril we face today as the unchecked greed of the wealthy threatens to unravel the very fabric of our society.

Hartmann cautions that this year America witnessed the highest level of corporate profit in the history of the country, and perhaps in the history of capitalism in developed countries worldwide. Hartmann elucidates this troubling phenomenon, stating:

The simple reality is that markets, like traffic, work best when they’re appropriately well-regulated. The idea of a ‘free market’ is as absurd as the idea of ‘free traffic’ where everybody is welcome to ignore red lights, traffic lanes and stop signs. It’s a rhetorical device designed to make average Americans accept changes in the rules regulating capitalism that will benefit the profits of the top one per cent and nobody else.

The implications of Adam Smith’s warning are starkly evident in our current economic landscape. The relentless pursuit of profit, untampered by ethical considerations or regulatory oversight, has led to a concentration of wealth unprecedented in modern history. This accumulation of wealth by a select few has created a chasm of inequality, undermining the very principles of democracy and social cohesion.

Smith’s insights into the dynamics of profit and prosperity resonate deeply with our contemporary challenges. In prosperous societies, profits should be modest and aligned with the overall well-being of the populace. However, in societies on the brink of ruin, profits soar as the wealthy extract more from an increasingly impoverished majority. This imbalance not only erodes economic stability but also fuels social unrest and political extremism.

Again, to repeat Hartmann’s analogy, the notion of a ‘free market,’ often touted as the ideal, is exposed as a dangerous fallacy. Just as unregulated traffic would lead to chaos and accidents, unregulated markets result in economic turmoil and societal breakdown. The current trajectory, driven by policies that favour deregulation and minimal oversight, serves the interests of the elite while leaving the majority vulnerable to exploitation and hardship.

Hartmann is correct in arguing that the record corporate profits of today, while celebrated by some, are a stark indicator of systemic failure. They reflect a society where the few thrive at the expense of the many, where short-term gains are prioritised over long-term sustainability and equity. This path, if left unchecked, threatens to destroy the very foundation of our society, leading us towards the grim future Smith foresaw.

As we navigate these turbulent times, it is imperative to heed Smith’s warnings and implement robust regulatory frameworks that ensure fair distribution of wealth and opportunity. By doing so, we can strive to create a society that upholds the public good, fosters general prosperity and safeguards the democratic principles upon which our nation was founded. The stakes are high, and the need for action is urgent. The survival of our society depends on our ability to curb the excesses of the wealthy and restore balance to our economic system.

And from there, I would argue, it is crucial to make concerted efforts to move towards a socialist society. But the anticommunism today is so prevalent and so vile that Americans will likely make a choice to vote in a fascist president in November 2024. And many Americans will do so in the name of Christianity. Which is ironic since the source of socialism can be found in the lives of the apostles of Christ.

In the labyrinthine corridors of biblical scripture, where words carry the weight of eternity and meanings intertwine like vines in an ancient garden, there exists a radical vision, a vision of social justice echoing through the ages. These profound teachings, attributed to the Messiah, Christ, resonate with an unmistakable clarity, casting shadows upon the opulent palaces of the wealthy and illuminating the humble abodes of the destitute.

‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,’ so spoke the Gospel of Mark, a terse yet potent admonition against the accumulation of earthly treasures. Luke’s gospel echoed this sentiment, proclaiming blessings upon the impoverished, for theirs is the kingdom of God while warning of woes to the affluent, who have already found their solace in material abundance. ‘No one can serve two masters…. You cannot serve both God and money,’ the words of Matthew resonate with a sombre truth, encapsulating the dichotomy between spiritual devotion and material pursuits.

And, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, recounted in the gospel of Luke, the chasm between wealth and poverty is starkly laid bare, illustrating the disparate fates awaiting those who dwell in opulence and those who languish in deprivation. Through these passages, a clarion call for a classless society reverberates, a call that challenges the very foundations of societal hierarchy and economic disparity.

The ideas that follow are taken from the works of José Porfirio Miranda, in particular, his book, Communism in the Bible. In the annals of theological discourse, Miranda emerges as a luminary, a torchbearer in the dim corridors of dogma, illuminating the path towards a liberation theology that pulsates with revolutionary fervour. His words, forged in the crucible of Marxist critique and biblical exegesis, resonate with a prophetic urgency, challenging the entrenched hierarchies of power and privilege.

To Miranda, Jesus Christ transcends the confines of mere spiritual contemplation; He is a figure imbued with the fiery zeal of political insurgency. In the face of entrenched wealth and power, Jesus stands as a beacon of resistance, His relentless denunciations echoing through the halls of history. The crucifixion, that brutal spectacle of Roman tyranny, becomes a testament to Christ’s defiance, a martyrdom reserved for those who dare to challenge the status quo.

Within the crucible of Roman occupation, where the jackboot of imperial oppression crushes the spirit of the oppressed, Jesus and His Kingdom of God emerge as a bastion of hope. In the shadow of Roman exploitation, where resources were plundered and lives shattered, Jesus stands as a rallying cry against the forces of tyranny. His exorcism of the demon named ‘Legion’ reverberates with symbolic potency, evoking the spectre of Roman legions that have laid waste to the land. In this act of spiritual warfare, Jesus emerges as a triumphant warrior, echoing the victories of Yahweh over imperial powers in the annals of ancient lore.

Through Miranda’s lens, the gospel narrative is reframed as a subversive epic, a saga of resistance against the oppressor’s yoke. In the crucible of Roman conquest, where the cries of the oppressed mingle with the clank of chains and the bloodied sands of the Coliseum, Jesus emerges as a liberator, His message of radical love striking fear into the hearts of tyrants.

In the insights of Miranda’s theology, the intersection of Marxism and Christianity becomes a crucible of transformation, where the fires of revolution burn bright. Through his writings, Miranda beckons us to reimagine the gospel narrative as a call to arms, a clarion call for justice that reverberates through the corridors of history.

The teachings of Christ extend beyond mere rhetoric; they find embodiment in his personal example. In the annals of John and Luke, there lies evidence of communal living and resource sharing among Christ and his disciples. Judas, bearing the purse, signifies communal stewardship, wherein possessions are held in common and distributed according to need.

In the scholarly tome penned by Miranda, entitled Communism in the Bible, the author delves into the depths of scripture, unearthing the roots of communal ideology embedded within its sacred pages. To denounce Marxism while ignoring its biblical antecedents, Miranda contends, is to overlook the profound interconnectedness of faith and social justice.

Drawing parallels between the teachings of Christ and the tenets of communism, Miranda elucidates how the essence of communal living finds expression in the New Testament. Acts, in particular, serves as a manifesto for communal living, wherein possessions are shared willingly, and each is provided for according to their needs. The formulation, ‘From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,’ attributed to Marx, finds its antecedent in the words of Luke, echoing across the centuries with a timeless resonance.

As Miranda laments the perversion of Christianity into a bastion of anticommunist sentiment, he confronts the hypocrisy inherent in a faith that preaches love and compassion while aligning itself with oppressive regimes and ideologies. In the crucible of America, where a dictator is set to wield power with impunity and punish dissent with violence, Miranda’s words carry a weight of urgency.

Miranda dares to pose a radical question, one that reverberates through the annals of Western history like a thunderclap amidst the silence of complacency. What if, indeed, Christianity birthed communism? What if the true essence of the Christian mission lies not in preserving the status quo but in challenging the injustices that perpetuate human suffering? In the tumult of conflicting ideologies and entrenched dogmas, Miranda’s voice emerges as a beacon of clarity, illuminating the path towards a more just and equitable society, where the teachings of Christ find their fullest expression in the pursuit of communal harmony and social justice.

In the annals of ancient conflict, where the clash of empires reverberates through the corridors of time, the early Christians emerge as a defiant voice against the imperialist tide. In their lexicon, the very titles claimed by the Roman Emperor are subverted and transformed into symbols of resistance. Jesus proclaims a counter-narrative – a gospel of anti-authoritarianism, rooted in the radical egalitarianism of the Kingdom of God. ‘It shall not be so among you,’ he declares, challenging the hierarchical structures of power that dominate the imperial order.

For Jesus, the essence of the Law lies not in ritual piety but in the pursuit of justice, particularly for the marginalised and downtrodden. In the words of Isaiah, the voice of God thunders through the ages, condemning empty rituals and calling for true righteousness: ‘Seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.’ These ethical principles, echoing the prophetic tradition of ancient Hebrew lore, strike at the heart of injustice and oppression.

In the crucible of imperial conquest, where the cries of the oppressed mingle with the clangour of swords, the early Christians stand as torchbearers of a radical vision – a vision of justice, compassion and liberation. Theirs is a gospel that challenges the very foundations of power, proclaiming a new order where the marginalised are uplifted, the oppressed are set free, and the divine is found not in the halls of emperors but in the hearts of the downtrodden.

Pontius Pilate’s inscription upon the cross stands as a testament to the charged atmosphere surrounding the figure of Jesus Christ. Take, for instance, the phrase, ‘Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum’ (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), the words emblazoned on the wooden scaffold upon which Jesus was crucified, a damning indictment of regal pretension. Jesus, with His proclamations of a kingdom beyond the earthly realms, inevitably drew the gaze of Pilate, the Roman governor, who interpreted His mission through the lens of Roman politics. Remarkably, in the face of the accusation that Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews (something which the Romans alone could have conferred), Jesus neither flinched nor denied but instead affirmed the charge with a simple, ‘You have said it.’ Thus, the stage was set for a political drama of cosmic proportions, a clash between earthly authority and divine sovereignty.

The crucifixion, that brutal spectacle of Roman justice, takes on deeper political resonance when viewed through the prism of rebellion (David Instone-Brewer makes the case that Jesus was charged with sorcery – a reference to miracles – and misleading and enticing Israel towards idolatry). Positioned alongside two ‘robbers,’ a term laden with pejorative connotations denoting rebels and insurgents, Jesus finds Himself at the nexus of political intrigue. Barabbas, imprisoned for his involvement in uprisings and homicide, stands as a stark contrast to the serene figure of Christ, yet their fates are intertwined upon Golgotha’s hill.

With the acumen of a scholar and the fervour of a priest, Miranda delves into the depths of scripture to unearth the rebel politics of Jesus. In a passage from Luke, where Pharisees warn Him of Herod’s intentions, Jesus responds with defiance, calling the ruler a ‘fox’ and declaring His unwavering commitment to His mission. Here, in the face of imminent danger, Jesus stands resolute, a beacon of rebellious fervour amidst the machinations of earthly powers.

For Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem is not merely a physical pilgrimage but a symbolic descent into the heart of political turmoil. Aware of the threats posed by both Judea and Galilee, He strides forth with a courage born of divine conviction, His every word and deed a challenge to the established order.

In the crucible of political intrigue, where the destinies of nations are forged in the fires of ambition and power, Jesus stands as a figure of profound significance. His execution transcends the boundaries of creed and belief, resonating across the ages as a testament to the enduring power of rebellion and the triumph of divine justice carried out for the eternal salvation of souls.

Across the regions where Jesus walked, the relentless pursuit of His life by the authorities serves as a grim testament to the revolutionary nature of His proclamations. To claim that the gospel is apolitical is to blind oneself to the searing reality of Jesus’s message. For His kingdom is not a mere abstraction but a direct challenge to the earthly rulers who hold sway over the destinies of nations. In His vision, the overthrow of all earthly powers is inevitable. ‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones,’ declares the Gospel of Luke. His radical anarchism, rooted in rich biblical tradition, surpasses the aspirations of even the most fervent Jewish revolutionaries of His time.

In his scholarly pursuits, Miranda powerfully unveils a profound truth that resonates through the ages: to know Yahweh is to champion the cause of justice for the poor. Jesus’s politics are nothing short of revolutionary, demanding the eradication of all forms of oppression and exploitation. His vision transcends the narrow confines of national boundaries, encompassing a universal call for justice and liberation. This, indeed, is the politics of Jesus – a clarion call for a world where the reign of God eclipses the dominion of human rulers, where justice flows like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Yet, the journey towards this revolutionary vision is fraught with challenges and contradictions. The concept of ’a preferential option for the poor,’ as articulated by the Catholic conferences of Medellin and Puebla, pales in comparison to the radical imperative embodied in Jesus’s teachings. This pursuit is not merely an option but an obligation – a sacred duty incumbent upon all who dare to walk in the footsteps of the Galilean revolutionary.

In the tumult of political intrigue and religious fervour, the voice of Jesus reverberates as a clarion call to action. His message, a beacon of hope in a world shrouded in darkness, beckons us to cast off the shackles of oppression and embrace the revolutionary spirit that courses through the veins of history and calls us to fight on behalf of the poor and the victimised, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to love one another and to preach the Gospel of Jesus throughout the world. Only then can we truly claim to be disciples of the one who dared to challenge the powers that be and envision a world where justice reigns supreme.

As James Shields eloquently observes, liberation theology emerged from the crucible of Latin America’s long and tumultuous history – a history marked by a deep-seated scepticism of capitalism, a sentiment perhaps inherited from Iberian Catholicism. In the revolutionary fervour of the 1960s, this theology found its voice, crystallised in the works of the Catholic priest Gustavo Gutierrez. His seminal text, A Theology of Liberation (1971), laid the foundation for a theological revolution that would resonate across the globe. (My mentor, Paulo Freire, was also asked to contribute to this revolutionary theology.) This movement, ignited by Gutierrez, inspired a generation of revolutionary theologians who transformed the religious landscape of Latin America and beyond. Among these pioneers, Porfirio Miranda emerges as a formidable figure, a beacon of radical Christianity whose work, Marx and the Bible, stands as a testament to his profound impact.

Shields draws a compelling parallel between the inversion of Marx by liberation theology and Marx’s own rejection of Hegelian idealism. Just as Marx materialised the dialectic, turning Hegel on his head, liberation theology reinterprets the relationship between political emancipation and religion. It transforms what Marx saw as antagonism into a symbiotic relationship that promotes religious renewal: ‘The question of the relations between political emancipation and religion becomes a question of the relation between political emancipation and human emancipation.’ In this synthesis of post-Stalinist Marxism and Second Vatican theology, Miranda finds his unique voice.

Miranda’s profound knowledge of Marx, coupled with his un-dogmatic approach, sets him apart from other proponents of Christian Marxism. While many of his contemporaries are often characterised by a dialectic of self-righteousness and bitterness, Miranda’s scholarship is marked by a measured tone and deep empathy. His work bridges the gap between rigorous academic inquiry and fervent activism, offering a compelling vision of radical Christianity that speaks to both the heart and the mind.

In the broader warp and woof of liberation theology, Miranda’s contributions are both singular and profound. His ability to navigate the complex interplay between political and human emancipation while maintaining a deeply compassionate perspective underscores the transformative power of his thought. Through his writings, Miranda not only challenges the status quo but also invites a reimagining of the relationship between faith and justice, offering a path forward that is both revolutionary and deeply rooted in the Christian tradition.

For Miranda, liberation theology does not merely juxtapose Marx’s words with those of the Bible, nor does it seek to align the Bible with Marx. Instead, it aims to unveil the underlying ‘philosophy of oppression’ that both texts, in their distinct ways, strive to subvert. Miranda deftly navigates Marx’s clarion call to dismantle conditions that necessitate illusions, all the while adhering unwaveringly to the core tenets of the Christian faith. Where Marx directed his critique against religion, Miranda wields his intellectual sword against the Greek Weltanschauung that has long held sway over Western societies, a paradigm to which the Church had, until Vatican II, too readily acquiesced.

The exegetical brilliance of Miranda demands renewed scholarly attention in our present era, an era where democracy is under siege in the United States and other nations and where fascist leaders are venerated across Europe and beyond. Miranda’s interpretations of biblical texts are noteworthy for their profound reclamation of the messianic essence that courses through the Bible’s narrative arc. The protracted deferral of promised justice – a justice fervently desired by nations throughout history – has created a profound chasm between this elusive hope and the teachings of the New Testament. Traditional exegesis has often endeavoured to obscure this disjunction despite its unmistakable presence in the scriptures.

Miranda’s work stands as a beacon of radical thought, illuminating the path towards a more profound understanding of the interplay between faith and justice. His scholarship does not merely challenge the status quo; it demands a reimagining of the very foundations upon which our ethical and political structures are built. In this, Miranda reveals the enduring power of the biblical narrative to inspire revolutionary change, urging us to embrace a vision of the world where justice, long deferred, might finally be realised. Let me be clear here that Jesus does not teach against wealth per se but, rather, denounces differentiating wealth, a system that makes some people rich and some people poor (i.e., capitalism).

In his magnum opus, Being and the Messiah, Miranda proclaims, with unwavering conviction: ‘If Marxism fails to unveil the inherent evil within us if it cannot reveal our sins, then it remains shackled to the Hegelian dialectic. Should theological biases prevent Marxism from confronting the harrowing reality of guilt, it naively echoes Hegelian theology – a mere transposition of Leibniz’s ‘defence of God’s creation.’ This is undoubtedly a human sin. Marxists who cannot grasp this vital point are not genuine thinkers. It is a shallow belief that the spirit of exploitation and oppression has only scarred the small class of entrepreneurs.’

Miranda’s words reverberate with the urgency and gravity of a prophetic call. He challenges both Marxists and Christians alike to confront the deeper, darker currents of human nature. His critique pierces through the superficial layers of economic analysis and theological dogma, demanding a reckoning with the profound moral and existential dimensions of exploitation and sin, including original sin.

This is more than a social or political struggle; it is a spiritual battle for the soul of humanity. Miranda’s insight compels us to look beyond the obvious perpetrators of exploitation and recognise the pervasive, insidious forces that corrupt and diminish us all. It is not merely the entrepreneurs who bear the stain of oppression but all of humanity, entangled in a web of sin and complicity.

Miranda’s work stands as a clarion call to a higher form of consciousness and responsibility. His penetrating analysis demands that we strip away the comforting illusions of ideology and confront the raw, unvarnished truth of our shared human condition. Only then can we begin to forge a society that truly embodies the radical, redemptive vision of justice and equality that lies at the heart of Christianity.

In this divine imperative, we are called not just to side with the poor but to transform the very structures of our world, to uproot the deep-seated sins that bind us, and to herald a new era of liberation and grace. Miranda’s voice rings out as a beacon, guiding us toward a future where the true disciples of Jesus fulfil their sacred duty to usher in the kingdom of God on earth, a realm where justice and the grace of God flows like a mighty river, washing away the vestiges of oppression and sin.

The teachings of Christ, which the early Christians invoked to lay the foundation of communism, resonate with profound clarity and unmistakable urgency. Consider the stark declaration: ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:25). This radical vision finds its echo in ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God’ (Luke 6:20) and its sombre counterpoint, ‘But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort’ (Luke 6:24). The unequivocal admonition, ‘No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve both God and money’ (Matthew 6:24; also, in Luke 16:13) drives home the fundamental incompatibility of wealth with divine allegiance. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) starkly contrasts the eternal destinies of the wealthy and the impoverished, underscoring a clarion call for a classless society.

Miranda, with the fervour of a modern-day prophet, raises his voice above the cacophony of contemporary idolatry, proclaiming the immutable truths of Christ’s teachings as they intertwine with the principles of communal solidarity. In the communal tapestry woven by the early Christian community, he discerns the threads of social equality and shared abundance, challenging the ossified structures of a world that pays lip service to Christian ideals while perpetuating the blight of injustice and inequality. His impassioned exhortations serve as a clarion call to reclaim the essence of Christianity from the clutches of hypocrisy and apathy, urging believers to embrace a faith that stands in solidarity with the marginalised and the oppressed.

Drawing inspiration from the timeless allegory of Jesus feeding the multitude, Miranda illuminates the political undercurrents inherent in the establishment of the divine household. In this hallowed banquet of communal abundance, the rigid stratifications of society dissolve beneath the radiant gaze of divine affection as the marginalised, the disciples, and all who partake converge in a transcendent communion of belonging. Here, amidst the sanctified communion, souls shed the shackles of societal categorisation and hierarchisation, embracing a radical metamorphosis forged in the crucible of divine love – a relinquishment of the finite order of the world and a rebirth into the infinite expanse of divine grace.

Those supporters of the anti-Kingdom, often identified by their self-righteous anti-woke credentials, who project their hatred upon those who virulently reject Trump as their divine leader, uphold vengeance as a form of divine MAGA justice. They live for the day that their ‘woke’ enemies are crushed under the heels of Trumpian fascism. And many will do it under the banner of Christianity and the glory of capitalist enterprise as they continue to place proscriptions on the teaching of history and as they gather around the bonfires of book burnings. It is a haunting echo of a dark past, where fervour and fanaticism overshadow reason and enlightenment.

On the night of May 10, 1933, university students in 34 towns across Germany gathered in grim solidarity. They built towering pyres, and, as the flames licked the dark sky, they fed them with the written works of over 25,000 books. The air was thick with the acrid smell of burning paper and ink, a sombre testament to the obliteration of ideas, to the very idea of knowledge and critical systems of intelligibility. The works of Jewish luminaries like Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud were consumed by the flames, their words turned to ash alongside those of blacklisted American authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller. As the fires raged, the students raised their arms in the Nazi salute, a chilling symbol of allegiance to a regime of oppression and intolerance.

This scene, a macabre dance of destruction, stands as a chilling reminder of the perilous path society treads when it forsakes the sanctity of knowledge and succumbs to the darkness of censorship and authoritarianism. The past whispers its warnings, urging vigilance against the forces that seek to repeat these grievous errors, while Trump sits on his Mar-a-Lago golden toilet, plotting revenge, knowing that he must crush his enemies in the most ruthless fashion in order to appease his base, who already are thirsting for the blood of advocates for social justice and compassion for marginalised communities.

Republicans believe that former presidents of democracies should never be indicted for crimes. Steve Benen writes that, in the wake of Trump’s pre-conviction indictments, much of the GOP settled on this as an unfortunate talking point: Apparently, only ‘third world’ countries allow former leaders to face criminal charges. However, Benen points out that

[s]uch indictments are common in ‘banana republics,’ Trump’s partisan allies have repeatedly argued, but stable and mature democracies wouldn’t tolerate prosecutors pursuing a former head of state, just because there’s evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

But this has never made any sense. Revisiting our earlier coverage, stable democracies that take the rule of law seriously hold criminal suspects accountable – even if they’re politically powerful and even if they served in government at the highest levels. In fact, on the international stage, this has happened in recent years with some regularity.

Italy prosecuted a former prime minister. France prosecuted a former president and a former prime minister. South Africa prosecuted a former president. South Korea prosecuted a former president. Brazil has prosecuted more than one former president. Israel has prosecuted more than one former prime minister.

Germany prosecuted a former president. Portugal prosecuted a former prime minister. Croatia prosecuted a former prime minister. Argentina prosecuted a former president. Austria prosecuted a former chancellor.

And yet Speaker Johnson is aghast at Trump’s conviction and wants to bring in the scandal-heavy Supreme Court. Republican politicians and operatives are screaming for revenge against their Democratic rivals. Republicans are rallying around their deity (Trump has famously compared himself to Jesus, Mother Teresa, Abraham Lincoln, Elvis Presley, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, the Mona Lisa and Al Capone.) Some believe, not without justification, that Trump’s guilty verdict signals the beginning of a civil war. The anti-Kingdom is about to unleash its wrath in one way or another.

Trump, who faces the possibility of a prison sentence as a result of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, falsely claimed in a recent interview that he didn’t make a ‘lock her up’ call for the imprisonment of his Democratic opponent of the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton. Seems as though Trump is demonstrating selective memory on this issue. ‘You should lock her up, I’ll tell you,’ he said at a January 2020 rally in Ohio. At an October 2020 rally in Georgia, after the crowd chanted ‘lock them up’ in relation to the Biden family, Trump said, ‘You should lock them up. Lock up the Bidens. Lock up Hillary.’ Former prosecutor Barbara McQuade chimed in: ‘By denying that he led chants of ‘lock her up,’ Trump is asking people to put tribe over truth.’ ‘The point is not to convince his followers that the lie is true,’ she added. ‘The point is to convince his followers to repeat the lie even though it is false. Choose truth over tribe.’

I would go further here than McQuade. If Trump can convince his supporters that his lies are more important and are of a higher order of reality than what countless videos reveal to be the truth, then it shows the dangerous extent to which Trump can reshape reality for his followers. His followers are more than eager to have their own objective reality transformed into unreality if it cravenly serves as a benefit to their deity, Trump. It echoes the pentecostalisation of Trump. Trump’s obvious lies, while damning in the eyes of Trump’s opponents, prove divinely revelatory for his supporters who alone can understand and receive them as a harbinger of God’s wrath, a message that partakes of the same level of divine authority that prophets like Elijah and Isaiah possess. Trump, in other words, has been bequeathed a unique authority given to him by Scripture; it is the Holy Spirit speaking directly through Trump to his followers, words that only Trump’s base are gifted with comprehending. In this case, Trump has become a de facto God who has the same authority of Christ Himself and is His co-equal. Of course, Trump’s followers are not aware that by the tenets of their own Christian faith, they are thus found guilty of the sin of idolatry. And by partaking in such acts, they are unleashing an unholy war against the very democracy that proclaims, ‘In God We Trust.’

According to the Independent, ‘Hardcore Donald Trump supporters are calling for riots, insurrection and assassination after his conviction.’ ‘I think he should be sentenced to jail and some community service working for the less fortunate, or being the volunteer punching bag at a women’s shelter,’ Stormy Daniels told the Sunday Mirror. That the American public will likely vote for such a disgusting human being as Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States says something about the American public that Americans are not likely to want to hear. Partisanship and tribalism are potent forces, indicating that Americans are not likely to change their minds once they have decided to support a candidate. He is seen as the candidate who represents the unrepresented and is now a martyr to the cause of freedom from the ‘deep state.’ Trump has referred to himself as ‘retribution’ for the country’s demise under Clinton, Obama and Biden and for poisoning its cities with immigrants from below the southern border – whom he claims are rapists and murderers released from mental institutions and prisons, bringing with them chaos and disease. Trump is claiming that he is suffering the wrath of America’s corrupt legal system and a potential prison sentence for love of his supporters. According to Mark Mellman, ‘Trump was willing to say things his supporters believed, but other politicians eschewed. By willingly suffering the ‘establishment’s’ opprobrium, as well as its investigations and indictments, Trump came to be seen as the authentic champion of those who felt unrepresented. People judged as morally authentic appear driven by intrinsic motivations, not extrinsic rewards. Trump’s willingness to suffer so much appeared to demonstrate that he was driven by true beliefs and real commitments to his constituents’ viewpoints, not by rewards he might reap.’ This cornball prophet has, for his fervent supporters, become the saviour of America. His political base fails to see through the falsity of the sacerdotal attributes they have afforded him in their ongoing rage against the establishment, in their studied refusal to betray any of their martyred hero’s actions, in the thrall of their own self-hatred, in their thirst for redemption for a country that they believe has grievously failed them – all of which amounts to punishing the liberals and the elites, whom they blame for all the misery they and their families have endured over the decades. For the many white supremacists supporting Trump, they will rejoice that darker-skinned immigrants will no longer threaten to replace them. Trump has become the sword arm of divine retribution.

The election could end in a landslide for Trump. As Robert Kagan notes:

Trump, meanwhile, enjoys the usual advantage of non-incumbency, namely, the lack of any responsibility. Biden must carry the world’s problems like an albatross around his neck, like any incumbent, but most incumbents can at least claim that their opponent is too inexperienced to be entrusted with these crises. Biden cannot. On Trump’s watch, there was no full-scale invasion of Ukraine, no major attack on Israel, no runaway inflation, no disastrous retreat from Afghanistan. It is hard to make the case for Trump’s unfitness to anyone who does not already believe it.

Trump enjoys some unusual advantages for a challenger, moreover. Even Ronald Reagan did not have Fox News and the speaker of the House in his pocket. To the degree there are structural advantages in the coming general election, in short, they are on Trump’s side. And that is before we even get to the problem that Biden can do nothing to solve: his age.

Trump also enjoys another advantage. The national mood less than a year before the election is one of bipartisan disgust with the political system in general. Rarely in American history has democracy’s inherent messiness been more striking. In Weimar Germany, Hitler and other agitators benefited from the squabbling of the democratic parties, right and left, the endless fights over the budget, the logjams in the legislature, the fragile and fractious coalitions. German voters increasingly yearned for someone to cut through it all and get something – anything – done. It didn’t matter who was behind the political paralysis, either, whether the intransigence came from the right or the left.

Henk de Berg, a professor of German at the University of Sheffield in Britain has just published Trump and Hitler: A Comparative Study in Lying. In it, De Berg compares and contrasts Hitler and Trump as political performance artists. In an interview with David Smith of The Guardian, Berg comments:

We tend to see Hitler as a genocidal mass murderer, which of course he was, but not so much as a populist….I thought looking at it through the perspective of Trump can help us wrap our heads around the idea as to why so many people actually supported Hitler and vice versa…. Their extremist statements are very deliberately meant to provoke a reaction and to get them into the press. Hitler actually writes quite openly about this in Mein Kampf and this of course is the challenge: what do you then do as a journalist or as an opposing political party when the other person makes these extreme statements?… Do you then not report these things, but then the populists will say whatever they want to say? Or do you contradict them and point out the lies and the extremism, but in that way you’re only drawing more attention to the fact that they’re running and to all they’re proposing?… Most of their electorate are dissatisfied with the status quo for a variety of reasons – globalisation, automation – so they want to change the system and here you have an anti-establishment candidate who is not politically correct, who says that we will sort it, who doesn’t come up with all these ‘cowardly, rotten compromises.’

Smith notes that voters are ready to blame a scapegoat, ‘the other,’ which, for Hitler, was the Jews. He blamed them for Germany’s defeat in the First World War. Trump launched his 2015 campaign by demonising immigrants from Mexico and continually emphasising the importance of border security. Berg asserts that creating a scapegoat ‘decomplexifies the world. Instead of abstract social structures and historical developments, you have one specific group of people that you can blame all your problems on.’ He recounts that

[t]here were a lot of National Socialists interviewed after the war who said, ‘well, yeah, OK, Hitler was saying all these extreme things, but we realised he was a mass politician and we thought that he was just saying things that he didn’t really mean, that he was just exaggerating a little bit.’ Someone said the demands in Mein Kampf we took as the dogmas in the Bible – no one thought that these things would be fulfilled 100%…. The same is true, dangerously, with the things that Trump says. In his rallies, he outlined a whole range of very problematic things that he would do when he was going to be president, but that doesn’t mean all people literally believe that. I don’t think they literally believed that he was going to build this big concrete wall between Mexico and the United States. Many of them thought, unconsciously, what he’s really saying is he will protect America’s traditional identity…. And that – to use a posh phrase – interpretative openness means that both the more extreme followers and the less extreme or ‘moderate’ followers can recognise themselves in the speaker’s words. That made Hitler and makes Trump so difficult…. Trump goes from the FBI to a judge to the Democrats to communists and so on. You can then say, well, clearly this guy is an intellectual nitwit, he can’t talk in a logical, argumentative way. He could but he realises that this vague way of tying all these people together actually gives different sections of the electorate different things they can identify with. Some might not like the FBI, others might not like immigrants and so on.

Smith reveals that Trump made more than 30,000 false or misleading claims during his four years as president, according to a count by the Washington Post. He mentions that the most egregious is perhaps ‘the big lie’ – that he, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election, ‘only for it to be stolen due to widespread fraud.’ In his book, Berg writes:

The idea behind the concept of the big lie is that if an untruth is sufficiently extreme, people are likely to accept it if only because they cannot bring themselves to believe that anyone could lie in such an outrageous manner…. It was Hitler who came up with the concept, writing in Mein Kampf that ‘the great masses of the people … more easily fall victim to a big lie [große Lüge] than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big. Such a falsehood will never enter their heads, and they will not be able to believe in the possibility of such monstrous effrontery and infamous misrepresentation in others.’

Smith quotes rock star David Bowie:

Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars…. Look at some of his films and see how he moved. I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It’s astounding. And boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for 12 years. The world will never see his like again.

Smith writes that

Trump’s rallies are typically rollicking affairs, the atmosphere part circus, part concert, part sports, bringing like-minded people together as ritualistically as church. In all weathers they share a collective sense of grievance and also find ways to have fun. In small towns that often feel left behind by big cities, they can represent the biggest event of the year and offer the thrill of live performance in an otherwise digitally saturated age.

Smith cites Berg on this issue:

If you look at the lives of many ordinary Germans during the Weimar Republic immediately after the First World War, when the economy wasn’t doing well, and there were all sorts of problems, many of them could not afford to enjoy all sorts of spectacles, but they could go to a Hitler rally.

On the issue of the inability of the Republican Party to control Trump, Berg comments:

You can go to a Trump rally as well, and that creates a feeling of solidarity, a community of feeling, which of course is at the same time the dangerous thing because people then identify with each other. They lose their individuality, they lose their critical capacity, and at the same time all together they identify with a political leader, so the political leader can do whatever he wants…. Hitler goes from 2.6% of the vote in 1928, meaning more than 97% of the electorate don’t want him, to the Nazi Party becoming the biggest party in 1932. Then these conservative politicians say, OK, we’ve got this political nincompoop here, but he’s a populist, and he’s popular, the people like him. If we try and make this guy vice-chancellor then he can do our bidding…. Hitler says no, I’m not going to be vice-chancellor, I want to be chancellor, so eventually they give in, but they still think that he is going to do what they want and push through their policies. One of these conservative politicians memorably said, ‘We’ve hired him.’ Hitler manipulated them, and he becomes chancellor and from there on in it all goes disastrously wrong with German society…. One of the most worrying things for me about Trumpism is the way he has managed to transform what you thought were very rightwing but ultimately rational politicians into people who have become basically Trumpists…. What happened was not that they manipulated Trump but Trump ended up manipulating them and then, in effect, just taking over the Republican party. All these people had to renounce all the things they used to believe in: international free trade agreements, a forward-leaning role for America in the world.

Trump cannot be underestimated. He is a cunning buffoon who gives crazy word-salad speeches.  But he knows exactly what he is doing. That is what makes him so dangerous.

In an article in Salon, Megan Volpert uses Slavoj Zizek’s concept of Hitler as an ironist to reveal the method behind Trump’s madness of using the tracks from Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA album at his political rallies. Under the assumption that ‘Hitler’s public persona and propaganda were characterized by a deliberate blurring of boundaries between sincerity and cynicism, truth and falsehood, ideology and pragmatism,’ Volpert importantly reveals how Hitler’s ‘linguistic ambiguity’ enabled him to ‘maintain flexibility and adaptability in the face of changing circumstances, while also sowing confusion and discord among his opponents.’ In the complex dance of power and rhetoric, Žižek invites us to view Hitler not as a mere purveyor of his beliefs or intentions, but as a maestro of manipulation and control. Volpert argues that Hitler’s public persona and propaganda were a masterclass in the artful melding of sincerity and cynicism, truth and falsehood, ideology and pragmatism.

According to Volpert, Hitler’s irony, as Žižek perceives it, lay in his exploitation of the inherent ambiguities of language and ideology. His speeches and writings bristled with paradoxes and nebulous promises, crafted to captivate a diverse audience while deftly sidestepping any firm commitment to specific policies or principles. This linguistic ambiguity was not a flaw, but a calculated strategy, enabling Hitler to remain pliable and adaptable amid the shifting tides of circumstance. It sowed seeds of confusion and discord among his adversaries, leaving them adrift in a sea of uncertainty, unable to anchor themselves to a definitive stance against his ever-shifting narrative. In a twist of poetic irony, Trump’s appropriation of Springsteen’s songs emerges as a calculated play of strategic ambiguity, where the music’s apparent meaning is twisted to serve a cunning political agenda. By co-opting anthems that resonate with working-class Americans and echo themes of struggle and resilience, Trump aims to harness the emotional and cultural power of Springsteen’s music while artfully sidestepping the profound social critiques woven into the lyrics.

Playing Springsteen’s tracks at Trump rallies becomes, Volpert asserts, a grand spectacle, a pageant divorced from any sincere commitment to the values or ideals they evoke. In this theatrical display, Trump’s use of Springsteen’s music morphs into a form of political drama, where the veneer of authenticity and connection with ordinary Americans conceals a deeper layer of cynicism and manipulation. It is a performance where the genuine spirit of the music is subverted, transformed into a tool of political artifice and spectacle, masking the true intentions lurking beneath the surface.

Žižek unveils the second key aspect of Hitler’s strategy: the ironic use of performative contradiction to shatter the bedrock of rational discourse and political debate. By blurring the lines between truth and falsehood, sincerity and deception, Hitler forged a maelstrom of uncertainty and instability, toppling traditional norms and values. In a striking parallel, Trump’s co-opting of Springsteen’s music epitomizes performative contradiction. Volpert explains how, in this instance, the surface meaning of the songs stands in stark opposition to their deeper ideological messages.

Volpert explains how Trump’s cynical manoeuvre bolsters his nationalist rhetoric and evokes a nostalgic yearning for a mythic American past, all while glossing over Springsteen’s incisive critique of America’s unravelling. By seizing anthems steeped in progressive values and the struggles of the working class, Trump aims to rebrand himself and reach demographics typically beyond his grasp. This calculated irony allows Trump to exploit the cultural resonance of Springsteen’s music, sidestepping the ideological rifts between his platform and the songs’ true essence. Through this manipulation, Trump turns the power of Springsteen’s artistry into a façade, cloaking his own agenda in the guise of cultural homage.

Overall, Žižek’s concept of Hitler as an ironist challenges us to deeply analyse how Trump’s use of Springsteen’s songs offers insight into contemporary political rhetoric and manipulation for totalitarian goals. In Volpert’s own words:

To combat Trump’s ironic use of Springsteen’s songs, critical media education can increase public awareness of the songs’ true meanings, while journalists and critics can highlight discrepancies between the songs and Trump’s agenda as this article has done. Artists can reclaim their work’s intended meanings through cease-and-desist letters, interviews and press releases, and activists can organize events to promote the songs’ authentic messages of social justice and economic struggle. These approaches expose the contradictions and manipulations in Trump’s political rhetoric.

This burlesque showman, this malignant narcissist, this carnival barker who loves dictators and strongmen could, if elected (which is very likely), withhold funding for Ukraine, weakening the chances for its survival against an imperialist Russia, deploy the US military into Democratic-run cities to round up immigrants and quell student protests, further racial segregation, stoke racial divisions and violence, weaken environmental protection by destroying curbs on climate producers, bending the arc of country further towards ecocide, throw more Americans off health insurance, attack unions and create more protections for the rich; further stack the supreme court with far-right conservatives; destroy public education through privatisation mandates; and transform the country into an iconic white supremacist, capitalist, evangelical Christian plutocracy. America will become great again, only if the word ‘greatness’ echoes 1938 Germany. Russia will likely offer him deals once he has left office in 2028 – that is, if he doesn’t change the election laws that will permit him to remain in office until he passes the torch to one of his sons or Ivanka. Social media, America’s Second Amendment and conservative evangelical Christianity will all work together to bring forth a decades-long reign of fascism. The Handmaid’s Tale will seem ever more prophetic. And my native Canada? What will become of it? There are already signs that MAGA politics has established a foothold there, as Henry Giroux and William Paul argue. The so-called ‘anti-woke’ attacks on progressivism in Canada have now turned against critical pedagogy and critical theory, following lockstep with similar attacks in the United States.

Things are falling apart. The tide is turning. The centre cannot hold. The second coming is upon us. But whose second coming? Which saviour does America have in mind? Hegel’s remark at the end of the Preface to the Philosophy of Right, ‘The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the coming of the dusk,’ now hints at the coming end of the age of democracy. Do you sense that ‘rough beast,’ that dictator whose face is swaddled in orange, its hour come round at last’ slouching toward Bethlehem to be born? If so, it’s time to head for the Mountaintop known to Martin Luther King, where we can prepare ourselves for one more attempt to build the Promised Land. And pray.

The Second Coming (William Butler Yeats)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2024). The Pentecostalisation of Donald Trump: A Tale of Two Saviours. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.