Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Samson Option: The Biblical Case for Donald Trump

American clergy and Christian conservative pundits have conditioned the Religious Right to hold those aspiring to national leadership to the standard of Christ. Absolute moral clarity, humility unto (political) death, compassion for enemies and strangers - these have been the virtues serious-minded believing voters have searched for in candidates. Hence the enormous early appeal of the humble, soft-spoken, gentle Ben Carson. Many others are flocking to the principled but opportunistic Ted Cruz, who adopts the cheesy Sunday morning drawl of a Southern Baptist preacher whenever he faces the camera, or to Marco Rubio (aka J.F.Que?), who commands goosebumps to rise with every impassioned salvo against Planned Parenthood and the moral bankruptcy of the Democrats.

The conditioning that draws us to these candidates also inflames every fiber of our political being to cry out against Donald Trump. He boasts incessantly. He casually drops profanity and below-the-belt insults. He never repents. He doesn’t forgive or ask for forgiveness. He doesn’t turn the cheek. He equivocates on the crucible issues of abortion and gay marriage. He loudly and proudly prioritizes the material over the spiritual. For Christians trained to run candidates through the eye of the needle, the Camel-sized Trump is prima facie no-go. Through a Christian lens, he is the world and the flesh, and all we need is a little bit of the left’s politically correct reflex to tack on the devil. Hence the widespread and emphatic renunciation of Trump by Christian conservative leaders like Russell Moore and Rod Dreher.

Christians like me who find themselves rooting on Trump in flagrant contradiction to all of our training and conditioning can’t help but feel unfaithful, drawn by some base depravity to worship at the feet of this Golden Calf that just sprang out of the fire. Could it be that we are stopping our ears to the still small voice and instead hearkening to a heartbeat quickened by the satanic appeal of our pagan, barbarian ancestry? Is Trump Conan, luring us back to the old creed of crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentations of the women?

To these nagging questions and those who raise them, I pose a strong biblical counter-example. He was the ultimate man’s man and an archetype of Christ, celebrated by the author of Hebrews in the ranks of the faithful leaders of Israel along with Gideon, David and Samuel. I’m talking about Samson.
The parallels between Trump and Samson are extraordinarily close and abundant and I am far from the first to notice them - Pat Buchanan referred to Trump’s Samson Option in early August and blogger/satirist David Burge, responding to the Trump favorite Bible verse controversy, dubbed him the “jawbone of an ass.” But to my knowledge, no Christian conservative commentator has considered the depth of the comparison or its implications.

Samson arose during a time of bondage. On the eve of his birth, the Lord had delivered the Israelites into the hands of the Philistines. America today suffers under cultural bondage that is rapidly transforming the political and demographic landscape of the country. The modern connotation of Philistines is “people who are hostile or indifferent to culture” and you couldn’t ask for a better description of the political and social elites in this country. There is no greater existential threat to American culture than mass immigration, yet that is the only issue on which the establishments of both parties can agree. A similarly unified front on the doctrine of political correctness polices all dissent on this issue while gradually decoupling modern America from its heritage by the escalating demonization of white privilege, patriarchy and Christian values. Both situations cry out for nationalist heroes to break the yoke.

Like Trump, Samson was anything but a pure Messianic figure (other than the hair). Neither did he fit the Robin Hood/Batman “heroes that Gotham/Nottingham deserved” vigilante archetype. Rather he was the villain that the Philistines deserved. Like Trump, Samson was a sworn foe of the Philistines on the political/national level, while being almost indistinguishable from them on a personal level. For most intents and purposes, he was one of them. He scorned his own people to sleep with Philistine women and spent most of his time in Philistine territory where he could give his many vices free rein. And God wasn’t even mad - he wanted Samson in there getting dirty with the unholy so he’d be able to do more damage (Judges 14:4). Sort of a continuation of His rationale for Jesus intermingling with the hookers and vice merchants: you send the physician to the sick and you send the wrecking ball to the crumbling tenement.

It’s because Trump has slummed (or slum-lorded) with the Philistines that he’s such a potent force within their midst. The Apprentice, a million Hollywood cameos, golf dates with every conceivable celebrity, media mogul and power broker, donations to every establishment candidate - he started this war from the middle of their wheelhouse. Again and again he strolls into their centers of power, runs headlong into their traps, and walks off with the city gates on his shoulders.

As many have declared of Trump, Samson was almost completely non-ideological. His acts were motivated by hunger, self-preservation, greed, lust, hatred and vengeance, and yet they always resulted in gain for his people. He obviously had a knack for brute-force destruction, but he was also resourceful and cunning. His firebrands-to-foxtails strategy mirrors Trump’s mastery of social media, and he showed a similar inclination to troll those plotting against him with conniving riddles and baiting proclamations to expose their hidden agendas for the world to see. The parallels are also striking to Christ’s use of disciples to multiply his impact and clever parables to confound the Pharisee media.

Samson always pushed the envelope further than any of his people would or could. So much so that his own people delivered him into the Philistines’ hands just as the Lord had delivered them. Even his lovers had no qualms about turning him over. We’ve seen this over and over with Trump, as his GOP fellow travelers compete for the chance to trip him up and turn him over to the other side to demonstrate that they had nothing to do with his hell-raising. No one ever exposed the duplicity and cravenness of frenemies better than Samson or Trump.

Samson’s fighting style was crude, often unfair, and barbaric, but it was brutally effective, not only in defeating the enemies that had overwhelmed his people, but in exposing their own barbarity. When he struck down 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass/donkey (about as pregnant a double metaphor as you can get with Trump), he declared in characteristically bombastic fashion, “with a donkey’s jawbone, I have made donkeys of them.” (Sly as always, Samson was punning - the Hebrew word for donkeys is apparently a homonym for piles or heaps). So has Donald’s unbridled jaw laid waste to surprised opponents who had come to expect gentle, heavily-qualified rhetoric from GOP frontrunners. It has also provoked a torrent of crude ass-braying from prominent liberals and the media, unmasking the visceral hatred lurking behind tolerant facades.

The Samson comparison has a tragic dimension that might not bode well for Trump the man. Their shared predilection for cannonballing into enemy honey traps ultimately produced Samson’s downfall, ending with him as a blinded carnie freak show trotted out for a sadistic Philistine mob. Even so, by bringing down the evil Philistine establishment with him in a final act of vengeance, he ended up doing even more damage to Israel’s enemy than when he lived.

Meanwhile, as much as the biblical headlines focus on these sensational scraps with the Philistines, none of these unserious hijinks or dangerous flirtations disqualified him for the serious job of judging the Israelites during a volatile time. Judges 14:20 tells us that Samson led, i.e. judged, the Israelites for twenty years. While he was unquestionably an agent of chaos for the Philistines, the Bible gives us no indication that he was a bad executive for the Israelites. Indeed, the author of Hebrews puts him on a veritable Rushmore of faithful Hebrew leaders, with the group being recognized for having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” Trump would put it more succinctly: they made Israel great again.

There is ample reason to believe that Trump could provide a steady hand at the wheel, even as the other wields the jawbone against his enemies. His business record, while not as spectacular as his boasts, suggests a competent administrator, evaluator and entrepreneur, however unorthodox and flamboyant his public persona. His ability to delegate has been on excellent display during the campaign: he couldn’t have picked better ghost writers for his policy papers on immigration, tax policy and gun control. His dominance of the media has demonstrated again and again his ability to set the terms of debate and advance his message in even the most hostile environments. This undercurrent of competence has consistently been discounted by conservative commentators, even those who admire his work against the establishment. They see the destroyer and not the judge.

The biblical precedent then for a leader like Trump is concrete. If these are Samsonian times and America is truly in the hands of modern-day Philistines, as I believe most Christians would agree, the worries about Trump’s motivations, principles, character and demeanor are largely irrelevant. The matter of greatest consequence is whether he or any of the other candidates are strong enough to bring down the Philistine establishment and return the country to its people.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Alien's Guide to Xenophobia

Are you looking for a trusty handbook to steer you through the thorny ethical and political dilemmas raised by the immigration crises raging across the Western world? Look no further.  The appropriately titled 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien tells you everything you need to know.

The demographics and attitudes of the ill-fated Nostromo crew are not unlike the West prior to the immigration explosion of the post-boomer era:  a pair of working-class guys, one white and one black, in the engine room, a middle class of WASPy American officers and a snobby semi-aristocratic Brit on the periphery. Though they share a camaraderie born of long isolation in each other’s company, this sense of kinship does not extend beyond their own hull and certainly not to newcomer Ash, the cold, aloof Science Officer. When the ship’s computer interrupts their blissful hypersleep with a command to respond to an alien distress signal, they grumble and whine at the imposition. Only a begrudging respect for company policy and the threat of withheld money forestalls a mutiny. While this curmudgeonly behavior might strike some as selfish and unenlightened, the events that follow vindicate it as common sense.
Unfortunately such stubborn independence and self-interested caution is in short supply when the Nostromo advance team embarks for a derelict alien vessel. Dismissing the sensible fears of navigator Lambert as she pleads with them to cut the mission short, cowboy Captain Dallas and his adventure-hungry officer Kane plunge ever deeper into the ship’s heart of darkness, mirroring the eagerness of the West’s neoconservative lobby to extend a Middle Eastern anti-terrorism mission into an exercise in kingmaking and nation building. (Ironically, Kane’s recklessness brings him face-to-face-hugger with just the type of WMD stockpile that we went into Iraq to find).

The results of these misadventures are horrifying. The domino-style toppling of stable, if evil, dictatorships in Iraq, Libya and most of Syria have unleashed the denizens of hell on the region. Demonic ISIS and their fellow jihadists now cover the face of the Levant like the creature face-hugging the terminally curious officer Kane. Meanwhile in Mexico, where many blame the drug wars on the US outsourcing of its narcotics industry, drug cartels pioneer gruesome tactics for future use by ISIS. Still, to quote the ultimate hero-coward Don Knotts, while the horribleness and the awfulness of it will never actually be forgotten, the hellish contagion is mercifully remote. At the onset of the crisis, the stateside Westerners and the more cautious Nostromo crew enjoy a healthy distance from the alien menace, and, in the latter case, a secure border monitored by a careful watchman.

This brings us to the thorniest moral quandary posed by the crisis. While the outbreak of horror is initially remote, it doesn’t take long for its victims (and its perpetrators) to close the gap. The sympathy and empathy that rise so naturally in response to the news of distant tragedy lose much of their potency when the fallout suddenly arrives on our doorstep, angrily clamouring to be allowed inside. Instincts for self-preservation and skepticism battle with humanitarian impulses, as the West and the Nostromo crew grapple over the agonizing question: let them in and risk the sacred home turf or leave them weeping and gnashing their teeth in the outer darkness?

The responses of the members of the Nostromo crew to this quandary, and the motives and philosophies behind those responses, provide the greatest of Alien’s insights on the immigration debate. The crewmembers’ responses divide them into three basic categories (with one intriguing spin-off) which I consider to neatly match the various camps staking out positions on the present immigration and refugee questions.

The first of these groups is the Hardliners, derided as selfish and heartless by their detractors, their positions closely parallel the strict immigration restrictionists like Trump in the US and Viktor Orban in the EU. On the Nostromo, the grimly practical Ripley is the standard-bearer for this position, with sympathizers in Brett and Parker from the engine room. Ripley adheres firmly to the rule of law and her conviction that letting them in would endanger the rest of the ship. So resolute is she that she denies even the demands of her commanding officer to open the hatch and let them in. It is a tough stance to take - a potential death sentence for three shipmates, even though two aren’t even infected - but it is firmly rooted in the conservative notion that the safety of the crew already on the ship takes precedence over the demands of any outsiders.

The second group are the Bleeding Hearts. Their stance is less ideological than moral and emotional. Commander Dallas and Lambert embody this perspective. Though Dallas is normally a respecter of laws and protocols, and Lambert a cautious and sensible person in other contexts, they are so moved by the horror that has befallen Kane that they are willing to dismiss any theoretical risk to get him the immediate help he so clearly needs. In the context of the current debate, these are the sincere humanitarians who fear that a strictly conservative response to human suffering will cost us our humanity, even if it shields us from risk.

The third and final group would claim membership with the bleeding hearts, but their chest-beating appeals to emotion ring strangely hollow. These are the Company Men. They cloak their company-uber-alles agenda under a veil of arch morality. The Nostromo’s science officer Ash is the ultimate company man. It is he who makes the fateful decision to circumvent Ripley and let the Alien onboard. He claims to have acted on compassion, even allowing a charge of recklessness, but the cold rationality of his personality, the evenness of his demeanor, and the intensity of his interest in the Alien suggest entirely different motives. As it turns out, he is quite literally a company man, an android engineered to do the company’s bidding whatever the human cost. In this case, the company views the Alien as an asset and the crew as expendable.

Such synthetic bleeding hearts abound in positions of power across the Western landscape. Facing a demographic winter that could simultaneously put substantial upward pressure on future wages and reduce consumption, as well as an ornery middle class seeking more political power, the chamber of commerce class and the political class it bankrolls views mass immigration as an unmitigated good. If a few hundred suburbs have to be transformed into third world hellholes, to borrow Ann Coulter’s phrase, that’s just the cost of doing global business.  Thus, bright-eyed automatons like Angela Merkel and Barack Obama crank up the wattage on their humanitarian rhetoric as they cheerfully implant Alien embryos into the heartlands of their paralyzed constituencies.

A final variation on the Company Man type is found in increasing numbers in the West and hinted at in the character of Ash. Cognizant of his synthetic form, Ash has none of his shipmates’ instincts for self-preservation. From this standpoint he can logically view their xenophobia as close-minded and irrational, even as the Alien rips them into pieces. The real-life equivalent to this extreme detachment is seen in the example of several prominent Christian leaders, including Pope Francis and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore. These men are not only enthusiastically pro-immigration, they seem incapable of entertaining or comprehending the fears of their followers. No amount of material or cultural devastation can sway them. From reading Russell Moore in particular, you almost get the sense that he views the potential for negative temporal consequences as a spiritual perk... A means of mortifying the flesh (at least the flesh of the unenlightened). Such men make useful allies of Company Men.

And there you have it: the complete Alien’s Guide to Xenophobia, pieced together from the scattered entrails (including a few literal bleeding hearts) of the Nostromo crew.