Why isn’t Donald Trump’s unfitness obvious to everyone? A majority of Americans have found his approval ratings, though low, still persistently higher than his competence, personality, and truthfulness would seem to support. Can it really be that one of every three Americans is easily duped, blindly partisan, confused by anger or fear, or stands to profit from Trump’s actions (including the blatant political toadying of Republican officials). Like many, I have struggled to understand the Trump phenomenon. And I’ve challenged my own bias in the matter; for maybe I’ve gotten Trump all wrong myself.
Like many of you, I’ve long been aware of Trump’s support from white evangelicals, but have minimized its overall effect. I was wrong. While many blue collar white Republicans abandoned Trump in the 2018 mid-terms, white evangelicals stood firm, exhibiting something akin to the “Lost Cause” theology that followed the Civil War. Moreover, a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that most white evangelical Christians favor Trump’s wall, having increased from 58% in April 2016, to 62% in September 2016, and 67% now.
Of course, despite these figures, all white evangelicals do not think alike. But evangelical leader John Fae attests to widespread “racial and religious fear” among white evangelicals worried about demographic changes going on in America, along with growing secularization. That fear had shown up in Trump’s 2016 election, wherein 28,000,000—81%!—of white evangelicals voted for him. Supporting the magnitude of these numbers is that there were enough evangelicals to swell sales of Lance Wallnau’s evangelical book, God’s Chaos Candidate: Donald J. Trump and the American Unraveling, pushing it to #19 on Amazon’s bestseller list shortly before the election.
Wallnau claimed God communicated directly to him regarding Trump and the “Cyrus prophesy.” OK; who’s Cyrus anyway?
Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, in the 6th century not only freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity, but according to Jewish history even generously funded a new temple for them in Jerusalem. To Jews, Cyrus became a Gentile hero who—despite his not being a fan of the Jews’ god—was seen by Jews as quite literally a godsend. And they never forgot. Cyrus lived on in Jewish lore, famed as a nonbeliever whom God nevertheless used as a vessel for Jewish benefit as recounted in the 45th chapter of Isaiah:
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and gird the loins of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed . . . I surname you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I gird you though you do not know me.” Isaiah (KJV) 45:1-5.
Then eight hundred years later along came Donald John Trump. Donald was clearly no Jew, no Christian, and by most measures not even a decent human being. But evangelical leaders in the United States—distressed by increasing secularization of their country—saw a dim light at the end of their darkening tunnel. Perhaps God had sent another Cyrus, this time in the form of a crude, rich, shallow narcissist whose only interest in religion seemed to be using it for desperately needed political points, for shoring up his minority presidency. It mattered not how unfit, ungenerous, even cruel Donald was, the lesson of Cyrus taught that God could send such a man as “a vessel for the faithful.”
To an increasing number of fundamentalists, a 21st century Cyrus was not only possible, but no less than God’s plan. Lance Wallnau—who was first to notice the parallel between the 45th chapter of Isaiah and the 45th president of the United States (!)—led the way. He was joined by prominent evangelicals like Curt Landry, Derek Thomas, Mike Evans, John Fae, and Creation Museum founder Ken Hamm. Wallnau has been quoted as saying “I believe the 45th president is meant to be an Isaiah 45 Cyrus, who will restore the crumbling walls that separate us from cultural collapse.”
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, certainly no evangelical, brought up Cyrus in connection to Trump’s 2018 relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem. Similarly, some ultra-orthodox Jews like Rabbi Matityahu Glazerson, while not necessarily signing on to evangelicals’ interpretations, embraced the Cyrus prophesy. Pleased by Trump’s moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli Mikdash Educational Center minted a “Trump Coin” showing Trump and King Cyrus together on its face.
Trump, in a characteristic dog whistle, quoted King Cyrus recently on the Persian new year, a greeting that went largely unnoticed except in evangelical circles. Trump has welcomed fundamentalist leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffries, Paula White, Ralph Drollinger, and Mike Huckabee to the White House. Further, while Vice President Mike Pence is not known to be evangelical, he is clearly fundamentalist. Others who are include Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), James Dobson (Focus on the Family), and John Fea (Messiah College).
You can see how Trump can boast he’d maintain his robust following even if he shot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue. At least for the evangelical base, it seems he is correct. Donald Trump is invincible, no mere president but part of God’s plan, faulty in himself but in his historic role God’s vessel for the faithful to restore evangelical Christianity in what was meant, they believe, to be God’s country.
As a nonbeliever, I can’t shed much light on Isaiah’s intriguing Biblical tale nor on its application 26 centuries later. Yet I can’t help but notice that there’s at least one obvious fly in this carefully constructed parallel:
The government of King Cyrus was said to be well organized and stable.