Comment: Trump’s attempt to appeal to Christians may be mistake

It won’t cost him his current supporters, but he may lose converts among those offended by his false piety.

By Robert Pawlicki / For Tribune News Service

Casual political observers may not be aware that Donald Trump has taken on a new strategy; infusing Christianity into his movement and presenting himself as a Christ-like figure.

Images of Jesus Christ, hands resting on a beatific Donald, have been common at the former president’s rallies for months. The focus has now gone mainstream.

The sentiment is explicit in the recent video “God Made Trump,” posted to Truth Social. It portrays the former president as a vessel of a higher power. Recent rallies suggest that Trump has been chosen by God; determined to save America. Supporting pastors amplify this message to devout followers.

By all reports, the former president has never shown any devotion to a religious faith. On the contrary, every attempt to reveal his knowledge of the Bible or principles of Christianity is evaded. These facts do not come into play when the prize, perhaps too great to ignore, is the image of Jesus Christ, his hand reaching out to anoint Trump to Make America Great Again.

With religion already tied to many incendiary issues such as abortion, sex and gender, championing a religious identity is not politically wise. Pushing a faith-based position will hurt Trump’s campaign in the general election. While some Christians may accept his scheme, other devout Christians will liken Trump’s self-acclaimed bond to Christ as blasphemy and idolatry.

As in many of Trump’s schemes and choices, his decision to embrace religious clothing comes solely from his wish for ever more devotion.

As a behavioral psychologist, I have long contended that the former president’s addiction to attention, along with grandiosity and narcissism, is at the heart of his psychological dysfunction.

His aides repeatedly declare that Trump’s greatest exhilarations, his most substantial emotional highs, occur at his rallies. There, thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, adore his every utterance. There is little to exceed such a messianic experience, except, perhaps, standing next to God.

Beyond his intense need for showy wealth and power, there is the accompanying message: “I am unique, special.” The hands of Christ resting on his shoulders must be very intoxicating to a man who needs adoration.

Few deny the effects of alcohol and drug addiction. Addiction to attention is no less influential in controlling behavior. Like any addiction, attention addiction restricts cognitive functioning and decision-making. As with other addicts, the reach for a higher and higher “hit” becomes increasingly seductive. So does a greater distortion of rational thinking.

The United States is no longer the Christian nation it was a century ago. Fewer than 50 percent attend church. Religious attendees are divided now more than at any time in history. Many who have left are scared and angry over controversial issues like abortion and gender matters. U.S. church membership has declined by a third. Most of those departing cite a general belief in a spiritual life rather than in organized religion.

The decline is especially notable among America’s youth, a critically important constituent in the coming election. Nationwide, young voters preferred Biden 61 percent to 36 percent in the 2020 election and were especially critical in the key battleground states. Despite their reservations concerning Joe Biden’s age, they are unlikely to align themselves with a Bible-touting candidate.

Donald Trump’s message will not only antagonize the non-religious and agnostic but will probably divide many religious-minded believers. Jews, Muslims, liberal-leaning Christians, and others are unlikely to be pleased to have an evangelistic president at the helm. Merging government and religion is not only against the Founding Fathers’ commitment to the separation of church and state, but it also puts non-Christian believers at risk.

The decline in the country’s religiosity has come about for many reasons, with partisan political sentiments brought into the church among the most corrosive. Entering this debate is a hazardous political move. Identifying as a religious figure, and an extreme one at that, will alter allegiance to the former president for many segments of the voting community.

For those already devoted to Trump, many will welcome the ascension of Trump to a Christ-like figure. For those not supportive of the former president, distaste will deepen. For the undecided it’s hard to imagine they will see the light of Jesus Christ anointing Trump.

Trump’s need for devotion and attention has reached too far. It will cost him.

Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and author. He wrote this for ©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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