President Trump is on a mission from God. Thus spake the White House press secretary, at any rate.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked by the Christian Broadcasting Network last week about Trump being the right man for the moment, replied: “I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president, and that’s why he’s there.”
This makes sense, because Trump has of late been acting as if he draws his authority from the divine right of kings. He’s asserting his absolute power to act without — and often in contravention of — the Democratic House, the Republican Senate, his own intelligence agencies, law enforcement authorities and diplomats, and the will of the American public.
Presidential defenders say the Sanders claim is simply a repetition of the biblical admonition that all temporal leaders are established by God. And conservative evangelicals have reason to be pleased with Trump’s judicial picks and other policies.
But Sanders appeared to go further in suggesting that God, much like Russian President Vladimir Putin, played an active role in installing Trump (“that’s why he’s there”). For the president’s principal spokeswoman, in a West Wing interview, to claim God is for Trump — and by extension God is against Democrats (she also ridiculed the idea that Democrats have any moral authority) — goes beyond an expression of personal belief.
It contradicts an American creed, embraced by many believers in this nation under God, best captured by John F. Kennedy at the close of his inaugural address: “Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
Now we hear from the White House that God’s work is … Trump.
If so, His choice of a thrice-married, foul-mouthed, untruthful casino mogul as His vessel raises thorny theological questions, not least: Why, given all the Christian conservatives of high character running for president, did God go with a man who boasted about grabbing women by the [expletive], who paid hush money to a porn star, and who derided the “interesting” tendency of Vice President Pence to pray?
Perhaps it was Trump’s boast that “nobody reads the Bible more than me.” Or his sermon to Liberty University students about the “two Corinthians.” Or his vow to keep “Merry Christmas in department stores, believe me. “
We can’t be certain that God didn’t approach Donald, son of Fred, from a burning bush. Or that God didn’t speak to Donald, as to Joshua outside Jericho, telling him the wall would fall, to which Donald replied, “Mexico is going to pay.”
God works in mysterious ways. But this much isn’t at all mysterious: The president is acting as if he answers to nobody here in the mortal realm.
He isn’t bound by the will of the Democratic House, saying he will build a wall regardless of what Congress wants: “Wall is already being built, I don’t expect much help!” He isn’t bound by the expertise of intelligence officials, even his own appointees, publicly calling them “extremely passive and naive” and saying they “should go back to school!”
He isn’t bound by the actions of law enforcement, calling the actions of the FBI in arresting his friend Roger Stone “very, very disappointing” and worthy of investigation.
He isn’t bound by national-security considerations; the Financial Times reported this last week that he again met secretly with Putin in November, without staff or note-taker.
He isn’t bound by the pretense of representing all Americans. His trade adviser, Peter Navarro, said this last week that Trump’s policies benefit “Trump people.” (Navarro later tried to retreat.)
And Trump isn’t even bound by the wishes of fellow Republicans running the Senate. The Senate this last week passed a measure by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, objecting to hasty withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, and only three Republicans sided with Trump’s position.
It’s encouraging to see McConnell take even a symbolic stand for democratic institutions, but he has been one of the biggest contributors to their destruction. Last week he derided as a “power grab” a sweeping Democratic voting-rights and campaign-finance bill, ridiculing the idea of making Election Day a national holiday to boost voter participation.
In a democracy, the idea of people voting is not a power grab. A power grab is a president ignoring democratic checks, while his chief mouthpiece asserts that God is on his side.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.