President Trump ignited a firestorm of criticism when seeming to declare himself the Messiah when discussing his trade war with China. But the President isn’t saying anything Trump Country doesn’t already believe.
When defending the trade policies that increasingly threaten recession, Trump argued that any recession was a result of media bias against him, and that the trade war was righteous and must be fought. Then he looked skyward and said a phrase that instantly exploded: “I am the chosen one.”
The remark comes after other “modern Messiah” claims like tweeting about being the “King of Israel” and the concept that Israeli Jewish people see him as the “second coming” — a massively culturally inept statement, as Jewish faith does not hold there was ever a first coming.
The Independent called it a “self-aggrandizing proclamation,” Politico suggested it was offensive to Christians given how its Messianic tone immediately evokes comparisons to Christ, and Yahoo! Finance compared him to Charlton Heston in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments: “Mister DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup now.”
The media regularly grapples with understanding Trump supporters. This issue might not be substantively different from so many other times that a disconnect has existed between the reaction to Trump in the broader media, and the reaction from his base. According to a cognitive neuroscientist, Trump’s base is largely on board with the idea that he is the Messiah.
Writing for Psychology Today in May, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., of George Mason University attempted to explain the political invulnerability of Donald Trump, not only through his use of fear as others have explored but also through his use of faith.
” I have learned—through comments, emails, and discussion forums—that a significant portion of his supporters literally believe the president was an answer to their prayers. He is regarded as something of a messiah, sent by God to protect a Christian nation,” wrote Azarian. “[Trump] quickly found out, through trying various strategies, that fear was effective as a political tool. When he learned that, he chose to demonize innocent people and to promote false conspiracy theories like #PizzaGate, which put lives in jeopardy. Of course, this only served to further strengthen evangelicals’ belief that he was their savior.”
Azarian compared this to the way cult leaders place themselves on a “spiritual pedestal,” insulating themselves from judgement by their followers. It also leads to increasingly dramatic uses of power and abuses of power (as seen in the form of family separation, the longest government shutdown in history, interference with investigations into his potential criminal activities, and countless other flexes of presidential muscle to achieve his ends). It also explains loyalty to the president despite his very un-Christian behaviors, like bragging about sexual assault, paying off porn stars to cover up affairs, or comparing himself to Christ.
“When you believe that someone is truly a godsend, you can excuse anything. It all becomes ‘for the greater good.’ And when that happens, it is a slippery slope to gross abuses of power that continuously increase in magnitude,” wrote Dr. Azarian.
The neuroscientist went on to explain that he initially dismissed the idea that people in Trump Country genuinely viewed the president as a Messiah as unrealistic, a stance likely common among members of the media. But his interaction with Trump’s disciples changed his mind.
According to Dr. Azarian, when Trump does things like say he is the “Chosen One,” or the “King of Israel,” it inflames the media, but encourages those in his base who have believed this all along. Trump, they would contend, really is anointed by God to lead America into an age of paradise. And either because he believes it himself or because he has seen how loyal it makes his followers, Trump has fully embraced this role.
(Featured image: Rosemary Ketchum/Creative Commons)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.