What the Devil Explains Trump?


Last week I posted a story in which I confessed my deep quandary about how people can possibly support Donald Trump when the guy ridicules those who serve in the U.S. military, even or especially those have been wounded or killed. He calls them “suckers” and “losers.” Same guy who refused, as President, to be seen with injured vets or to visit military cemeteries because he thought it wouldn’t reflect well on him to be seen in such company.

“I don’t get it,” I wrote. That blog got some responses. A number of veterans wrote in to say they detested the guy. But no one really explained to me how such a person could have so much support that he may be re-elected as President.

I’ve continued to ponder this and think I have an answer. My blog was pretty much framed in political and moral terms. Not spiritual ones. I think we have to move into that latter arena for an answer and to understand where we are.

What we are dealing with here is the demonic, “the ruler of this world,” i.e. Satan. Am I saying Trump is Satan? No. I am, however, saying that Satan or a trans-personal force of evil, if you prefer, is operative here and has taken us captive.

By and large, mainline and liberal Christians stopped crediting the devil or the demonic a couple generations ago. For that crowd — my crowd — there were only two actors on the cosmic stage: God and the human being. There was God in heaven and human beings doing good and doing ill. That was it.

But in Scripture, and you can’t really make sense of it without this aspect, there is a third agency, “An Enemy who is,” Fleming Rutledge writes, “variously called Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, ‘the ruler of this world,’ and ‘the prince of the power of the air,’ among other biblical designations.”

As I say, mainline and liberal Christians, shaped by the Enlightenment and rationalism, have been embarrassed by this and read this third agency out of the story altogether. I began to take it more seriously as a I encountered the power of addiction, and the limits of free will, in human life. There is an element to addiction of a larger power of evil that involves one in a spiritual battle, and possibly by grace, deliverance.

Not saying the demonic is operative only in addiction. It is at work in every aspect of life, including the political. But I do think it is the only way to explain Trump’s grip on people. It is a demonic power that plays, as the devil does in the Bible, on human fear and vulnerability, leading us to give our allegiance to false gods or idols.

Sin is the self curved in upon itself, what theologians call incurvates in se, being selfishly curved inward upon yourself. That seems to me to accurately describe Donald Trump. But not only Trump. All of us have this capacity, to fall under the sway of this demonic power. Its opposite is love, or the self curved outward toward others. 

So one answer to my “I don’t get it” question drives beyond the realm of politics and morality, to the spiritual. It is a demonic power that we’re up against here. That said, one of the ironies of this situation is that the self–identified Christians who support Trump are the ones who speak freely about “spiritual warfare.” Which leads people in my liberal, mainline world to avoid such terms like the plague. I think that’s a mistake. There is a spiritual battle going on in America today.

Having said this, there are some important qualifiers to keep in mind. First, there is no crystal-clear line between the good guys and the bad guys. Some wonderful people have been beguiled by Trump. And those on the other side can be every bit as cruel and vicious, if perhaps not in so crude and obvious ways.

As Christians we learn to understand ourselves as capable of evil and indeed as evil-doers. The only way we keep from turning into monsters ourselves is by facing and repenting our own evil and sin, trusting in God’s mercy.

In his book on evil, People of the Lie, the psychologist Scott Peck argued that the people in the grip of evil, “the people of the lie,” exhibited no ability whatsoever to see their own capacity for evil. That was all projected outward, onto others.

To put this another way, there is a Trump within each of us, a monster who is capable of being entirely curved in upon the self. The only way we get a handle on this capacity within ourselves is by acknowledging it, not projecting it all onto others.

Second, and here I quote another psychologist (who is a Christian) Richard Beck, “For followers of Jesus, spiritual warfare isn’t just about the struggle for justice. It’s also the struggle to love.” 

If our spiritual warfare is only about justice, it’s easy to think that vanquishing the other side will solve things. To be sure, justice is part of it. But bottom line, it’s the struggle to love, and more specifically, to “love our enemies.”

We won’t prevail in this spiritual warfare by hating Trump or his most mendacious enablers. We prevail by resisting evil and by love. Think Martin Luther King Jr. It was about racial justice, yes, but ultimately about love and the triumph of love over hate.

To sum up my main points: Trump’s grip on people and our national life cannot be understood or engaged solely on the human, political or moral level alone. There is a trans-human and spiritual dimension. We don’t need only an election, but an exorcism. As St. Paul puts it in Ephesians 6:12, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but . . . against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

That exorcism comes by daily turning to a power greater than ourselves for help, by recognizing that each of us is prey, at least potentially, to this evil and its power, and by knowing that the bottom line is not vanquishing the enemy but the struggle to love.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinsonhttps://www.anthonybrobinson.com/
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. Dear Mr. Robinson: I follow your columns with admiration and good faith (!) but must protest this latest. To demonize Trump is to obscure not only the reasons for his popularity but also what correctives are needed. Donald Trump is a showman who is made for our current media scene. He addresses some real truths, including the concentration of power and money in D.C. He speaks for those who feel government is as much the problem as the solution. In other words, no need to go to the spiritual realm to explain Trump; this only obscures the search for consensus and mutual respect, both of which are required to solve the problems that ail us.

    • Thanks Ellen, for reading my stuff and responding. I agree with you that Trump has raised some things that needed to be raised and have written to that effect elsewhere. I’m not sure that I agree I “demonized” him. I was trying to suggest that there is something demonic in the hold he has on many people, and really on our nation.

    • A local pastor starts every campaign rally for Donald John Trump by praying for his victory in fighting the forces of darkness plaguing our Nation and praying for his safety against all who wish him harm. Donald John Trump has set the stage, not Anthony Robinson. Is Trump a Prophet sent by God to combat the forces of darkness, or he a form of antichrist? Choose wisely.

      • It’s not for me, but Mr. Robinson might see something in the Gnostic theology of old. The creator god the established churches worship is really a “demiurge” that more or less is the force of darkness, a corrupt being that imprisons us in this wretched scene for his own reasons. Would he anoint Trump? Oh sure! Unfortunately, as far as I know none of the Gnostic variations really figured out what to do about this mess they were in, but neither have we as far as I know, so what’s to lose?

  2. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s funny that the connection isn’t obvious. Hard core evangelical Christians are also susceptible to the Trump faith, because it’s so similar.

    Trump is anointed by God – why not? You don’t believe? Have faith, my son. The people who are trying to weaken our faith are the enemy.

    Religion is always based on a firm belief in something preposterous. The beliefs can be all over the map (though there is a common thread of self interest in successful religions), but that element is universal, and it’s very potent. The commitment to an absurd belief binds you to the community of like minded, and apparently does other interesting things to the mind.

    People believe in Donald Trump in very much that way. They won’t listen to anyone about it. Of course God anointed him – you knew he would.

    I don’t expect to sway you from your absurd belief in the devil, but understanding the way people are bound to Trump is important because it informs how we deal with them. The true believers are beyond the reach of logic and facts, and the attempt to wrestle with them just ends up with their info bubbles stronger and more isolated, and the undecided aren’t much better. Arrange for life and reason to go around it. This is how in the west we are working our way out from under Christianity, and it’s one reason the Muslims hate us so much, because they know we can easily do the same to them. With luck, Trump faith can be more easily allowed to collapse, because its foundations are so miserable. The next time someone like him comes along, though, I hope the Christian right’s religious leaders will have a little shred of conscience about what they’re doing.

    • To walk the narrow path is a choice and to hear the only truth is also a choice or is it preposterous. Religion plays no consequence in this, but this is à fore telling of what to come from the morning star….

      • Unsurprisingly, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but it’s interesting that when I looked up “morning star”, the first hit was “Why are both Jesus and Satan referred to as the morning star?”

  3. Well said. If only looking at his real accomplishments and facts regarding his falsified truths, his lack of empathy towards others, blatant racist point of view, and his spoken desire to be a dictator, one would think the prospect of his sitting as president once again would deter support. He comes from a place where all that matters is Trump. Sad state of this country. God bless us all if he gets re-elected.

  4. I was wondering, as someone who was raised Catholic, never a Catholic by belief and certainty not one now, with all the mass murder, raping, hostage torture, Old Testament vengefulness going on in what books call “The Holy Land”, I was wondering this: Why doesn’t the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Apostle of Peace, just get into his bulletproof Popemobile, and drive it into Gaza, or maybe Jerusalem, prostrate himself on the ground in the presence of the tortured, the raped, the rotting bodies and demand they stop. Christians talk a good line. Where are they now?

    This is all revolting Old Testament eye-for-an-eye, brother-slaying stuff. “Never Again—(except to you). Why don’t the Christians, who claim to be peacemakers and enlightened by the New Testament, put up with this? Don’t look at me; I’m safe in my solar-powered bunker. What would Ghandi do?

  5. I’ve lived for seven and a half decades, attended Presbyterian, Baptist and Unitarian churches, along with acquiring a degree from a Jesuit University.

    This is what I have learned.
    Theology and religion rarely meet.
    Being a member of a church certainly does not guarantee a person will turn toward the communal good.
    Being a dedicated practitioner of a religion is excellent cover for those whose intent is to commit evil acts.

    Good and evil may be nothing more than constructs of social interactions defined by our common human experience in forming communities. Good defined as creating community, evil as creating a community dedicated to destroying all other communities, and eventually destroying itself.

    Or good and evil may originate as some unknowable force or presence within the universe that we cannot define, can barely recognize, but can embody.

    I have seen evil in my life. Unexplainable by any form of reason. My life experience leads me to acknowledge that evil cannot be explained by psychology or the physical function of the neural net.

    Evil is something ‘other’. And it does, indeed, exist, both inside and seemingly outside our human existence.

    Please keep writing, Dr. Robinson.
    Your insights are helping me clarify my own thoughts in these perilous times. Not sure I believe in “God”…and yet…God help us all.

    • How I see it is really no other at all, it’s all too human and barely exists outside the human race. It’s a perversion.

      Our best instincts are not entirely consistent – on one hand, a social animal loaded with altruistic impulses that help the tribe thrive, and on the other a hostile animal that’s ready to fight to the death against another tribe, and within the tribe at least somewhat competitive. All tangled up with sex and who knows what else, and dependent on normal function of a somewhat fragile cerebrum. Let some parts of that instinctive balance wither or get turned inside out, and you have one kind or another of monster.

      Skilled propagandists of our era are able to play on these basics to wield populations, particularly among the devout. Do we excuse the right wing rapture evangelists for what they’re doing, recognizing that their judgement was obvously impaired to begin with, but see some elemental evil only in the propagandist who exploits them?

      I don’t know, it seems like some kind of medieval heresy – Manicheism, I guess. I thought the modern notion was an omnipotent creator, and to propose an adverse theological element seems to take a little of the shine off that omnipotency. Though no student of Buddhism, I find their talk of “skillful” and “unskillful” thoughts more realistic – as Napoleon supposedly said, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” Good will is a basic competence.

      • Hello Donn Cave.
        Good will as competence just made me smile. I like that definition for so many reasons – brings a thought of ‘natural law’.
        Still refining my definition of ‘evil’. I don’t think there is a physical reality to evil. Not certain there is a metaphysical reality, either.
        Incompetence is a good start – but whatever ‘evil’ is – it’s much more focused in intent to harm. Like adding poison to the dart.
        Wish I could buy you a cup of coffee and talk.
        Glad I looked again at this Post Alley.

        • Supposing that focus on intent to harm – why? That’s a phenomenon and as such has its causes. We commonly draw lines around such phenomena as convenient for practical purposes, but … “free will” seems like a semantic dodge to me, but then I don’t really get metaphysical realities either.

          Evil people are defective. Once you have a really fully viable individual, I mean healthy and happy in every reasonable way, then you have a taxonomic question. Is a spider evil, or say a wolf that tears pieces off livestock and leaves them alive but seriously injured? I can say, however, that I don’t really like spiders.

  6. Religion is a gateway drug to all manner of other bullshit, including the evidence-free claims of MAGA and QAnon. We teach people at mother’s knee to believe as fact outlandish fairy tales. In a world where education is increasingly villified by the powerful to encourage production of more stupid and willfully ignorant people to manipulate, we further hamper people by investing them early on with primitive superstition.

  7. The accelerating failures of basic education has now resulted in several generations of voters with no tools for evaluating the media s–tstorm they are presented with. Who among those born in the last 30 years has any ability to take in what is presented by such disparate media entities as FOX, BCC and MSNBC (to pick three) and somehow reach a conclusion based upon factual reality? The result is that most people pick a media stream that appeals to something they believe in – Jesus, the flag, guns – and that gives them all the reasons to be fearful of any challenges to their beliefs. Voila – FOX, Trump, alternative realities et al.


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